Numbers, Player Roles, and Basic Formations in Soccer

by liveworldcupodds | Posted on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

Consider each position as a component in a well-oiled machine, with each member performing a specific purpose to ensure the machine’s proper operation. When everyone on the field fulfills their role, the team can operate together more fluidly and effectively.

Age group, league, coaching strategy, and the number of players allowed on the pitch can influence soccer positions and formations. We’ll use a regular 11-v-11 game to demonstrate how defensive, midfield, and offensive positions work depending on the roles they perform and the numbers they’re assigned.


If you’re watching professional soccer, you might hear a commentator say that an athlete “plays like a number 10” although they’re “playing in the 6.” Don’t worry; there’s no complicated math formula here; this refers to a player’s position on the pitch.

Did you know that each position’s numbering began in the 1920s? While not every coach employs this method, knowing position numbers might help you better grasp the game. In reality, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) sometimes uses position numbers to help teach young players about their roles and develop a common vocabulary as they progress on the field.

Each position is allocated a number. You can better distinguish where players line up on the field by assigning numbers to specific formations. The following is how the positions are usually numbered:

Goalkeeper No. 1
2– Fullback on the right
3– Fullback on the left
4– Back Center
5– Back Center (or Sweeper, if used)
Defending/Holding Midfielder (No. 6)
7– Winger/Right Midfielder
8– Midfielder, central/box-to-box
Striker #9
10– Playmaker/Attacking Midfielder
11– Winger/Left Midfielder


Every role has a specific task to complete to keep the team machine running smoothly. Knowing what is expected of them is especially important for younger players as they develop their soccer talents. That does not rule out the possibility of players remaining in a specified zone or taking on a limited set of responsibilities. As a player or a team develops and improves in talent, they might become more creative and fluid in their approach to playing. Check out these broad standards for positions on defense, midfield, and offense.

Soccer Defensive Positions

Only the allocated penalty area is subject to these specific restrictions. 1 – Goalkeeper (GK): This player guards the net and is usually the last line of defense to prevent the opponent from scoring. The keeper, also known as the goalie, is the only player allowed to use their hands and arms to block shots and pick up the ball while the game is in progress. When a goaltender leaves the penalty box, they must play like any other player on the pitch. They also can’t play the ball with their hands if a teammate passes it straight during play or off a throw-in.

Goalkeepers use specialist soccer goalie equipment, including gloves and long sleeves for further protection. They wear a different color jersey than the rest of the team to be distinguished from other positions on the field (youth teams may use a pinnie to designate the goalie). They can also wear specially designed shorts and slacks for the job.

Defenders/Backs: These are the players on the pitch that is closest to the goal. They are in charge of defending the goalie, blocking shots, and preventing the offensive players of the opposing side from passing, receiving, shooting, and scoring. Center backs, fullbacks, wingbacks, and one sweeper are the positions that can be filled.

4/5 – Center Back (CB): This position, also called the central defender, center fullback, or stopper, is in the center of the defensive line. The two center-backs in a 4–4–2 formation will hang back to guard the goal.
3/2 – Fullback (LB, RB): Outside fullbacks are also known as the back defenders on the left and right sides of the field. They often play wide to cover the field’s edges, although they can also help protect the center if necessary. To assist with offensive plays, these players would frequently move up and down the field.
3/2 – Wingback (LWB, RWB): This position defends similarly to other defensive backs but is more offensive in nature, similar to that of a winger. They gallop up and down the field, playing wide left and right. This job needs a lot of stamina and might be physically taxing compared to other jobs.
5 – Sweeper (SW): This is a less prevalent position anymore. When this player is deployed, they are positioned between the goalie and the primary defensive line. It’s their job to catch any balls that get past the defensive backs. While they usually stay behind the other defenders, they can also assist in an offensive push by moving the ball up the field.

Soccer Positions in the Midfield

As you might expect, midfielders, often known as halfbacks, play mainly in the middle of the field. Midfielders are the gears that connect the defensive and offensive lines, transferring the ball and ensuring everything runs smoothly if the team is running like a well-oiled machine. During a game, the midfielders usually see the most activity.

4 or 6 – Defensive Midfielder (DM): They play directly in front of the defenders and hold midfielders. They are in charge of keeping the ball outside their zone, intercepting the opposing team’s passes, and assisting their offensive line by keeping the ball in the opposing team’s zone, handling rebounds, and passing forward. The 4 will flank the 6 as the two holding mids in a 3-4-3 alignment.
8 – Central Midfielder (CM): Often seen as the most challenging working position on the field, this player must be ready for action at all times and may play both defensively and offensively depending on the situation. They are in charge of passing the ball to other players; hence outstanding ball-handling and passing skills are essential. They frequently take long shots on goal to assist the offense when on the attack. Teams will sometimes line up with the 6 in a defensive configuration or the 10 in an offensive formation to fit their plan.
The attacking midfielder (AM) is a player who plays between the midfield and the offensive line. They must be able to score goals and dribble well enough to dodge the defenders of their opponents. The other team should attack the ball instead of hanging back like different positions on the field when the other team has the ball. Inoffensive plays, this position is frequently seen as the conductor, directing the ball and providing scoring possibilities. They’re the ones who call the shots.
Wingers are commonly categorized into attacking or forward positions according to their role on the pitch. 11/7 – Left/Right Midfielder (LM, RM): Also known as wingers or outside midfielders, these players will stay wide to assist pull the opponent’s defense to the outside, allowing their offensive line to have more room. They’ll need great one-on-one talents to get by the other team’s left and proper fullbacks and wingbacks. These players will most likely not have the ball for long periods throughout a game, preferring to transition the ball forward by passing it to offensive teammates or shooting shots on goal themselves. To stay up with the game, they must hustle and have a lot of stamina.

Soccer Positions for Offense

Forwards, often known as strikers, are the main attackers who play closest to the opposition’s goal. Their primary goal is to score as many times as possible. They are typically the fastest players on the pitch and must have excellent ball handling. They should be able to shoot from any angle, including straight off a pass. It’s also critical for any offensive player to stay onside at all times.

9 – Center Forward (CF): Center forwards and strikers are frequently used interchangeably. They must concentrate on scoring, whether that means dribbling past opponents with the ball or staying open for a pass when they don’t. The ability to correctly head the ball can be instrumental in this situation.
9 – Striker (S): This player stands in front of the center-forward, closest to the opposing team’s goal. The fundamental function of a striker is to score goals. Their teammates will want to pass to them frequently, and the opposing team’s defense will put continual pressure on them; thus, they must be able to outpace opponents and have quick footwork and precise ball handling to be most effective. When the opposing team’s defense has the ball, forwards should apply pressure to improve the possibility of the defender making a mistake.
10 – Second Striker (SS): They play behind the center-forward and are primarily responsible for creating scoring opportunities for other attackers. They should keep the ball away from the opposing team while waiting for their teammates to position themselves for a successful shot. Second strikers, like any other offensive position, should shoot on goal when they get the opportunity and have good ball skills. In this situation, headings are equally crucial.


The number of players allowed on the pitch limits the number of formations used, so don’t be shocked if you see a diversity of sets and methods. The fundamental responsibilities for each position on the field remain the same. Still, what makes soccer a beautiful game is the ability to flow as a unit and demonstrate inventiveness.

There are defensive and offensive formations, and depending on the opponent team’s setup, any particular building may be more or less successful. You’ll notice that a formation’s number of players only adds up to ten. Because the figures only apply to field players and not the goalkeeper, this is the case.

These field players are usually divided into three zones, with the formation set up from back to front (defense to midfield to forward). A 4-4-2 configuration consists of four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers.

Coaches will sometimes further separate the three main groups, resulting in formations like a 1-4-3-2, which features one sweeper, four defensive players, three midfielders, and two forwards; or a 4-4-1-1, which features four defenders, four midfielders, one-second striker, and one striker.


The 4-3-3 formation is famous in American soccer. A defensive setup and an attack-minded configuration are two standard versions of the 4-3-3 formation, depending on where the 8 lines up. Because the 8 is a box-to-box player, it can rotate throughout the game to respond to the flow of play.

Remember that these are only a few examples of frequent formations; you may see or use more in the game. Every coach has their style, and there are a variety of shapes to pick from.


A good header isn’t the only way to get your mind in the game. You may start applying strategy to your gaming once you understand the critical tasks of each position and how numbers and formations play a role. You’ll notice what works and what doesn’t, allowing you to fine-tune your game and make game-changing decisions that will help you and your team become more productive.

Don’t overthink things at the end of the day. Over time, your understanding of the game will gradually improve. For the time being, get out on the field, practice frequently, and have fun.

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