When each soccer player understands their role and how to interact with players in other positions on the pitch, a soccer team can be greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s why, whether you’re a football fan, player, or coach, you should have a comprehensive knowledge of the different positions in soccer. This begs the question: what are the soccer positions?
In an association football game, there are 11 soccer positions: full-backs, central defenders, central midfielders, central forwards, wingers, and one goalkeeper. These eleven positions are divided into four main positions: defenders, midfielders, forwards, and goalkeepers.
So, read on for an in-depth guide on those 11 soccer positions. In this article, I’ll dive deep into the roles, responsibilities, and required skills for each position. I’ll also provide you with some pointers on how to identify soccer positions on the field.
What Are the 11 Soccer Positions Called?
In an 11 vs. 11 soccer game, each team has 11 players on the pitch: one goalkeeper and 10 outfield players.
The goalkeeper, the only soccer position named in the IFAB Laws of the Game, is also known as the goalie or the keeper.
The other 10 players are a combination of:
Names of the 11 Soccer Positions
Some soccer positions names have multiple names or may change depending on the team’s formation. As a result, while each team consists of 11 players, the soccer positions and roles can vary at any given time.
Still, there are 11 core soccer positions. So, here’s a general outline of those soccer positions by number:
|Right Full-Back or Wingback
|Left Full-Back or Wingback
|Center-Back or Sweeper
|Defensive or Center Midfielder
|Right Midfielder or Winger
|Center Forward or Striker
|Attacking Midfielder or Center Forward
|Left Midfielder or Winger
Just keep in mind that nowadays, a player’s jersey number doesn’t always correspond to their position because soccer players choose the number they wear.
Previously, soccer players were assigned numbers based on their positions, as shown in the table above. However, media hype and marketing have had a greater influence on the players’ numbers.
That’s why you might hear a commentator say a footballer “is playing like a number 7,” even though the player has the number 9 on their jersey. In this case, the commentator is referring to the player’s current position on the field.
If you’re slightly confused, no worries! There are other ways you can identify a player’s position on the field that I’ll get into in a bit.
What Are the 4 Major Positions in Soccer?
As with most ball sports, soccer positions are centered on maintaining ball possession, defending the team’s goal, and scoring in the opposing team’s goal.
So, while each of the 11 soccer positions has a unique job to do on the field, they all essentially fall into four integral categories:
The 4 Main Positions in Soccer
The four main soccer positions can vary depending on a team’s formations and tactics on the pitch. However, there are general guidelines for each of these four positions.
The goalkeeper protects the goal and is the last line of defense to prevent the opposing team from scoring.
As long as the goalie is inside the penalty box, they can block shots and pick up the ball using their hands and arms. However, when a goalie is outside the penalty area, they’re subjected to the same rules as outfield players.
Another exception is when a teammate passes the ball to the goalie, in which case the goalie isn’t permitted to use their hand or arms. This exception also applies in the case of a throw-in.
Defenders are the outfield players who stay closest to their own goal. They’re usually positioned as left and right full-backs, center-backs, sweepers, and wingbacks (a hybrid position of wingers and full-backs).
A defender’s primary responsibility, regardless of position, is to tackle the opposing team and prevent them from passing, receiving, shooting, or scoring.
Midfielders, also known as halfbacks, serve as the link between the defenders and the forwards. They play the most dynamic positions on the field, switching between offensive and defensive tactics depending on which team has possession of the ball.
As a result, those positions generate most of the energy and action in a game. When the opponent has the ball, the midfielders serve as the first line of defense. When they regain possession of the ball, they pass it to the forwards and assist the offensive gameplay.
Forwards are the closest players to the opponent’s goal and thus are a team’s primary attacking force. Their main role is to score as many goals as often as possible, as well as to create scoring opportunities for other players.
They have the least defensive responsibilities out of all positions. However, when they can’t score, forwards maintain possession of the ball until other positions assist them in creating an opportunity to score.
What Are the Roles and Skills of Each of the 11 Soccer Positions?
Now that you have a general idea of the four main categories of soccer positions, let’s dive into the roles and skills specific to each soccer position:
Just keep in mind that in football, players don’t have to stay in their assigned positions during all and every game.
As a team’s skill and thus coordination improves, players learn to be more creative, dynamic, and fluid, switching positions as the game demands.
The goalkeeper‘s role as the last line of defense is to use any part of their body to prevent any ball from crossing the goal line.
Goalkeepers must have the ability to read their opponents and follow the ball. They must also have excellent hand-eye coordination, footwork, and quick reflexes.
Read our full guide on the goalkeeper position.
As the primary defensive position, center-backs bear the responsibility of keeping the ball or the opponents from reaching the penalty area. That’s why they must have the best tactic sense and defensive technique.
What’s more, center-backs need to be physically imposing and intimidating. They’re usually among the tallest, biggest, and strongest players. These physical attributes allow them to tackle the opponent’s forwards, head aerial balls, and clear crosses out of the penalty area.
We have an article explaining everything about the center-back position here.
Right and Left Full-Backs
Like center-backs, full-backs are responsible for stopping the opposing team from scoring or reaching the penalty area. However, their main focus is on the opposing team’s wingers.
Full-backs must also prevent crosses from being passed toward the center of the field, where opposing forwards may try to kick or head into the goal.
Right and left wingbacks serve the same role as full-backs but tend to take a more offensive position when the ball is near the touchline.
In addition to physical strength, full-backs and wingbacks need to have more speed to be able to tackle opposing wingers. Wingbacks must also have the highest level of stamina.
Check out our in-depth article on the full-back position in soccer to learn more about it.
The sweeper position is uncommon, but when used, it can provide an extra layer of defense to the goal. It’s their responsibility to intercept any undefended player from entering the penalty area or scoring.
That’s why sweepers need to be able to anticipate moves and tackle opponents successfully. They also need to be agile and have quick reflexes.
Learn more about the sweeper position.
Defensive midfielders’ role is to keep the defense line safe by tackling and breaking up opposing attacks.
Be sure to check our full guide on the defensive midfielder role.
Center midfielders play from box to box, connecting the defense line with the forward line. They switch between defense and offense depending on which team has the ball.
While not the fastest, center midfielders should have some of the best ball-handling, decision-making, dribbling, and passing skills. Stamina is also a must for this position. Not to mention that they must be good at tackling and intercepting.
That’s why the center midfielder is regarded as one of the most essential positions in a soccer team.
Attacking midfielders, as opposed to defensive midfielders, concentrate on attacking as well as passing to and assisting the forward positions.
Right and Left Midfielders
When playing defense, right and left midfielders stay near the sidelines to prevent opposing players from making any long runs or moving down the sideline. On offense, however, these wide midfielders assist the forward positions by passing the ball to the center.
Right and left midfielders should have similar skills to center midfielders. They must have excellent ball control, handling, dribbling, and passing skills. They must also be quick and agile to maintain possession and move the ball while under pressure from the opposing team.
A soccer striker’s primary role is to score goals. They position themselves the furthest in the formation to find open spaces where their teammates can pass the ball to them and score.
A striker’s most crucial skill is the ability to score a goal from any angle. They stand out more if they can score directly from a pass. A striker should also be quick and unpredictable to be able to evade the opposing team’s defense.
Like the striker, the center forward’s main role is to score goals. However, center forwards also play to create scoring opportunities for the striker and other offensive players.
In a way, when a center forward isn’t trying to score a goal, they act similarly to an attacking midfielder. That’s why they’re often better at passing and handling the ball.
Where Are the Positions Placed on the Field?
In any soccer positions diagram, you’ll notice that defenders are positioned in the rear, midfielders in the middle, and forwards in the front. Nevertheless, player positions may vary depending on the team’s formation and how dynamic the player’s position is.
That’s why observing the players’ movements during the game and where they spend the most time on the field is the best indicator of each player’s soccer position.
Goalkeepers are situated at both ends of the field. They spend most of the game, if not the entire game, inside the penalty area, which is a large rectangular box in front of the goal.
Because goalkeepers are the only players that stay in the same area throughout the game, most soccer positions formation diagrams don’t include goalkeepers.
All defense positions are positioned right on the line of the penalty area. If you’re a center-back, for example, your position is directly in front of the goal on the edge of the penalty area.
If your team has a sweeper, they should be positioned just behind the defense line, between the defenders and the goalie.
As for the full-backs and wingbacks, these players run up and down the wide left and right sides of the penalty area. They can also move to the center if assistance is needed.
Midfielders take up the most area on the field, with the right and left positions situated near the touchlines.
Then, there’s the attacking midfielder, who’s more likely to stay behind a striker to attack when needed. A defensive midfielder, on the other hand, plays right in front of the defense line.
Center midfielders are a hybrid of these two positions. They move forward down the field when their team is attacking and return behind the halfway line when their team is defending.
Most offensive positions spend game time by the opposing team’s penalty area and goal.
Strikers and center forwards position themselves as far down the field as possible, in line with the opposing team’s defense. Think: Cristiano Ronaldo.
If your team has a second striker, you should position them right behind the center forward.
The wingers, on the other hand, remain on the left and right sides of the offensive line. They play close to the boundaries and mostly remain right behind the striker.
From goalkeeper to striker, each football player’s position on the field serves a pivotal role in a soccer game. That’s why soccer positions are assigned to players based on their skills.
Players with superior stamina, for example, excel as defensive midfielders. Exceptionally fast players with excellent defensive and attacking abilities, on the other hand, make the best full-backs.
So now that you’ve had the soccer positions explained in depth, you’ll be able to identify the roles required for each position while watching a match live, as well as figure out which position best suits your physical abilities and playing style.