|If any position in soccer is akin to point guard, it’s center midfield. Those stationed here are often referred to as midfield generals and, on most teams, are the focal point of the offense. CM’s collect the ball from their defenders and make the initial pass that determines whether or not a given attack will start up the middle or out wide.
Excepting center backs and fullbacks, center mids are the field players (non-goalkeepers) with the most defensive responsibilities. The best CM’s are said to play box-to-box. They defend all the way to their own penalty box and help guide the attack all the way to the opponent’s penalty area. As such, center midfielders are just as important in shutting down an attack as they are creating one.
As with many positions in soccer, center midfielders are paired according to their skills – small, creative passers play with bigger, more aggressive teammates. One will have more attacking responsibilities and the other will stay behind on offense to support the defenders.
Variations: Center Defensive Midfielders and Center Attacking Midfielders are variations of CM’s that function just as their names imply: CDMs employ a more protective style, rarely venturing far from the Center Backs, and CAMs aggressively pursue attacking options on the opponents’ side of the field.
|Strikers are, quite simply, the players who score the goals. They line up closest to the opposing team’s goal and are the final piece to most attacks. Offenses seek to cross the ball into the box for a forward to head home or try to string together a sequence of passes that leave the striker with a clear shot. No team is tied to any given tactic when it comes to supplying their strikers with passes, but, generally speaking, the bigger the striker the more likely a team is to seek to put him in position for a header.
Another important aspect of any side’s attacking prowess is a striker’s ability to hold-up the ball. When a forward receives a long pass, he often needs to wait for his teammates to catch up to his advanced position, so he will attempt to hold off defenders, either through skilled dribbling or sheer strength, until his teammates are in position to help the attack.
While it is too simplistic to say forwards have no defensive responsibilities, they are not asked to work nearly as hard in defense as their teammates. One of their main responsibilities, however, is to pressure the opposing defenders after the striker loses control of the ball. Also, when an underdog is in position for a positive result, the forward(s) will drop back farther into their own half to make possession more difficult for the favored team.
Teams that use two forwards will often designate different roles for the two, which is why strikers with differing skill sets are often paired together. One might be a bit faster and will try to blow by defenders with the ball at his feet while the other will possess great strength and aerial ability.
Variations: Striker and forward are merely synonyms, but a withdrawn forward is a unique animal. Playing a little closer to the midfield than a traditional striker, withdrawn forwards have more responsibility in build-up play but must also be prepared to finish off any balls in the box.
|Fullbacks are responsible for defending the outside portion of the field and need to make runs into the opposition’s half to provide offense.
When in attack fullbacks are often called on to send crosses into the box. They also work in tandem with the outside midfielders: one or the other will move to the middle of the pitch as the other moves outside causing the defense to have to cover more ground.
Their role in defense is the doppelganger of their attacking responsibility – stopping crosses. Fullbacks will also drift toward the middle of the field when the ball is on the opposite side. This allows them to prevent runs into the box from strikers and provide cover for the center backs.
Variations: Left and Right Wingback (LWB/RWB)
A wingback is a more attacking-minded fullback. This position is often employed in formations with 3 center backs. Very few international teams employ a true wingback since most play with 2 center backs.
|Anchoring the defense, center backs are a unique mix of the responsibilities of a defensive linesman and safety in football and a center in basketball. Like linesman, they provide extra oomph: center backs are often the biggest players on the field, able to easily shove aside would-be goalscorers. However, since they line up closest to their own goalkeeper, they are the final barrier before open field, much like a safety. And center backs, like their similarly named hardwood counterparts, must be ready to take care of a ball in the air at a moment’s notice.|
|The most easily explainable position in soccer – the guy who gets to use his hands.
What the average fan might not realize is that keepers are the brains of the defense. They can see much more of the field than the fullbacks and center backs, so keepers call out defensive assignments on the fly. On set pieces they tell their teammates where to line up and any time there is a ball coming into the box, goalkeepers are responsible for telling their teammates who needs to clear it, much like a centerfielder telling the other outfielders who will catch a fly ball.
United States Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
|Much like fullbacks, an outside midfielder’s job is to stretch the defense and supply crosses. As such, most left or right mids play on the side of their dominant foot, ie a right-footed player will play right midfield to make it easier to cross the ball. Some teams, however, like to have their LMs/RMs play opposite their natural position. If a right-footed player lines up on the left, he can dribble towards the middle of the field and use his stronger right foot to blast shots. The United States employs this strategy with Landon Donovan, a rightie who frequently plays on the left side of midfield.
Variations: Left/Right Wing (LW/RW)
Wingers play farther up the pitch (mostly in a 4-3-3 formation) and work closely with strikers. In fact, many wingers are converted strikers and are sometimes listed as strikers, not midfielders. But regardless of their classification, wingers, like outside midfielders, provide width in attack.