"Offense wins games, but defense wins championships." This saying speaks to the power of the defense to dictate a team's performance. Because soccer is such a low scoring sport, the defense plays a critical role. Let's learn about some of the key aspects of defense for a soccer team.
Let's review the field of play. There are three main zones that relate to the defense:
The defensive half is where the defense and their goaltender are stationed. The defense protects the goal within their defensive half. The defensive half is defined by the center line, the touch lines and the byline.
The defensive third is the section of the pitch in which the defense must be most alert to developing plays and shots on goal. The defense, upon winning the ball back, cannot afford to dribble and pass for too long in this area. The main objective is to clear the ball from the defensive third. There is no line drawn on the field to define the start of the attacking third relative to the center line; rather, it is an approximate definition.
The goal is protected by the goaltender and other defensive players. Good defenders are always aware of their positioning relative to the goal. On set pieces such as direct free kicks and corner kicks, one or two players will sometimes stand next to the near post or far post to add extra bodies on the goal line.
While all players on the team without the ball are working to regain possession and defending, there are certain players on the field whose main focus throughout the game is stopping the offense. The three main defensive positions are:
- To prevent a goal by the other team
- To win possession of the ball for their team
- To maintain possession by sending accurate passes upfield and starting the development of a scoring opportunity
While on defense a team accomplishes these goals by marking offensive players or space and stealing the ball with interceptions, tackling or pressure that forces errors.
There are different styles of defense, including man marking and zone defense. In a man marking scenario, defenders stay close to individual attackers. In a zone defense formation, the defense plays space, rather than tight individual defense. In addition to different formations, defenses can also vary how aggressive or high they choose to press. Especially when holding a lead, defenders may tend to sit back and pack in players in their defensive third. On the other hand, some defenses like to play high, closer to the centerline, looking for offsides calls and offsides traps. As you are watching a match, see if you can notice these changes in defensive tempo.