Soccer Player Positions

Soccer Positions

While soccer player positions can get highly specialized, they all fall under one of four main position groups:

  1. Forwards
  2. Midfielders
  3. Defenders
  4. Goalkeeper

Numerous positions can fall under one of these four categorizations, but this will vary depending on a team’s formatting and tactics.

How Many Players are on a Soccer Field per Team?

Soccer is an 11-on-11 game (including the goalkeeper). Each team has 11 players on the pitch, including 10 position players (a combination of forwards, midfielders, and defenders) and one goalkeeper. Soccer is different from other sports in that there are no set units of players, such as in American football. Players don't belong to a unit but can be categorized into further positions based on what they do on the field.

What are the Main Positions on a Soccer Team?

Four integral positions will be featured in some shape or form in each and every soccer game. While these positions can be further broken down for use in different formations and strategies, the four main positions are:

Forwards: These players score the most goals and are positioned closest to the opponent’s goal. They are the ones to finish off offensive chances set up by their teammates and are typically some of the most popular players in their league due to their propensity to score goals.

Midfielders: This is the player asked to do a little bit of everything. They can be asked to support defensively or attack on offense. They are asked to both create offense and stop the opposing offense before reaching the defenders.

Defenders: These players usually stay back on defense to help prevent goal-scoring. They will always play closer to the goal and attempt to stop the other team from scoring more than they will help try and score for their own team.

Goalkeepers: Every team is allowed one goalkeeper on the pitch. This player can use their hands inside of the 18-yard box and is their team’s last line of defense against goal-scoring attempts.

Forwards

soccer forward

A forward is a player whose primary objective is to score. They take most of the shots and typically score the most goals for a team. Historically, forwards wear numbers nine or 11, but this nomenclature is not often used outside of national teams. Specific positions that fall under this category include striker, center forward, and winger.

Striker

The terms striker and center forward are often used interchangeably, but there are a few differences. Strikers will often play the furthest forward in the formation, usually in line with the opposing defense. The primary goal of a striker is to find open space beyond the defense, allowing their teammate to pass the ball into a goal-scoring position. Strikers will sometimes focus more strictly on goal scoring than center forwards. A good striker will demonstrate excellent power and accuracy behind their shots. Famous strikers include Zlatan Ibrahimović, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Pelé.

Center Forward

Center forwards are similar to strikers but will usually offer more versatility. While they are also typically tall, physical, and focused on goal scoring, they will look to create opportunities for their other attackers as well. They are usually better passers and ball handlers than strikers and can help facilitate the offense similar to an attacking midfielder. Along with strikers, an important part of a center forward’s game is to get open in the box for headers on outside passes and corner kicks. They should also be able to shoot and pass the ball accurately with both feet. Notable center forwards include Karim Benzema, Romelu Lukaku, and Luis Suarez.

Wingers

Wingers, sometimes referred to as outside forwards, are a type of forward that plays near the boundaries. Wingers play along the front line of the offense but do not usually stay as far down the field as a striker. A good winger will be fast and have good ball-handling skills. While they score more than other positions, wingers excel in delivering crosses and through balls to the striker or center forward. Like other types of forwards, wingers rarely involve themselves with defense and will wait until their team’s midfielders have possession to begin an attack. Their ability to spread out the defense makes them extremely valuable to a team’s offense. Noteworthy wingers include Neymar, Mohamed Salah, and Gareth Bale. 

Midfielders

soccer Midfielder

A midfielder plays in the middle of the field, and their primary goal is to pass the ball around the pitch and create scoring chances for teammates. Similar to a point guard in basketball or a quarterback in football, midfielders usually touch the ball the most and are a team’s main facilitators. Historically, midfielders wear the numbers six through eight, with the best wearing the number 10, but this nomenclature is not often used outside of national teams. Specific positions include central midfielders, attacking midfielders, defensive midfielders, and wide midfielders.

Central Midfielder

Central midfielders are midfielders who typically roam in the center of the pitch. While they are not always the flashiest players on the field, many people regard central midfielders to be one of the most important positions due to their overall versatility and location on the pitch. They are not always the fastest player on a team, but they will usually have excellent ball-handling, passing, and decision-making skills. Central midfielders will usually have the most touches on the team and are responsible for spreading the ball to both sides of the field. In general, central midfielders will play a major hand in both attacking and defending. Famous central midfielders include Diego Maradona, Luka Modrić, and Johan Cruyff. 

Central Attacking Midfielders

Central attacking midfielders are a very commonly used variation of central midfielders. These players will function similar to central midfielders but will have an emphasis on attacking. While they will still get back on defense more often than not, central attacking midfielders will be able to help lead an offensive charge with their ability to both pass, dribble, and score goals. Central attacking midfielders are particularly useful when using a formation that has only one or two forwards or when a team’s defense is rock solid. Famous central attacking midfielders include Thomas Müller, Ronaldinho, and Zinedine Zidane.

Central Defensive Midfielders

Central defensive midfielders are midfielders who tend to remain closer to their own goal and will primarily focus on defense. Given their positioning, they also play a role in commencing attacks by securing the ball from the opposition and moving it forward. Central defensive midfielders must have strong defensive skills, such as tackling and defending against headers. They often lack the powerful shot other midfielders have but more than compensate for it with their defensive prowess. Noteworthy central defensive midfielders include Lothar Matthäus, Roy Keane, and Sergio Busquets.

Wide Midfielders

Wide midfielders, commonly referred to as right or left midfielders depending on their positioning on the field, are midfielders who are positioned towards the sideline. Some wide midfielders whose game is more offensively centered will also be referred to as a wing-half. On offense, they are responsible for moving the ball down the sidelines and can often be found crossing the ball into the center of their opponent’s territory to set up volley goals and headers. On defense, wide midfielders are in charge of defending the edge of the playing field and preventing long runs by offensive players moving down the sideline. Typically, players who are assigned to play left midfielder will be left-footed and vice versa. This allows them to have an easier time crossing the ball to the center of the pitch. All-time great wide midfielders in soccer history include Kevin de Bruyne, Arjen Robben, and Ryan Giggs.

Defenders

A defender is a player with the primary objective to prevent goals from being scored against their team. They typically play closer to their own goal and are often absent in the attack. Historically, defenders wear the numbers two through five, but this nomenclature is not often used outside of national teams. Specific positions include center back, outside back, and sweeper.

Center Back

Center backs are defensive players who occupy the center of a back line on defense. Their main responsibility consists of preventing the opposing offense from creating goal-scoring opportunities or scoring goals. They will often mark strikers who are attacking from the center of the field, as they tend to be a bit slower than their outside back counterparts. Center backs must also be strong headers and be confident and capable when it comes to slide tackling incoming offensive players. Historically great center backs include Franz Beckenbauer, Franco Baresi, Sergio Ramos, and Alessandro Nesta.

Outside Back

Outside backs, also commonly referred to as full backs or the left and right back, are the exterior members of a standard four-person defensive line. Like center backs, an outside back’s main role on the pitch is to prevent the opposition from scoring. However, their role differs slightly because of their positioning closer to the sidelines. Outside backs require a bit more speed than center backs, enabling them to effectively mark speedy wing players. These players are also tasked with preventing crosses towards the center of the field that may allow offensive players in the middle to score an easy volley or header goal. Legendary outside backs include Paolo Maldini, Dani Alves, and Paul Breitner.

Sweeper

A sweeper in soccer is a defensive player that sits behind the rest of the defensive line. The sweeper is essentially the last line of defense before the goalkeeper. If the opposing team is able to penetrate the back line, the sweeper will try and counter before they are able to shoot. The sweeper will usually hang around the middle of the defensive line, but they will quickly react to where the ball is going and shift to either side. While this position is less common in modern soccer, there have been many famous sweepers over the years, including Franco Baresi and Bobby Moore.

Goalkeepers

soccer Goalkeeper

A goalie, also known as a goalkeeper, is a player who guards the goal with the primary objective of preventing scoring. They are allowed to use their hands inside the penalty box and are often the players who take goal kicks. Historically, goalies wear the number one, and this is more often used by goalies over the other positional nomenclature. Some notable goalkeepers in soccer include Manuel Neuer, David De Gea, and Iker Casillas.

Soccer Position Names

FAQ

What are the 11 positions in soccer?

While the names and responsibilities of the 11 players on the soccer pitch at any given time can vary, the 11 core soccer positions are as follows:

  1. Goalkeeper
  2. Right Back
  3. Left Back
  4. Center Back (x2)
  5. Left Midfielder
  6. Central Midfielder
  7. Right Midfielder
  8. Left Wing
  9. Striker/Center Forward
  10. Right Wing

While team formations can affect the use of these 11 positions, most fans and players consider these the 11 core positions found on most soccer teams.

How many positions are there in soccer?

There are 11 different positions in use during any given soccer game. Typically, these 11 players will be in formations that distribute a team’s efforts evenly across the pitch, but some teams will favor offense or defense depending on their team’s schematics. There are numerous other games given to certain positions, depending on the tactics and formation of their team.

What position in soccer scores the most goals?

Forwards (specifically, center forwards and strikers) are the most frequent goal scorers on any given soccer team. This is in large part due to their positioning on the field, which often leaves them the closest to the opposing goal. Being so close to the opposing goal puts them in a great position to blow past the opposition’s back line and take shots on goal.