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ADIDAS/May 2024/
4 minute read

On the Field: Soccer Positions Explained

We’re open and ready to assist. Learn about the different positions in soccer with adidas.

As the whistle blows on game day, 11 jerseys take to the field with victory on their minds and adrenaline in their veins. While only 11 soccer positions are on the field at once, more types of positions exist. Each position contributes something special and unique to the game and is used for team strategies against the opposition. Keep in mind that while starting goalkeepers are typically #1 and strikers are typically #9, numbers 1-11 often vary based on the players put in the game. Dive into each soccer position below as we shed light on their numbers, purpose, and how the nuances between each position create a unified and dynamic team. 


The Formations: 

Soccer formations allow teams to strategize and win games, and there are a wide variety of formation alignments. The formations employed by each team will vary based on the player's positions, team strengths and weaknesses, and the coach's vision. Formations can change during the game, so players need to be adaptable. Below are two of the most popular formations used on the field.   

  • 4-3-3: In this formation, there are four players on defense, three at midfield and three forwards on the pitch. This formation creates a balanced defense and offense, with the midfielders being able to hang back or run up to help attack.    
  • 4-4-2: In this formation, there are four defense players on the field, four midfielders, and two forwards. This formation is also balanced, putting teams in the proper alignment to defend the goal and score against their opponents.

Soccer Positions Explained

The Defense:  

Protecting the goal, the penalty box and blocking shots from the opposing team is the job of the defensive line.  

Goalkeeper (G) 

Purpose: First up is the goalkeeper, also known as the goalie or keeper. As the last line of defense for their team, this is a high-pressure position both mentally and physically. Their job is to guard the goal by using any part of their body to block shots to prevent the opposition from scoring points. They also call strategies to the defensive players to protect the goal as the opposition approaches. Goalkeepers are the only players on the field allowed to use their hands and arms. 

Left and Right Back (LB, RB)/ Wing Backs (WB) 

Purpose: Also known as fullbacks or wing backs the right back is stationed on the right side of the field and the left back on the left side. They play a vital role in defending the goal from the opposing team’s wingers, while also supporting the offensive players by pushing the ball up and out of the defensive zone.  

Center Back (CB) 

Purpose: Also known as the central defender, the center back is the backbone of the defensive line who leads the defense. This player has an optimal view of the field which allows them to communicate the importance of holding a strong formation during the game. Their job is to dish out strategic and aggressive plays from the center of the field and to stop any balls from getting past them. Whether they are blocking balls or intercepting passes, center backs put forth significant effort to defend their goal from the middle of the field.  

Sweeper (SW) 

Purpose: The sweeper is the last line of defense. They are positioned behind the other defensive players.  The sweeper provides quick and last-minute defensive support by attacking and redirecting balls that make it past defensive lines. Sweepers must be fast and agile on their feet as they are also tasked with breaking up any long passes made on the field. They don’t venture outside of defensive lines and aren’t tasked with following or tracking the opposing team’s attackers.  


The Midfield:  

The midfield is like the engine of the team, working together at the center of the field to both support their defensive team while helping move the ball up the field to create scoring opportunities.   

Defensive Midfielder (DM) 

Purpose: The defensive midfielder's main goal is to delay the opposing team from attacking the middle of the field and gaining the ball. They come head-to-head with attackers and aim to pass the ball up the field to make it easier for their forward teammates to score a goal.  

Left and Right Midfielders (LM, RM)/ Left and Right Wingers (LW, RW) 

Purpose: Playing their respective sides, wing midfielders are tasked with supporting the offense and defense on the width of play. Positioned on the right or left touch line of the field these players create opportunities for their teammates by pushing the ball up field, applying pressure to the opposing team's fullbacks, and getting into scoring positions in the box to score a goal themselves. 

Central Midfielder (CM) 

Purpose: Placed in the middle of the field, central midfielders, also known as box-to-box midfielders, play both offense and defense by spanning the length of the field. These players often lead the offense and are trained to receive and pass the ball and move it up the field.  They are also able to pivot and fall back to protect the goal if necessary.  

Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM) 

Purpose: The central attacking midfielder, commonly known as “the playmaker”, is an offensive player who has next-level dribbling and passing abilities. Placed between the central midfielders and the forwards, the CAM’s main objective is to use strategic thinking to create scoring opportunities, move the ball forward and to pass or shoot deep within goal territory.

The Forwards: 

Moving the ball forward, creating opportunities and scoring goals is the main focus for the forward line.

Striker (S)/ Center Forward (CF) 

Purpose: The striker/center forward are essential to the teams attacking line up. This position takes up residence directly in their opponents' territory, right outside their penalty box. Their mission is to score goals and are experts at going up against opposing team's offenders CF/ST assist other offensive players by working to remain open and ready to receive a pass, shot the ball and score big for their team. 


Your Ball, Your Play 

A game built on unity and teamwork, soccer creates a space for athletes and spectators to come together and have fun. Whether you’re on the pitch, watching from the stands or from a cool dive bar in your neighborhood, understanding the soccer number positions, their roles on the field and their purpose will only enrich your love and connection to the beautiful game. 


If you’re open to continuing your understanding of the sport as a player or a fan, then dive into a breakdown on offsides in soccer and what a penalty kick is 


Illustrated by Nico Mattison