Soccer Player Roles Explained

Each soccer player in a team has a specific role. Each of these roles requires particular skills. Soccer positions can be divided into outfield and non-outfield roles, although the vast majority of the team plays in outfield positions. Read on for a detailed explanation of the different soccer positions and how these are utilized in games. 

Why do players have different positions in soccer? 

In soccer, every player has a position that they are assigned to, which covers specific areas of the pitch. Each soccer position comes with different roles and responsibilities during the game. 

Soccer positions help to define the strategy and provide roles for each team member, allowing everyone to work together towards the common aim of scoring goals and preventing the opposition from doing the same. 

Soccer players are expected to cover and dominate their specified areas of the pitch during the game. The best soccer is seen when all players dominate their positions on the pitch. This enables all players to know exactly where their teammates will be, and so the game flows beautifully, like clockwork. 

When you watch the best professional teams in the world playing, you can see the beauty and benefit of every player knowing and owning their role on the pitch. This is demonstrated well by teams like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus, and others at the game’s top level. 

The Four Main Categories for Soccer Player Positions

In soccer games, each of the two teams starts with ten outfield players and a non-outfield player, the goalkeeper. The positions of players on the field will depend on the formation that the team is using in the game. 

There are many positions, but they can be divided into four main categories which are:

Defensive Positions

The formation a team plays, determines how attack-minded or defensive the team is. In the category of defensive soccer player positions, there are four different positions. The role of the defenders, in general, is to prevent the opposition from scoring goals by limiting their goalscoring opportunities and blocking goal attempts. The defending players are those closest to their team’s goal on the pitch. 


Centrebacks are also known as central defenders, center fullback, center half, or stoppers. Players in this position play in the middle of the rear defensive line. When 4-4-2 formations are played, there are two centrebacks, and these players hang back to protect their team’s goal. 


Fullbacks are positioned at the rear on the right and left sides of the pitch. Their general role is to play wide to defend the sides of the pitch. However, when needed, they assist with defending the center. Fullbacks often move up and down the field, both defending their area and assisting with offensive play when required. 


Wingbacks move up and down the field, playing wide on the pitch’s left and right sides. Although the wingbacks’ primary role is defensive, they are also the most offensive of all the defending positions. This position is more physically demanding than other defensive positions and requires a lot of stamina. 


In modern soccer games, this position is rarely used, but it is an option. The sweeper plays between the main defensive line and the goalkeeper. The role of the sweeper is to sweep up balls that have gotten past the defensive backs. For this reason, the sweeper will typically remain behind the other defending players. However, in an offensive push, they can help to take the ball up the field. 


Midfielder Positions 

As the name suggests, midfielders play in the middle of the pitch. They are also known as halfbacks. Players in this position connect the offensive and defensive lines. They act like gears, in this sense, ensuring a smooth transition of the ball. Also, players in this position tend to see the most action during a soccer game. There are four main positions within this category. 

Left and right midfielders

Left and right midfielders are also known as wingers. Players in this position play wide. Their role is to create space for their team’s offensive line by pulling their opponent’s defense to the outside. Players in this position tend not to possess the ball a great deal but look to transition it forward to offensive players on their team. They sometimes get opportunities to take goal shots. 

Attacking midfielders

Attacking midfielders play between the offensive line and the midfield. Those in this position are the playmakers and are responsible for creating goalscoring opportunities. Their role is not to hang back when the opposition has the ball but to attack. Players in this position must be capable goal scorers. 

Central midfielders

Depending on where the ball is, central midfielders play both offensively and defensively. This position involves a lot of hard work and action. Central midfielders are responsible for transitioning the ball to other players. When attacking, central midfielders often take long shots on goal. 

Defensive midfielders

Defensive midfielders are located directly in front of their team’s defenders on the pitch. They are also sometimes referred to as holding midfielders. The role of a defensive midfielder is to keep the ball outside their zone. They do this by intercepting the opposition’s passes, managing rebounds, passing forward, getting the ball away from the opposing players, and keeping the ball in the opposition’s zone. 

Forward Positions 

Players in the forward positions are the offensive players. They play closest to the opponent’s goal and are the primary attacking players. The main objective of players in the forward positions is to score as many goals as possible during the game. These players must avoid being offside. They must also be swift and capable of taking goal shots from all angles. There are three positions in this category. 


The role of the striker is to score goals. Strikers are positioned in front of the center forward and nearest to the opposition’s goal. These players get passed the ball frequently by their teammates. They must be fast to outrun the opposition’s defenders. Strikers should apply pressure to get the opposition’s defense to make mistakes when they own the ball. To be effective in this position, a striker must be precise when handling the ball and have quick footwork to outmaneuver defensive players. 

Second Striker 

Whether a second striker is used or not depends on a team’s formation for the game. Second strikers are positioned behind the center-forward. Their primary purpose is to set up goalscoring opportunities for the other attacking players. The second striker’s responsibility is to hold off the opposition, shielding the ball from them. At the same time, they have to wait for their attacking teammates to position themselves well for a good shot at the goal. Players in this position must also take shots at the goal when the opportunity arises. 

Centre forwards 

The term center forward is often used interchangeably with striker because they essentially have the same role, scoring goals. However, there is a technical difference in terms of positioning. The difference between a striker and a center forward is that the striker is closest to the opposition’s goal, while the center forward plays in the most central position of the forwards. 


Each team has one goalkeeper, and these are the only non-outfielder positions in a game of soccer. Goalkeepers are a team’s last line of defense. Their job is to defend the goal and prevent the opposition from scoring. 

Goalkeepers are the only players permitted to handle the soccer ball (except for players taking throw-ins). Specific skills are required to play successfully in the position. A goalkeeper must have quick instincts and excellent reflexes. They must also be agile since they dive around and fling themselves towards the ball to prevent goals from being scored. 

Goalkeepers are rarely petite. This is because it helps players in this position cover as much of the goal area as possible and reach high and wide to stop the ball from going in. 

Goalkeepers work with the defending players to limit the opposition’s opportunities for goalscoring. They control the box and give direction to defenders, alerting them to possible dangerous spaces so these can be closed down. 

Substitute Players

Substitute players, or substitutes, are players who come on at any point in a soccer game to replace other players. Players can be replaced due to the coach’s or manager’s decision or because of injury. 

In most soccer matches, teams are permitted to have five designated substitute players. However, the standard rule is that only three substitutes are allowed during a game. Because substitutions are limited in this way, it is typical for teams to have various substitutes on the bench. This might include, for example, a striker, a midfielder, a defender, and a goalkeeper.

Having a mixture of players on the bench ensures that the team is well covered if anyone in the starting lineup becomes injured or if a tactical substitution is required. Versatile players who can quickly adopt several different roles are generally considered to be better substitute players. 


Soccer teams can choose a variety of formations to play in according to their strategy for a game. A team’s formation determines whether they are playing a more defending or attacking style during the game. 

The variety of possible formations is limited only by the number of outfield players on a team, which is ten. In any given formation, the central role and responsibilities for each position remain the same. However, the formation affects how the players flow together and work creatively during the game. 

Typical soccer formations divide the outfield players into three main zones. Formations are set up from back to front, so they refer to defense, midfield, and forward in that order. For example, a typical formation is 4-4-2, and this means that the team is playing with four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. 

However, teams are sometimes divided into more than three main sections. Examples of this would be a 4-4-1-1 formation, which incorporates the second striker, or a 1-4-3-2 formation that incorporates the sweeper. These formations are seen less commonly, though. 

In US soccer, a 4-3-3 formation is generally favored. This formation can be set up as either an attack or defense-minded strategy. Another popular formation is 4-4-2. How formations are chosen depends on the strategy for a given game. How formations are set up depends on the style of the coach or manager. 

Do Soccer Player Positions Ever Change During a Game?

Although player positions are designated at the start of a soccer game, they are not so rigid that a player will grind to halt when they feel they are too far out of their area. Soccer players move around a lot during games and easily get pulled out of position by the opposing team’s play. 

Some players are known for being very energetic, and it is common for players like this to move around the pitch a lot, to the extent that they may appear to be fulfilling several different roles. Some defenders, for example, seem to have a knack for getting in the perfect position to score goals. 

As we have seen, some positions are naturally more fluid. This is evident in the case of the central midfielder, who can play both offensively and defensively. All players must be capable of reacting to their opposition’s play and positioning themselves where needed in any given moment. 

Although players generally remain in their designated areas and roles, they must be versatile to support their teammates when needed. They can then return to their position once the ball has been passed on.