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Soccer Strategy

Where you play the ball, when, and how will come with experience. To gain experience, try to get in as many games as possible.  Whether it's small sided games, two on two or three on three to little goals (two bags - two feet apart or two cones that act as the goals):  these types of competitive games will improve your play and help you make quick decisions. 

Of course, real eleven versus eleven games are ideal - there's always a different feeling surrounding an actually game.  You will learn something new every time you play.  But it's important to play more games, whether real eleven versus eleven or a small sided pick up game at the park with friends.  In each setting you can improve different parts of your game.

Often the pace of the game will dictate where you play the ball.  If you play a good team and you are constantly put under pressure you will be forced to play the ball quickly.  This will only make you a better player as you get older, so try to play at a game like intensity all the time – look to play against the best competition.  Don't do things that you know you wouldn't get away with if you were playing a good team.

Overall, the key to playing good soccer is keeping the ball moving by playing one and two touch soccer - passing and moving off the ball and being creative.  The ability to do this goes back to a good first touch, using your body to shield the ball, and knowing what you want to do with the ball before you get it. 

In a way soccer is about getting the ball into the right person's feet; the one who has the most time and space (faces the least pressure) and is in the most advantageous position to score or make that goal scoring pass.

Spread out on offense and become a compact unit on defense.  On offense, use the entire field to open up the defense - creating gaps and spaces to attack.  On, defense you want to do the opposite, stay compact as a team unit and defend with numbers.  For instance, if the opponent is attacking down the right side, then the far right midfielder can move into the middle and help out since the player on the far side is not as dangerous as those attacking with the ball. 

Of course, he or she must still be aware of the player they are marking, but they can gamble in a sense, and keep their eye on the ball and the wide player and help clog the middle and intercept passes.  If the opposition makes a long pass to the far left winger, he or she needs to be able to get there before the ball does, and then the whole team will have to shift positions to the right side.  If you gauge it right, you should be able to arrive before the player has time to control the ball and attack down the line.  Make the player get his head down by putting pressure on him – don’t be too far away or too close – but put enough pressure on the player so that have to think and get their head down.

On offense, to open up spaces in the opposing teams defense, the key rule that you can follow is keep the ball moving.  Let the ball do the work.  Play the ball into the forwards feet, and then they lay it back to the midfielder who plays the ball wide.  The wide midfielder then tries to get a cross in or switches the ball back to the other side where there is more space. 

Draw the defense out by playing the ball into the forward's feet, and if he or she is covered they can lay the ball back to a midfielder or lay the ball off to someone making a run through towards the goal.  Your intention, when you play the ball to the forward who is tightly marked is to draw the defense into this player, once the forward gets a touch on the ball and holds the ball up with a touch or two, you (the midfielder) can get the ball back and play another player through who now becomes open, since the defense has collapsed around the forward or shifted their focus on the forward.  You can make the pass in behind the defense and get them chasing the ball with their heads turned.


A number of ideas have been repeated throughout this site and these themes are what should guide you as a player.  

Here again are the key themes of this site:

1.  Keep the ball moving with one or two touches.

2.  Change of pace after making a move to beat a player on the dribble.

3.  Keep the ball out of your feet when controlling the ball – control the ball out in front of you a few yards.

4.  Play the ball with pace; make a crisp solid pass, whether it is a 10 yard pass or 20 yards.

5.  Get the cross in.

6.  Take shots.

7.  When dribbling, touch the ball with every step you take, to ensure close control and enhance your ability to cut the ball away from defenders. 

8.  Play the ball and move – get it and give it.

9.  Demand the ball.

10.  Always want the ball.

11.  Communicate – tell teammates to turn or man on or you have time.  When you make a pass give some directive along with that pass.

You should also add to the above short list: spend time with the ball on your own, whether it is practicing your dribbling moves, juggling, or striking the ball against a wall - with both feet.

Back to Strategy

In terms of style of play, selfish play becomes contagious.  When someone is dribbling all the time others will pick that up and do it themselves or not be as active in the play and stop making runs. The great thing about soccer is that this will usually correct itself because the game doesn't allow you to play that way. The team that moves the ball around and shares the ball the most makes things the easiest for themselves and will have the most scoring opportunities.  If you play selfish soccer you will not be successful in the long run.

Additionally, before you play the ball, when picking out a player for a long pass or serving the ball in from a long distance, you should have a plan in your mind of what is going to take place next.  The player you are making the pass to should have someone to lay the ball off to or time to turn, or you yourself should support the pass if nobody is available.  For instance, as when a defender drives the ball into a forward who lays the ball back to the center midfielder.  Picture a series of plays that are going to take place when sending a long ball or starting a play. Try to always think of where the ball should go next – that way you’re making good decisions and setting up your teammates – putting them in advantageous positions. 

For instance, you want to play the ball to your teammates left foot if they have someone covering them on their right side.  You want to lead your teammate with a pass that puts them in the best possible scenario to make the next successful play or pass.  If they are making a run through towards the goal you want to put the right pace on the ball so they don't have to break their stride.  Bend the ball into the path of the player or if they are better on their left foot then play it to that foot or play it to the space where your teammate can make the play but not the defender.

Again, the best methods are to play the ball hard, to pass and move, to play and follow your pass or to give it and get it, to always want the ball, and always put yourself in a position to receive the ball and make a play.  If you are not going to get the ball then make a run to receive the ball or take a defender away and open up space for a teammate.

Making Runs

Playing and moving covers the basic idea behind making runs, but the important thing to remember is to make these runs dangerous and make runs that lead to goal scoring opportunities or open up space for a teammate.  Make a run in behind the defense for instance, and then if that is not on, check back to the ball, get the ball and lay it off and then make that run behind the defender again, so the midfielder can chip or loft the ball to you in the air.  Or if the midfielder on the left side has the ball you as the center midfielder can make a run down the line to receive the ball or open up space for the left sided midfielder to take his opponent on the dribble and move into the open space in the middle.

Two Quick Reminders: 

·        When going at a defender on the dribble - make the defender commit to you and then lay the ball off.

·        Angled runs are harder to defend - and you can use your body to better protect the ball you are receiving.

Another example of a run:  the center midfielder has the ball dribbling towards the right. The right winger or midfielder breaks down the sideline to receive the ball, and if he or she is covered checks back to the center midfielder to receive the ball. 

If there's an opportunity to take the defender on, go for it, if not, lay it back to the center midfielder and break down the line again to receive the ball.  The center midfielder can also make an overlapping run.  The right sided midfielder can play a one two with the forward who is posting up.  There are numerous options if everyone on the field is looking to put themselves into position to receive the ball and help one another.

To execute these types of exchanges, a give and go or overlap you need to lead the defense into believing you are going in a different direction.  Keep them on their heels; lay the ball off at the right time. You can always start over.  If one side of the field is too clogged up and crowded then switch the ball to the other side.  It could be two square exchanges of the ball and then on the third pass someone breaks into the open space to receive the ball in behind the defense. 

Starting over can mean making a run to get yourself open or setting up your defender – for a return pass.  Dart down the line and checking back to get the ball.  Make an angled run into the middle and then checking to the outside.  Essentially, this is making space for yourself by taking the defender with you into the middle and then breaking to the outside.  Draw the defender away from the space you want to receive the ball in - and then check back into the space you just opened up.  It could even just be walking five yards towards the sideline and then breaking back to the middle. Check back to the ball at an angle. This way you will have more space to turn and see the field, your body is already half turned if you check back at an angle.  You can check back to the ball side on – so you’re already half turned, can see where you want to play the ball next, and keep your body between you and the defender – control the ball with the outside of your foot.


Running Without the Ball

If you make a run towards a teammate with the ball but don't receive it - break into space to drag the defender with you.  For example, make an ambitious run towards goal for a through ball just to draw attention to yourself and open up a play for someone else – a decoy run.

Give and Go or
Wall Pass

The base foundation for all of soccer in a way. Again, the key is setting up your defender.  You almost need to sucker the defender towards you, as though he or she is going to be able to intercept the ball, then play the ball and go - accelerating into the open space to receive the return pass.

The Cross Over Exchange

This is where you dribble the ball towards a teammate and exchange the ball with him or her. You can also fake the exchange and keep the ball if the defender has read the play.  Exchange the ball with same foot as your teammate.  Meaning, that if the player dribbling is using his or her right foot then their teammate will pick the ball up with their right foot, since they are coming in the opposite direction. This enables you to shield the ball from the defender with your body. 

Exchanging Positioning

This is another good way to open up space for a teammate and confuse the opposition. For example, an outside midfielder you can exchange positions with a center midfielder.  If during the game they end up in close proximity when making a run or when exchanging the ball – this switch may confuse the defense for a brief moment and give you an opening.  The outside midfielder makes a run into the middle, receives the ball, makes a pass to the forward who holds the ball and then lays it back to the outside midfielder who sends it down the line where the center midfielder has made a run.

This kind of movement can take place all over the field during a game.  Although it is important to fall back into your position or make sure each position is covered, and your team shape is intact. 

Again, change of pace is the key, when dribbling and when making a run. A slow jog, away from where you want to go or disguised by moving into a different position, and then a quick movement towards the area where you really want the ball. You need to bring the defender away from where you want the ball played. Pushing up the field so you can break back towards the ball.  Or the opposite, bring the defender back to the ball, so you can break in behind him or her, and your teammate  can play the ball through and behind the defense.

Back Door Runs

Make an exaggerated move back to the ball then break away to receive the ball behind the defender who has now overcommitted to the play since he or she thought you were going to receive the ball in front of you.

Serving the Ball Into the Box

Target a player and drive the ball in to them, most likely a forward. The important thing to keep in mind is playing the ball at the appropriate pace. You can't serve the ball in to a player from thirty yards away without striking the ball crisply and solidly. If you send in a soft lofted ball it is likely to get intercepted by a defender. Again, a driven ball is easier to control and redirect, on to goal or to another player. It is in this way that you should play soccer: see the next play that should take place before you make a pass.  You want to give a directive via the pace of the ball. 

Attack Quickly

Attack quickly when there's an advantage or an opportunity. Don't hesitate.  Try to keep the ball moving as quickly as possible. If there's a chance to break - break with a few precise and crisp passes.

Angled Movements

Dribble down the line and cut the ball sharply to an open teammate in the middle. For example:  you are a wide midfielder, you feint like you are going to take the ball down the line. You are on the left side dribbling with your left foot so your body is protecting the ball, and if the defender tries to poke the ball away you will get a throw-in.

Dribble across the field, cutting in, and chop the ball out wide just as a defender approaches. In both cases, waiting until the last minute to release the ball.  The key is making the defense think you are going to do one thing and do the opposite. Sell like you are going to dribble down the line or as though you are cutting across the middle of the field.

Team Shape

Expand on offence and use the whole field. On defense you want to become a compact unit - enclosing the area where your opponent has possession of the ball, making it difficult for them to make a pass. You will have enough time to reach an opponent if they make a long pass. 

On offence you want to become big and use all of the available space on the field. It's more difficult for the opposition to cover a team that uses all of the space on the field rather than one that doesn't require them to move and cover the whole field.

This is why it is good to switch play and keep the ball moving on offense - so your opponent cannot close down your space and make it difficult for you to make a pass and you can find holes in their defensive structure by stretching them out. By moving the ball laterally you can find time and space and pick out a teammate in a goal scoring or advantageous position.

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