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Soccer Formations

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How the players are set up on the field and the roles they have in the game is called the formation. There are a lot of different formations possible depending on the team strategy. If your youth team has less than 11 players, your formations will be different that those we discuss below. However, many of the same concepts will be the same.

Which soccer formation is the best?

There is no single best formation. Coaches may choose a formation for a number of reasons. Reasons could include the type of players and their strengths as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent.

What do the numbers in formations mean?

Formations are usually referred to by numbers. An example of this is the 4-4-2 formation. This refers to 4 defensemen, 4 midfielders, and 2 forwards. The 11th player is the goalie. The goalie isn't mentioned in the numbers because it's assumed there is always a goalie guarding the goal.


You can see how the players are set up for the 4-4-2 on the field below:

Soccer formation 4-4-2

The 4-4-2 formation is the most popular today in soccer. It's used by a lot of professional teams as their main formation and is likely one of the first you will learn when you start playing for an 11 player team.


Another example of a formation is the 4-3-3 formation. In this formation there are only three midfielders, but also three forwards. This can be a popular formation in youth leagues as it is a fairly easy formation to learn. See the diagram below:

Soccer formation 4-3-3

The 4-3-3 soccer formation


This is a popular formation used by professional and World Cup teams today. It is complex and is built for a team with a strong offensive lineup, especially one with strong midfielders.

Offensive or Defensive Focus (3-5-2 and 4-5-1)

Two other common soccer formations are the 3-5-2 and the 4-5-1. The 3-5-2 has more of an offensive focus than the 4-4-2 having an additional midfielder to assist with the forwards. The 4-5-1 is a strong defensive formation and is often used by weaker teams to keep the score close and then hope for a quick strike goal.

Other Formations

There are a number of other soccer formations. Some teams use flexible formations and change throughout the game depending on whether they want to focus on offense or defense. Formations also go in and out of style over time. What is a popular formation today may not be tomorrow.

Coverage Area

The general idea of the formation is held as the ball moves up and down the field. Players should move around in the area assigned to them keeping good spacing to allow for passing and defense.

*Pictures by Ducksters

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