A Parent’s Guide to Core Positions and Rules: Part 3 – Offense Fundamentals

At its core, soccer pits each team’s offense against the opposing team’s defense. Players use multiple skills to defeat the defense by scoring the deciding goal to win the game, as well as preventing the other team from scoring. As players grow and advance, the number of players increases, making the game even more challenging.

Forwards (or attackers) are positioned closest to the defense’s goal and score most of a team’s goals. Attacking midfielders are positioned behind the forwards and closer to the opposing team’s defensive zone. Mids can help the forwards attack their offensive zone.

Defenders are the last set of players to prevent the offense from attacking their goal. Youth teams usually field two defenders (or backs) stationed in front of the goal. Defenders follow the play from the moment the ball moves toward them.

To clear the ball out of the defensive zone, a defender can pass the ball to the other defender, a mid, or a forward. They can also boot the ball toward the other team’s goal.

Each player should be thoroughly familiar with the strengths and limitations of the positions. They should also learn to develop their teamwork, communication, and creativity to develop skills and confidence to help them prevail in their matches.

Attacking Principles of Play

Creating space is a foundational attacking principle, allowing the team to use the field’s entire width and length to adjust and defeat the defense’s positioning to help them score goals.

The following five elements form the basic principles of attacking in soccer:

  1. Penetration: As soon as a player has possession of the ball, they should immediately go to the goal.
  2. Support–Depth: A player who doesn’t possess the ball should move into spaces behind the ball. This allows them to receive a pass or finish by scoring a goal.
  3. Support–Width: Alternatively, a player who doesn’t possess the ball should move into spaces on either side of the ball, allowing them to receive a pass or finish by scoring a goal.
  4. Mobility: Any player who doesn’t possess the ball can make “creative runs off the ball” to destabilize the defense.
  5. Finishing: Ultimately, the primary objective is to finish by scoring a goal.

Passing and Moving

Coaches can help young players use the field’s width and length by learning to pass, move, and play in a diamond shape, first with 4v1 games and eventually advancing to 4v4 games. Once players get comfortable supporting the ball using the entire field, they can stretch their skills to play 5v5 games, all the way up to 11v11 games.

The coach can support these skills by frequently using the terms “width” and “depth” as a primary way to describe field positioning, movement, and vision. Videos showing these concepts are a great way to help players translate the concepts of width and depth into actual play on the field.

Switching the Attack

While attacking a goal, the offense may move the ball to one side of the field. This can cause the defenders to move to that side to close the space and keep the offense from moving toward the goal. As the defenders bunch on that side, the offense can switch the attack by passing to a player and/or moving through the newly opened space.

Switching the attack helps the offense escape pressure from the defenders. Accurate passing is key, as is the ability of the well-positioned receiver to avoid getting caught offside as they move toward the goal. Before the receiver first touches the ball, they need to see where the defenders are positioned and then identify the best space to direct their first touch.

Bluffing the Opponent

Young soccer players can improve their offensive game and possibly draw (or influence) a penalty by learning a few simple moves to help bluff (or juke) their opponents. Beating defenders highlights the importance of ball control skills and speed.

The chop should be initiated while the attacker is in a stable stance. The player uses their right foot to strike the ball from the right side at a sharp angle, which causes the ball to move to the player’s left side. This move is especially effective near the goal. Attackers can use the chop to bluff the defender into thinking they’re shooting, clearing, or crossing the ball. This simple move is a great way to develop ball control while nimbly changing direction and increasing space between them and a defender.

The nutmeg is a simple, effective move. The player on offense fakes a move to the side, which causes the defender to open their legs. The attacker then kicks the ball between their legs. The attacker dashes past the defender, recovers the ball, and continues toward the goal. Players should practice this move with their teammates to become comfortable with the space and timing needed to execute it.

The stepover is a great one-on-one move for young players and can form the foundation for more complex maneuvers as they develop their skills. The player fakes a pass and then steps over the ball with their front leg. The defender thinks the attacker is going in one direction until they quickly move past them in the opposite direction.

Corner Kicks and the Rebound

According to FIFA Law 17, the offense takes a corner kick when the ball crosses the opponent’s goal line after last touching a defensive player. Although a goal can be scored directly from a corner kick, using the rebound is a great way to get a second chance at a goal.

Because the original kicker cannot touch the ball again until another player has touched it, players need to stay engaged in the play, communicate with each other, and follow the ball toward the goal. Because the corner kick is taken so close to the goal, multiple players can have many opportunities to score a goal on a rebound.

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