A Complete Guide to the Different Positions in Soccer

When you're watching a game of professional soccer, the action can look almost like a well-choreographed dance. But if you're not familiar with all the ins and outs of the sport (the offsides rule is confusing, OK?), it can be hard to figure out exactly what's going on in each play. After all, there are 22 players on the field at any given time. That's a lot of soccer positions and roles to keep track of. Well, allow us to give you a crash course in the soccer position names and purposes.

What Are the Positions in Soccer?

The 11 players on each team consist of a goalkeeper and 10 outfielders, typically comprised of four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. Each of these positions typically covers a particular area on the field, and within the broader positions, individual players may have a specific role.

Here's a thorough guide to the different positions in women's soccer and what each position entails. (And while you're learning about the game, brush up on how long a match is to whether or not a game can end in a tie.)

Goalkeeper
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Goalkeeper

This soccer position is pretty self-explanatory: The goalkeeper (aka goalie) is responsible for, well, keeping goals out of the net. Needless to say, this position comes with a lot of pressure and it requires a variety of skills, including fast reflexes, agility, reading opponents, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to make quick decisions. It's also key that goalkeepers communicate with their teammates throughout the game and direct the defense players to certain spots on the field — when communication is smooth and effective, it's less likely that the ball will even need to be stopped by the goalkeeper at all.

Defender
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Defender

Playing in the outfield, a defender's role is to keep the opposing team as far away from the goalpost as possible and prevent them from scoring. Defenders are considered the backbone of the team; their primary job is to prevent forwards from passing forward (duh), dribbling toward the goal, or shooting. In short, they do whatever it takes to prevent their opponents from taking a shot. Being a successful defender requires grit, speed, strong passing skills, and the ability to push offensive players off the ball.

Forward
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Forward

The main role of a forward is to score goals, which is why these players frequently get the most attention (and are known for setting records or making achievements like hat tricks). You'll first spot them kicking off at the beginning of the game (and again after halftime) and it's almost always forwards who take penalty kicks. At the start of the game, forwards are positioned at the midfield line and once the game begins, they move toward the opponent's goal. You won't typically see a forward any closer to their team's goalpost than the midfield line — their presence would interfere with defenders' ability to do their jobs, and forwards always need to be prepared for the moment the ball comes back their way so they can seize the opportunity to score.

Midfielder
Getty | Brad Smith/USSF / Contributor

Midfielder

Positioned between the team's defenders and forwards, midfielders excel at ball handling and passing skills — and knowing exactly when to pass and to whom. Midfielders are also responsible for stopping or slowing down opponents and preventing them from reaching their team's last defensive line.


Caitlin Flynn is a journalist, true crime fanatic, full-time Gemini, former ballerina, and big fan of unlikeable female protagonists.