Identifying Popular Soccer Formations - dummies

By Michael Lewis, United States Soccer Federation, Inc.

In soccer, formations are the way a team lines up its defense, midfield, and forward line at the beginning of the match. But soccer is a fluid sport, and during the game, a midfielder may become a forward for five or ten minutes and then return to his original position. Or, likewise, a forward may come back to defend.

When talking about formations, defenders are listed first, followed by midfielders and then forwards. For example, a 4-2-4 formation has four defenders, two midfielders, and four forwards. Goalkeepers aren’t counted because theirs is the one position that hasn’t changed over the years.

In reality, you could produce dozens of formations due to the mathematical possibilities. Here are two of the most popular formations.

The 4-2-4

The 4-2-4 formation is the most offensive-minded in modern times. To take advantage of this formation, talented and skillful midfielders and forwards must strike early and hold the ball for long periods of time because the pressure is on the midfield and defense big-time when the opposition possesses the ball.


The 3-5-2

Today’s game is won or lost in the midfield, which is why the 3-5-2 formation is popular. A team that doesn’t have its midfield operating at peak efficiency suffers in ball possession and scoring chances. So, many coaches like to use as many as five midfielders, although two outside midfielders may have more defensive responsibilities than their mates.