“Who am I?”
“What is my purpose?”
“Where should I be?
These are questions that every philosopher has asked dating back probably even before the Ancient Greeks. But as much as I’d love to whip out my “Existentialist Football” literature, that’s not the context I’m bringing up these questions in. Instead, I’ve seen a lot of people asking questions about how to build their characters. While there’s an explainer on what stats affect what things, there’s still plenty of questions from new people. There a lot of people joining who don’t exactly follow soccer too closely and aren’t even sure of what position they want to play, let alone how to be the best in that position.
So that’s where I’m stepping in. As someone with 5 years of soccer podcasting experience, 3 years editorial soccer writing experience, and an official USSF “F” Coaching Certification, I’m gonna help ya out. And just as an aside, don’t be afraid to say something you’re not sure about being right with. The first step in learning is to have the wrong answer. Then you learn the right one.
For those of you unfamiliar with soccer and want to know what positions are like what, I regret to inform you that there is no way to compare positions in soccer effectively with other sports. Maybe in physical builds, but even then I can only think of an American football Tight End or a basketball Center would make a good goalkeeper. There are no real “fuck off” positions in the game. Anyone on the pitch can honestly score at any time. Center-backs come forward on corner kicks and usually use their height to score in those situations, fullbacks can make forward runs, holding midfielders can take shots from outside the box, and sometimes at the end of close games where a goal is absolutely needed the goalkeeper may come forward into the box on set pieces (or they can just be Jorge Campos). So if you want to know the “soccer equivalent of an offensive lineman”, we don’t have such specialized positions here. Everyone runs, everyone defends, everyone can attack.
So let’s move onto some of the vocabulary I’ll be using here. There’s positions that you probably know from FIFA or the positions as listed in FM that we’re using for official positions, but there’s also certain other names associated with these positions (like how a middle linebacker is a “mike”). I use them, I’m sure other people use them, most people deeply familiar with the game use these names and numbers.
6: A 6 is a defensive midfielder. In FM they would be listed as a Defensive Midfielder or even a Central Midfielder if that’s just how the formation works out. They occupy an area a bit further back from midfield and their main focus is be the first line of defense. However, that’s not all. They can still be a very important player to the attack. A Deep Lying Playmaker can also be a 6 at the same time. But a 6 is essentially a central midfielder who focuses on supporting the defense.
Deep Lying Playmaker: A DLP is exactly what it sounds like. It is someone who can pick out passes and plays at a deeper position on the pitch. They are usually at the 6, but as stated before the formation may say that they’re actual just at a vanilla central midfield position. Either way, they’re not a player who moves forward often and their main contribution to the attack is the vision and accuracy to start counter-attacks.
Holding Midfielder: This is another form of Defensive Midfielder/Central Midfielder. This is essentially the other kind of 6, the player who sort of holds their position in front of the defensive line to be ready to stop an attack. There’s a certain phrase that I use when describing a certain aggressive version of these players: Destroyers. This isn’t in its own bit because honestly it’s more of a colloquialism or play style than an actual position/role. They are that first line of defense. I actually do have a football comparison here and the Holding Midfielder is a very much like a Middle Linebacker like Brian Urlacher. A lot of lateral movement to cover their space.
But this is just one part of the Central Midfield numbers. A 6 is almost never without an 8.
8: An 8 is just a straight up Central Midfielder. Their role depends on the team’s overall mentality. They are essentially all-around footballers. They need to have the ability to distribute the ball, they need to be able to get back on defense, and they will also probably be called upon to take shots in the attack as well. But to me an 8’s greatest use is to carry the ball from the defense into the attack. To use a bit of an irl anecdote that I saw in action this past year, Morgan Brian of the Chicago Red Stars is an 8. At the beginning of the season, everything was great and you barely even noticed her impact on the game. But the moment she was gone, there was a hole in the center of the park that no one was able to fill. Suddenly the ball jut wasn’t getting up to one of the most potent attacks in all women’s (club) soccer, so the team just wasn’t able to score. That’s the importance of the 8.
10: This is a fairly contentious point to some in the soccer community. In FIFA, this is a CAM and in FM, it’s an AM(C). What defines a 10 is of some debate. For me, a 10 is a player who has the flair and technique to distribute the ball throughout the attack. They create chances all on their own, but usually aren’t the ones to finish those chances. They make others look good, while looking pretty damn good them-self. All those players that you’ve seen doing all those fancy ball skills? They’re probably a 10. In general, a 10 is just the focal point of the offense. That’s why the number itself has the connotation of being given to the best player on the team (Like a baseball player wearing 3 or a basketball player choosing to wear 23).
So that’s the most confusing portion of the pitch taken care of. Now for some more simple vocab about the wide players:
Fullback: You probably already know what this is. These are the defenders that play at the edges of the defense. They’re the right back and left back. Depending on the general mentality and tactics of the team, the fullback can be a valuable tool in the attack. Their main job is to defend, yes, but many coaches use them to overlap with the wingers (we’ll talk about them in a second) and join in on the attack. Their main job in helping the attack is to cross the ball in from the flanks.
Winger: This is something I kinda disagree on with people sometimes. A winger is essentially just a wide player based in the attack. In FM, their traditional positions are the AM(L) and the AM(R), but personally I call M(L) and M(R) wingers as well. Their main thing is speed and getting down the field. Kinda like Wide Receivers, if you think about it, but they need crossing ability to send it in to the box when they reach the corner. Many wingers also cut inside from their wings to take shots as well. There’s also footedness that comes into play here. A left-footed right winger is considered an “Inverted Winger” and will cut in more often so they can use their dominant foot. Same with a right-footed left winger. Something to think about when choosing your dominant foot.
Wing-back: Basically a combination of the fullback and the winger. There’s a specific position for them in the game, but irl they can be playing in the midfield or in the defense in the full structure of the formation. Although, any fullback can be converted into a “wing-back”, a wide midfielder can only be considered a “wing-back” if there is no fullback playing behind them (say, a 3-5-2). Essential to quality 3-man and 5-man back-lines, a wing-back needs speed and stamina to last going back and forth, up and down the pitch for the whole game. They play the same role as a fullback, but in a much more offensively aggressive fashion.
True 9: A pure Striker. Someone who spends the entire match on the attack. They are the target forward of the team. If the 10 is the focal point, the 9 is the final destination before the back of the net.
That’s pretty much it for the complicated stuff. Any vocab that comes later will be explained within the scope of what I’m talking about. Let’s move on to things you should focus on for each position.
So, making a goalkeeper means that you’re gonna decide between a couple different possible archetypes: Shot Stopper, Field General, or everyone’s favorite the Sweeper-Keeper. Personally, I prefer Shot Stoppers, but Field Generals are also incredibly important. Generally, I’d say that you really do need to pay attention to everything in order to build a solid goalkeeper. And while I don’t mention it too much in the explanations, you should probably get some Command of Area and other aerial-based attributes. There’s no real “archetype” for it, but it’s one of those things you should be decent at at the very least. But let’s look at what you need for each archetype:
Shot Stoppers: Reflexes, Handling, One on Ones
You are the platonic ideal of a goalkeeper. You protect the goal. That’s it. Some aerial ability would be good for dealing with corners, but these three are your main focuses to just keep the ball out the net. Downside is when playing the ball with your feet, which happens fairly often, and helping to start attacks from the back. Also, if you have low communication skills, your defense may not be able to help you as much as it could otherwise.
Field General: Communication, Throwing, Communication
Yes, I put communication in there twice because it is incredibly important if you are to perfect this archetype. I would also say Kicking may be needed. Essentially, a Field General is the type of goalkeeper that is able to command his teammates. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to make a pure Field General, but without pieces of this archetype, you can’t possibly hope to be a serviceable keeper.
Sweeper Keeper: Rushing Out, First Touch, Eccentricity
This is the meme archetype if you were looking for it. The amount of Eccentricity will make you most likely do dumb things. A Sweeper-Keeper is essentially less a traditional keeper and more of an extra defender. They will come out of the box more often to meet the attacker, which causes a risk of getting chipped. This is usually done when the team tactic is to push forward so much that the defensive line is very easy to get past. Rushing Out is helpful for a normal keeper, First Touch is fine as something to bring up if you’ve just got extra SP left over. Eccentricity all depends on if you want to be a meme or be good.
You probably made a center-back thinking that there wasn’t much to it and now you’re suddenly one of the highest paid players in the league. Congratulations! You’ve got so much more to do than just upping your Marking, Positioning, Tackling, and Strength. Here’s some other things you’ll need to focus on, besides the pure defensive attributes, to make sure you don’t look stupid:
Dribbling/Passing: This isn’t an “either/or” situation, but you shouldn’t forget about these. If the opposing team puts pressure on the defensive line, you will cough up the ball so easily without these abilities. Same with a lack of Balance. One of the biggest reasons for a defender to get benched isn’t letting an attacker blow past you, but giving up the ball to an attacker while in your own third (read as: your own area).
Jumping Reach/Heading: To many of you, this is obvious, but just to make sure you know. This isn’t just useful when attacking, this is useful on defense as well, especially for center-backs who are probably gonna be the tallest ones in the box. Just get up there and get it to where you want it to go.
Bravery/Anticipation: Not exactly at the forefront of your mind when making the build, but your player needs to want to tackle before they actually tackle. Anticipation helps your player recognize the situation and Bravery will help them with the desire to follow through on a tackle. You can also get some Aggression here too, but that’s your own choice. It’ll help, but might hurt in larger amounts.
A fullback build depends on whether you want to be a center-back that can play out wide or a wing-back. As a base, you’ll need the basic defensive attributes like Marking, Positioning, and Tackling. You also need some Crossing even if you aren’t planning on being a wing-back. You’ll just sorta need it because you’ll still be going forward, even if it’s a limited capacity. But you’ll need different things for different roles. Let’s just look at “Offensive Fullback” vs “Defensive Fullback”:
Offensive Fullback: Pace/Agility/Acceleration, Dribbling, Off the Ball
What you really want out of any wide player is speed on the wing and that’s what you’ll be providing with this archetype. You can build them pretty much like a winger, but you gotta remember that you’re still a part of the defense. Don’t shirk your duties. In fact, don’t build towards a wing-back until you feel you’re at a basic serviceable level as a defender.
Defensive Fullback: Just build a Center-back
Honestly, if you want to be a defensive fullback, just build a center-back. It’s actually incredibly helpful to have a center-back who can play at a fullback position. They may not give you much going forward, but they’re reliable if you’re playing with a standard 4-man back-line. All you’d really need to add is that crossing and you’re good.
This one section is the reason why we had to go through all that vocab earlier, because it would sound incredibly weird without that vocab already in your head. Basically, when you make any sort of central midfielder, whether it’s a DM(C), a M(C), or an AM(C) you’re going to have to choose one of the numbers to build around. If you’re an AM(C), that decision’s kinda already made for you. You’re a 10. The other two get to choose between being a 6 or an 8. And within those, there’s a couple of other different archetypes. So let’s get into them:
Defensive 6: Aggression, Tackling, Positioning
You’re a defender first and foremost. You can travel forward a bit, so make sure you can ass the ball, but your focus should be on the defensive abilities. Basically, a center-back with more mobility would make a good Defensive 6. Depending on the tactics, you could be running for days covering for teammates or you could be working alongside another holding midfielder. That’s where you wait until you know your situation before you specifically develop stuff.
Deep Lying Playmaker: Vision, Passing, Marking
You can see by its positioning here, a DLP is the in-between from a 6 and an 8. But more specifically, the DLP is a distributor from the defense. I already explained before, but using that earlier definition, you need to think mostly about the tactics being used. If your team is going to be playing through the middle or out of the back, you’ll need to have better off the ball recognition so you can be open the moment the situation changes. If you’re using the wide channels, you’ll need to be able to hit long passes forward to a sprinting winger. All in all, it’s defense and passing and that’s it. Anything that helps with both.
Support 8: Vision, Passing, Teamwork
The platonic ideal of a “Central Midfielder”, you need to be a jack of all trades, but not really a master of any. Being aware of your surroundings would be good from the center of the pitch, so go for vision and teamwork. Otherwise, you’re not that much of a final attack person, so make sure you’re able to move the ball forward. Whether you think you can go the dribbling route or the passing route, be sure to have SP in the defensive traits as well. Just be all-around.
Attacking 8: Passing, Long Shots, Off The Ball
A more attacking version of the 8, the goal of this player is to oversee duties in the midfield, while continuing to push into the attack. Most of the time, they stand on the edge of the box waiting to jump on a loose ball. In build-up play, they’re incredibly important and usually work in tandem with the 10. If there is no 10 in this formation, that’s because this player is the main distributor. That’s why Passing and Long Shots would be incredibly important for this player as it’s their biggest contributions to the attack.
The 10: First Touch, Vision, Passing
The visionary, the legendary #10. I’ve already described what a 10 back in our Vocab section, but all of that means that a lot of work has to be put into the player being able to have complete control over the ball at their feet. The First Touch is always important for any player on the pitch, but it’s especially important to a player who will probably have very little time to adjust if they get it wrong. They need to be able to pass, dribble, or shoot at any moment. Essentially a Point Guard, but with even more responsibility.
All you need for a good winger is a lotta Pace/Acceleration/Agility. Just a whole lot of that. And then some Stamina to make sure you can survive the whole match. But there’s still different types of Winger. There’s The Shuttle, The Shooter, The Cut Man, and The Bomber. Here’s what each of them do:
The Shuttle: Pace/Acceleration/Agility, Dribbling, Off The Ball
This player takes the ball from the defensive third and just books it into the attacking third. When they don’t have the ball, they come back a bit on defense, and the moment possession changes they are running full sprint in transition. Used more widely in leagues with less quality in the center of the park, this player might be the most effective in the league in the early days until everyone has enough SP to balance things out.
The Shooter: Long Shots, Finishing, Free Kick Taking
I’ll say this right now: The Shooter is one of the most hated players on the pitch by their teammates, but dammit if it ain’t highlight reel! Shooters like to cut inside just in front of the box and try to pick out lightning bolt shots into the corners of the goal. The intention is to catch the keeper by surprise, but you’re gonna need a lot of power behind the shot, so maybe consider adding some Strength to your diet.
The Cut Man: Dribbling, Flair, Finishing
I call this player the “Cut Man” because, well, they cut into the box. Their goal is to take on the usually weaker fullbacks and try to find a way into the box on their own. Many times, this means they’re gonna shoot from that pinched position; but it’s surprisingly effective when done right. Because the threat of a cross is still there, the goalkeeper may not come out to close the angle. This means you’ll need to have that backup weapon of Crossing just in case they do come out.
The Bomber: Crossing, Balance, Vision
The reason I call this player “The Bomber” is because they basically carpet-bomb the box with crosses. It’s their job to get out to the corner and pump the ball into the box. So many people like talking about the striker on the end of it, but you need to have someone able to get the ball right to that striker’s head. The biggest challenge for this player type however is that they need to keep the ball while in the corner, as it’s very easy to lose it. That’s where the Balance comes in. Stay on your feet, find the opening to cross the ball in. That’s your duty.
You all probably think you know what a Striker is, right? You shoot the ball and you score. That’s all, right? Not quite. As you can probably tell after getting this far, each of these positions have more sub-roles than what’s at face value. And there’s different ways to score. There’s different types of forwards, so here they are:
The 9.5: Passing, Finishing, Off The Ball
A hybrid of the 10 and the 9, a 9.5 is essentially just a striker who plays back a bit. They usually come up when you need a 10, but you don’t have someone with that creative technique and quality. So instead you convert a striker into this monstrosity. I don’t think I’ve ever truly seen it utilized anywhere else other than in Chicago, but it’s a player that gets the job done. Being able to be in the right place at the right time to either pass the ball off to a teammate or to be in scoring position them-self.
Poacher: Finishing, Anticipation, Acceleration
The “Fox in The Box”, a Poacher is the kind of player who waits for their moment to attack. On the shoulder of the last defender, you can tell how hard they’re working by how many offside calls they get. They don’t do much of the build up work to get the ball into the attack, but once it is they’re the player who can find their way into open space an slot it home. You need to be able to finish the ball when that time comes. You also need to be able to be in the right spot as well, so get some Off The Ball too. The Acceleration is specifically for when the ball is played over the top for you so you can pounce on it and be off before the center-backs are prepared.
Target Man: Strength, Heading, Finishing
Big. Strong. Powerful. The quintessential American athlete. You cross the ball into the box, it goes to this player specifically and no one else. Ever. If you want to be this player, you need to be tall, you need to be strong, and you need to be able to head the ball in. That’s all, really. That’s why the USMNT hasn’t won anything. Too many of these guys.
“El Piojo”: Stamina, Marking, Anticipation
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to annoy the shit outta the opposing defense. “El Piojo” is Spanish for “The Louse”, as in “lice”. The job of this attacker isn’t even to score goals. It’s simply to act as a dummy to run-down the defense so that your real scorers can get space. They press at every chance, not letting the defense get comfortable with the ball in the back. Honestly, not sure how this player would work in this league seeing as this player type is usually subbed onto the pitch late in the game and there’s no subs, so that’s why you should focus on stamina if you wanna be this asshole of a forward.
So, as you can see, soccer is a pretty damn complicated game and each position has so many roles that you can take on. Choose whichever one you see yourself having the most fun in and go with it. Some of these positions blend well with others. And these aren’t the definitive and only roles. In fact, there’s a few I intentionally left off because they’d be even more complicated to explain. If you guys like this, I can make another one sometime soon about formations/tactics and how all of these roles mesh together to create a cohesive strategy.