9v9 Soccer Formations with a Shadow Marker
2-1-3-1 with a Shadow and 2-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
How to Neutralize a Great Scorer
Real Life Success Story

(The article below is from SoccerHelp Premium. There are over 100 Premium articles about soccer formations and 9 articles about 9v9 soccer formations. Most are correspondence with youth soccer coaches that discuss real life situations and concerns, so each is like a Case Study.)

(Below is correspondence with a U12G soccer coach who was playing for the League Championship against a team that had the Best Scorer in the League. He used a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation Plus a Shadow Marker who guarded the Great Scorer. You will see that this strategy worked great and his team won 4-0. Note that none of his team's goals were scored by the Forward - 2 were by the Center Midfielder and one by the Stopper. That is a benefit of using this approach. If you don't need a Shadow Marker play a 2-1-3-2 soccer formation. There are now 9 articles on Premium about 9v9 soccer formations.)

To David at SoccerHelp

I've been a Premium member for several years now however this is my first time writing in for advice. First off, I've won U10 and currently am the reigning U12g champion from last Rec season primarily from all the fantastic information on SoccerHelp Premium. This Saturday we are playing the #2 team (we are the #1 team) for this year's Championship. It's a full adult size pitch and we play 9v9 so you can see there is a lot of space for strong players to dominate.

The team we are playing has 1 phenomenal player who never tires and can do it all herself. She is clearly the top player in the region. I usually run a 2-1-3-2 soccer formation as advised on Premium and normally would continue to do so however I'm concerned about this one player. We beat them earlier in the season 4-3 however the win was largely due to mistakes made by the other team.

I have 11 players:

>2 fast, brave, skilled, yet small girls (I usually put one at FW and one at Stopper),

>1 skilled, strong, moderate speed (I usually put at CMF) top scorer in goals and assists

>1 semi skilled but undisciplined (moderate speed) who I usually mix at CFM and FW

>1 slow but small and skilled player (mix between flank Mid, FW, FB, G)

>1 slow, brave light skill player (mix between flank Mid, FW, FB, G)

>3 medium speed yet light skill, not all that brave (mix between flank Mid, FW, FB, G)

>2 slow, timid (mix between flank Mid, FW, FB, G)

We are 9-0 on the season and outscoring our opponents 34-11 overall using the 2-1-3-2 soccer formation however given the dominance of the one player we are facing (she has scored 85% of the other teams goals all year) I'm considering moving the formation for this game to a 2-2-3-1 pulling one FW back to Stopper and using this resource as a spy/shadow for their top girl. As such I would put both my fast, brave, skilled, small girls back to the stopper role (one as a shadow + 1 as std stopper) and push my 1 semi skilled moderate speed girl up to the lone FW spot. I'd mix the rest of my players through the LMF, RMF, FB, G spots. I have to move them around as the pitch is so large the mids wear down quickly. As noted before the girl we are facing is fantastic and she will not tire. Please let me know if you have any recommendations on formation and on how to neutralize a really strong player.

Thanks in advance,

Scott, CA, Premium member for 3 years


Hi Scott, thanks for being our customer and congratulations on your success.

I think your idea of putting a Shadow on their Great player is a good one. However, I would define the formation a little differently - I might call it a 2-1-3-1 with a Shadow so I don't confuse my Stopper. In other words, everyone plays the same way they normally do EXCEPT there will only be one Forward and instead, there will be a Shadow who stays between the Great Player and your goal.

You might have to sub the Shadow or switch her with the Stopper some.

To make it clear and keep it simple, I would tell the Shadow to Shadow that great player ALL the time - even when your team is on the attack. The reason is that the Great Player is the key to the game and if you can neutralize her, you will probably win.

So, I would tell the Shadow to always stay between the Great Player and your goal AND instead of trying to steal the ball, just kick it away hard - ideally forward, but even out of bounds. The reason is that if the Shadow tries to steal it, the Great Player will probably steal it back and if that happens in your Defensive Third, then the Great could score.

In other words, the Shadows job is to Stay between the Great and your goal and kick the ball away HARD - don't try to dribble it, just get it far away from the Great, who will probably chase it. Keep position between the Great and your goal and don't allow any clean shots and slow her down - if a loose ball is nearby, kick it hard forward, don't try to dribble it. If she can't kick the ball forward, kick it out of bounds.

Tip # 2 - on a big field, I would leave my 3 FBs deep instead of pushing them up - have them stop at the top of the Penalty Box.

Tip 3 - give up the sidelines - protect the Center - don't chase the ball all over the field - tell your CMF to stay in the Center of the field (between the 2 goals - don't go to the sidelines). If the opponent is attacking down the sideline that is great - let them - they can't score from there. and your ST and CMF can easily drop back to your Defensive Third and defend there. That will tire out the opposing players

Tip 4 - Don't put timid players in front of your goal - put them at RMF and/or LMF.

Please let me know how it goes and what works.

David at SoccerHelp


To David at SoccerHelp

Thank you. I will keep things simple, keep my defenders deep, own the center of the field, and stay brave in front of the net! I will keep you posted.




Hi Scott,

That's what I would do - you have identified the threat - one Great Player. Neutralize that Great and you will probably win. Make it hard for her to score and that will throw off her rhythm. As you know from the letters I get from Coaches, the strategies you list are ones proven to work. I hate the oversized fields, but you have to adapt to it.

By the way - if you leave your defenders deep you probably don't need to sub them - that leaves you more subs for other positions that are running a lot.

I suggest asking a parent to stand on the end of the field where your FBs are to keep them awake and in the game - seriously - they will get bored and stop shifting from side to side with the ball and then when the ball comes near them they will be asleep. That happened to me.

I look forward to hearing how you do.

David at SoccerHelp


To David at SoccerHelp,

Our plan was good and the girls executed flawlessly. We worked all week with our “Shadow” on staying goal side of the GREAT the entire game as you advised. Good thing we trained on this as it took some time to keep her focused on the player and not necessarily the ball. She got beat a few times but our “Stopper” was right there as the 2nd defender often. A few times the Great got through both but we put our Bravest Defender on the left side (LFB) and she cleared all balls that got through, as the GREAT works right to left. All players were instructed to kick the ball hard and straight, always away from the GREAT. We kept with the plan of putting our weaker girls in the goal (at Goalkeeper)….they all made the stops they needed to and even surprised us a few times. Our CMF focused on the space between the penalty areas and while she did tire towards the end had done enough damage. Our CMF scored early in the 1st. We got a PK on a handling call in the 2nd and converted. Just before half our Stopper drove one from the mid field and scored from just outside the 18 so we were up 3-0 at the half. CMF scored again in the 3rd and we had them on their heels most of the 4th as the GREAT started to wear down with relentless goal side Shadow coverage. Final score 4-0. Thank you guys very much. Girls are thrilled.




That is Great!!!! Good coaching. Wow! What a great way to end your season - undefeated and you did it with a true team effort.

It is great that your Stopper scored too. A great Stopper and CMF make a HUGE difference. That proves that scoring doesn't have to depend on Forwards.

Write me next season and let me know how you do. I think you have an excellent grasp of coaching strategy.

David at SoccerHelp