Strategy for Playing a Better Soccer Team that Has Killed You in Prior Games
Is it better to "Pack In" the defense, or to use a soccer formation that has 4 or 5 "Layers" so you have a lot of Depth and control the Center?
How to attack a "Packed In" soccer defense
2-1-2-2 vs. 4-3 soccer formations
What type of soccer player to play at Stopper?
Problem with Putting Timid Players at Fullback

(The following was posted on the Premium Forum. It discusses the best formation and Style of Play to use against a better team that Defends Deep. There is a letter from Coach ML, a reply from Coach Al, and a reply from me.)

To readers of the Premium Forum:

Due to a freak of scheduling, my U12 boys team had to play the same team on the first Saturday and Sunday of our season. It turns out that this team is the best team in our league. The first game, we were overwhelmed as their three forwards took apart our defense and their defense totally controlled our forwards. (We play 8v8)

It turns out that most of the boys on the other team have played with this coach for a couple of years and they are well versed on defending deep. His two sons and a cousin are the forwards and are expert in finding the holes in a defense and then taking long powerful shots.

We lost big the first game and played them hard early in the second game until our boys began to tire and break down on defense.

I have been using games and articles from and it has really improved the play of our team. Since the opening weekend, we have played great and have managed to win all of our games. Now it is time to play this team again and I have some ideas but would really like some input.

They play a 4 - 3 with four FB and three Forwards. Their forwards are all good dribblers and are great at taking long shots and at working into the middle and taking powerful short shots.

On defense, they line up four FB about 10 yards in front of the goal and they stay put. The outside FB are great at cutting off wing attacks and they all can tackle and kick the ball up to the forwards.

I have one great forward who is able to get through the defense and make his own shot. I have paired him with my best mid fielder. This boy can tackle, dribble and shoot almost as well as my number 1 but he is just a little slower. My other forward is the tallest and fastest boy on the team and is adept at poaching. He waits directly in front of the defenders and then splits the defense and rushes the goal keeper.

I have one boy who is a sweeper. He can tackle, dribble and tackle. I have been using him as a mid-fielder to support my other forward or as a sweeper. I also have a smaller boy who is an energizer bunny. He is the smallest boy on the team but the best at chasing the ball and tackling. He has played a lot as a mid-fielder.

I have two tall FB who are almost matched bookends. Both are tall and big and fast for their size. One started the season at goal keeper, but I have been trying to get him out of the goal to help with our defense. The second FB I played up front the last game and with his size he was able to split the defense and scored two goals on strong kicks from over 20 yards. Both have been taught to tackle and then kick the ball forward to the mid fielders.

During the season, I finally listened to a small boy who kept asking to play in the goal. He as played there the last two games and does a good job getting to and controlling shots with his hands.

I have three other boys. A weaker defender that will fight for the ball and kick it forward but can be dribbled by, a weak defender that can play sweeper and a first year player who doesn't have many skills. The last kid is really trying hard and I play him up front to help steal the ball from the other team.

I have been playing a 2-1-2-2, which has worked great all season except that it got me in trouble with this team. Early in the game it worked fairly well but when my mid-fielders got tired and didn't get back on defense, their three forwards were able to find holes in our defense and score.

All season we have been working on the boys conditioning and they are now all able to play hard for the entire game.

What I am considering doing is copying the other team and putting my top three boys as forwards, keeping four boys deep as FB and playing our new goal keeper.

We play this team again on Saturday, does anyone have suggestions?

Coach ML


(Coach Al's Reply)

Hi Coach ML,

I have had this same question. What I found is that the more you layer your defense, the tougher it is for the other team to penetrate. I coach a u-10 girls team and tried a 3 - 1 - 1 when we were playing what I knew would be a very good team. I kept the 3 FBs in the penalty box for the most part allowing the CFB to go out about 3 - 4 yards up the field. This turned out to be disastrous for my team. We lost 9 - 1, and worse, my girls just seemed resigned to the fact that they were going to lose.

After that game, I posted on these forums with an idea of switching to a 1-1-1-2. Since that game we have played a couple of decent teams and won both games. The first game was 4 - 1 and the next was 7 - 5. The game we won 7 - 5 was odd; my entire team, including my defense, didn't seem to wake up until about 15 minutes into the game. We were down 3 - 0 at that point and from then on held the other team to 2 scores. The added layer(s) really clog up the field and slow down attacks.

You might want to try adding another layer by going to a 1-2-1-1-2. Go with a Sweeper, 2 FBs, a Stopper, 1 MF, and 2 Fs. Your MF still supports on defense. Your Stopper could go up and support attacks by waiting for cleared balls at midfield or even a few yards beyond, but no farther. He needs to "shadow" the ball as it goes from one side of the field to the other. Push your FBs out of the penalty box about 4 - 5 yards and then let your Sweeper have free range in the penalty box. I'd play my most brave kids at the Stopper and Sweeper spot, too.

Also, it sounds like your "Energizer Bunny" would make a great Stopper.

Just my humble thoughts. Good luck!

Coach Al


(David's Reply)

Hi Coach ML,

Unless you're on a very short field, I see problems with a 4-3. On a normal length field with the FBs Defending Deep, there is no one in the Midfield.

I assume the other coach is able to get away with a 4-3 because he has some great athletes at Forward who are aggressive and have a lot of stamina. It sounds as if he doesn't have as many weak players as you.

The other team is "packing" the Penalty Box, and has good Fullbacks -- that makes it hard to score. I suggest you stick to a 2-1-2-2, but play it as described below, so the Stopper plays as a CFB when you are defending your goal.

It doesn't sound as if you have 4 good players to put at FB, and if you put timid players at FB, at U-12 it might hurt you because the opposing Forwards will be able to use your timid players as "screens" to "pick" your good defenders and to block your Goalie's vision.

The "1" in your 2-1-2-2 is a Stopper who plays between your Fullbacks and your MFs -- the Stopper is a Critical position -- maybe the most critical. That player MUST help on Defense, and is like a CFB who you let Push Up.

Here's what I think I would do:

  1. Tell your Stopper NOT to go past the Halfway Line when you are attacking -- just go there and stop and shift from side to side with the ball. His job is to SLOW down the attack so your MF's have time to run back to help defend.

  2. Tell your 2 FBs to stay in FRONT of your goal and DON'T go more than 3 steps past the post.

  3. Tell your Stopper on defense to drop back into the CFB spot

  4. Tell the Near MF to drop back on defense to pressure balls in the Corner

  5. On defense, tell the Far MF to go to the Penalty Box Arc to stop crossing passes to that area

  6. Since your opponent doesn't have any Midfielders, your Forwards should win all the balls your FBs clear.

  7. Tell your Forwards to take long shots at the top of the goal AND to get in positions for rebounds. You are more likely to score that way than by dribbling thru them. SO, I would try that strategy: Tell them to take long shots and get in position for rebounds, and if they get a rebound, take a "one-touch" quick shot.

It sounds like your opponent has better athletes than you, and that is tough to overcome when they Defend Deep. I know you want to win, but if he has better athletes and Defends Deep, it will be tough. I suggest being realistic that you are an underdog in this game and try to stay close and hope to get lucky.

P.S., I agree with bulldozer that your "energizer bunny" player sounds like a great Stopper. A great Stopper can make a HUGE difference by breaking up and slowing down attacks, especially since it sounds like all your opponent's attacks will start on their Defensive Half, so your Stopper can be in position at the Halfway Line to slow them down or kick away the ball.

Please let me know what you do and how it works.

David at SoccerHelp