8v8 Soccer Formations, 2-1-3-1 vs. 2-1-2-2
Why a 2-1-3-1 Soccer Formation is Best for Most Rec 8v8 Soccer Teams
How to select a soccer Center Midfielder, Forward and Stopper
With a good athlete and 2 good players, Rec coaches can win most games if you have the right soccer formation
Advantages of a Strong Soccer Stopper and Center Midfielder
How to Defend the Center of the Soccer Field
Is it necessary to Defend the "wings" of the Field?
Why you MUST limit the Field Coverage of your CMF
Pressuring Balls in Corner of Defensive Third
Best Positions for Weak Soccer Players
Who is Gerd Muller and why is he in this article?

Dear SoccerHelp,

I'm a Premium member and have used SoccerHelp for three seasons. I never played or watched soccer growing up, so the site has been a tremendous help to me. I have used the Practice Games extensively, taught Coaching Rule # 3, and awarded patches for bravery, hustle, assists, etc., and my players have improved a lot and enjoyed themselves each season.

Next season I plan on coaching my son's U-10 rec team, which will be 8v8. I know you often recommend a 2-1-2-2 formation for rec, and to stay strong in the Center and give up the "wings" (the area near the sidelines). I understand this in principal, but in practice I'm not sure. For example, let's say the opposing team passes the ball out to an attacker near the sideline near the halfway line. I would think I would still have my Midfielder (or closest goalside player) on that side pressure the ballhandler as first defender and next closest player would be second defender. Or do I literally take the approach to concede the wings and let the opposing team advance the ball along the sideline while my Mids and Stopper recover centrally? Then maybe pressure the ballhandler with my Mid or Stopper when they reach my defending third? Also, would you change your recommendation for this example if you were playing a 2-1-3-1?

My initial thinking about formation for next season (without yet knowing my players) is a 2-1-3-1. This is because our league re-drafts teams each season and balances them by ability level. So each team is likely to have two or three strong players, two or three weak players, and the rest average players. I figure a 2-1-3-1 provides good flexibility to hide the weak players at the Outside Mid spots (and maybe goalie) and play the stronger players centrally as Stopper, Center Mid, and Forward. Your thoughts?

My only reservation about the 2-1-3-1 is the sole Forward. With two Forwards, they can work together to attack and create scoring opportunities with a decent pass or two. My experience in using one Forward is that it is sometimes difficult to maintain much teamwork in our attack. For example, in the past when we've been able to clear the ball up to the Forward (or pass to space in front of our Forward), our attack would consist of the Forward taking on any remaining defenders by himself because the Mids never seem to be able catch up to effectively support the attack. Maybe the Mids just need to learn (through hustle and anticipation) to catch up with the Forward. Or maybe the Forward should delay long enough to allow support to catch up. Or maybe I should just be happy with the semi-breakaway opportunities and let the Forward attack by himself and hope the Mids can catch up in time to pounce on a rebound. Any thoughts on how to get the Mids in better position to support the attack in a 2-1-3-1?



Hey Tom, This is Coach S.

You have some great questions. I'm curious to see what others have to say. Here's my opinions based on my U10 experience.

You say you're going to most likely end up with "...two or three strong players, two or three weak players, and the rest average players" I've found it best to put my weak players at midfield. My rationale for this is midfield is the toughest position to teach as far as staying in position...so I always ended up with my midfielders just chasing the ball everywhere, essentially playing bunch ball. I found that if I put my better players at mid-fielder they ran themselves ragged and got caught in the 'bunch'.

So, I recommend you put your better players at fullback and forward. What will happen then is that you will need to keep your fullbacks defending the Center AND essentially giving up the wings.

However, your average to weak midfielders will slow down the wings by bunching up on the ball carrier.

You'll be lucky (playing 2-1-2-2) to get your fullbacks and forwards to stay in 'position'. I defend deep and tell my fullbacks not to move past the penalty box. I tell my forwards not to come back across the mid-field line. This essentially creates a 'box' between the fullbacks and the forwards in which the stopper and midfielders can play bunch ball.

I get lucky sometimes with my Stopper knowing where to play, but there's only really one player I have that can be in the right place consistently.

There's my 2 cents.

Coach S


Hi Tom and Coach S,

I enjoyed reading Coach S observations based on his experiences. It's a big advantage for all of us when coaches are willing to share their experiences in a detailed way. I hope anyone reading this will share any ideas or experiences -- that will help us all learn and in the process the person sharing might get a good idea or 2. In case you're new here, I promise you that everyone here is nice and polite -- no one criticizes anyone else or makes fun of anyone.

I think Coach S has a good idea about weak players at MF. As his team gets older, giving up the midfield will be a problem, but by then he will have trained them to stay in positions.

Below is a variation of his idea that can still keep strength in the Center (between the 2 goals) AND also give you strength in the Middle Third of the Field:

Tom, I can see you have really done your homework about formations and the advantages of a 2-1-3-1. I believe your thinking is excellent about the 2-1-3-1 probably being the best formation for you. As you say: the "2-1-3-1 provides good flexibility to hide the weak players at the Outside Mid spots (and maybe goalie) and play the stronger players centrally as Stopper, Center Mid, and Forward".

A 2-1-3-1 formation has 2 big advantages:

  1. You can hide weak players at RMF and LMF.

  2. You have great strength in the Center of the Field with a Stopper, a Center Midfielder (CMF) and a Forward � if you have strong players in those 3 positions you will beat most of the teams you play.

  3. A 2-1-3-1 will give you great strength in the Center (between the 2 goals), which is where it is most important. It can make a HUGE difference to have a strong player at CMF. In Rec soccer, after Stopper, CMF is probably the most important position. If you have a great Stopper and a strong CMF, you can control the game. If you only had 2 strong players and put them at Stopper and CMF, you could beat a lot of teams -- strong players at those 2 positions can make a HUGE difference at U8 and U10. The 2-1-3-1 formation allows you to do that and still put weak players at RMF and LMF, so that formation has some major advantages and is probably the best one for most U8, U10 and U12 Rec teams that play 8v8.

To answer your questions:

  1. Defending the "wings". You ask "do I literally take the approach to concede the wings (the area of the field near the sidelines) and let the opposing team advance the ball along the sideline while my Mids and Stopper recover centrally? Then maybe pressure the ballhandler with my Mid or Stopper when they reach my defending third?" With a 2-1-3-1 you can let your MF on that side of the field (the "Near MF") pressure the ball (in fact, you want weak MFs to stay OUT of the Center because they will get in the CMF's way). So, if I had a weak RMF and LMF and a Strong CMF, I would tell my MF's to stay in their "third" of the field (an imaginary area, with the Center Third being where the CMF should normally play � so, the CMF stays on the Center, the RMF on the Right side, and the LMF on the Left side) � you will need to physically show them on the field where they should stay � you can do this before the game. SO, the RMF should stay in the Right Third (Right side), the CMF in the Center Third and the LMF in the Left Third (Left side). IT IS CRITICAL THAT THEY DO THIS. You MUST make your CMF stay in the Center Third and NOT let him go onto the Right or Left sides because the Center of the Field is critical but the Left and Right sides aren't. Tell your RMF and LMF that they MUST NOT cross the Center of the field � that will keep them on their side of the field (most of the time they should be in their "Third" so they aren't in the CMF's way).

  2. Balls in the Corners of your Defensive Third. This is very important: Tell your RMF and LMF that it's their job to pressure those balls. Make it clear to your Stopper and your CMF that it is NOT their job and they MUST NOT go to the Corner to pressure a ball because that will pull them totally out of position. If your RMF and LMF can't get there to pressure the ball, don't worry about it because at U10 your opponent can't score from the Corner � make your Stopper and CMF stay toward the Center. I would tell the Stopper to be the Second Defender of balls in the Corner BUT NOT to go more than a short pass past the Goal Post (about 10 steps maximum). I would tell my 2 FBs to stay near the Goal Front and tell the Near FB not to go more than 3 steps past the Goal Post (look at your Goal Box � it might be a good line to have him stop at) and the "Far FB" (the FB farthest from the ball) NOT to go past the Center of the Goal (that way you will always have a FB defending the Center of your Goal when a ball is in the Corner). If your "Far MF" (the MF farthest from the ball) is a weak player, I would tell my CMF to come to the Penalty Box Arc and Stay There, BUT if a teammate clears the ball, to move toward the ball to try to win it. (If you have a good Far MF, then you should have your CMF stay a pass out from the ball toward your goal and shift with the ball to be in position to win cleared balls, and have the Far MF go into the Penalty Box Arc to defend against attacks from that area). Your Forward should be shifting from side-to-side and stay a long kick from the ball, so he is in position to win cleared balls.

If you leave your 2 FBs Deep, think about letting your Stopper come into the attack � that would give you 3 strong players who can attack.

At Stopper, you need a fast, fearless player, but he or she doesn't have to be skilled. One of the best Stoppers I ever played against was a tall, skinny kid who couldn't pass or dribble, but he was fast and fearless and dominated the Middle Third -- he was all over the place.

At CMF you need a player who can win the ball, dribble and attack the Defense. That will pull the opposing defenders out of position. That is called "taking on the defense". Pulling the opposing defenders out of position will free up your Forward to be open for passes.

The ideal Forward is one who is fast, quick, aggressive, patient (e.g., who will stay in position and NOT creep back toward your goal when it is under attack), opportunistic, a great dribbler, and shifts with the ball when your goal is under attack, and positions well to win cleared balls, passes and rebounds � leg strength isn't as important as any of these other qualities, ideally, your Forward will only be taking short shots, so DON'T choose a Forward just because he or she has a big kick, that isn't very important for a Forward. Unless you have a player who has all these qualities, my first choice for Forward might be a player who is fast and can win the ball and run onto "through balls" for breakaways. I would leave that Forward Pushed Up all the time for breakaways. Leaving that Forward Pushed Up will keep the opposing FBs from Pushing Up onto your half of the field. If you have a CMF like I describe above, a good third choice for a Forward might be a player who has a quick shot and is alert around the goal for rebounds -- in brief, an OPPORTUNISTIC player (also called a "Garbage" player) who has a natural instinct for being in position for rebounds. This Forward doesn't have to be fast, or even a great dribbler, but he or she MUST be aggressive about scoring, and brave about going to the ball and taking a quick shot, and needs to have a natural talent for being in the right place. I've had a couple of players like this on my team -- and neither one was fast and neither would have made a great Stopper or a great CMF, but both were always alert, opportunistic and could take a quick one-touch shot. One of the greatest scorers of all time was a German guy named Gerd Muller (called "Der Bomber", W. Germany 1970-74). He was short and stocky but played extremely well in front of the goal. He was always in the right place and was known as the "ultimate goal mouth predator". He held the record for the most goals in World Cup history (14) until it was broken by Ronaldo in 2006 (15).

Unless you are lucky enough to have a strong team, you will only have one good player at MF, and that will be the CMF. Here is how your CMF should work with your Forward:

First, the CMF MUST stay in the Center of the Field and OUTSIDE of your Penalty Box. That is critical to reduce his running and put him in position to assist with the attack. That's why he can't go to the sidelines or into your Penalty Box. Also, by staying outside your Penalty Box, he will be in position to win cleared balls. There are trade-offs here, but you can't expect this player to cover the entire field � if he tries, he will be worn out and won't be in position to win cleared balls, to control the Center of the Field, and to help attack. SO, restricting this player's responsibility is VERY IMPORTANT if you want good results. Don't blame this player and don't blame the Formation if you let this player roam all over the field � if you do, you will be guilty of bad coaching.

Second, as you said, the CMF needs to learn (through hustle and anticipation) to catch up with the Forward.

Third, as you said, if the CMF can't get there in time, "be happy with the semi-breakaway opportunities and let the Forward attack by himself and hope the CMF can catch up in time to pounce on a rebound". Every time you get a "breakaway", you get the ball off your end of the field and force your opponent to totally re-start their attack. ALSO, if your opponent has the ball in your Attacking Half (the half of the field that contains your opponent's goal), your players should aggressively try to steal the ball. In that situation, your Forward and CMF can be very aggressive because it's ok if they get called for a foul since it's far away from your goal.

You will need to rely on your Forward, CMF and Stopper to attack. Most of the time, your Stopper will only be able to provide "support" for your attack, because most of the time he will get there late, so it will mostly be your F and CMF. However, when your F and CMF are attacking, if your Stopper comes to the inside of the Center Circle and shifts from side to side with the ball (so he is in position to win a ball that is cleared straight ahead), he will be in position to win a lot of cleared balls, and at that point he can join the attack.

I hope some of these ideas help.

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

David at SoccerHelp