Soccer is the consummate team sport, and it is nearly impossible to single out one specific position as the most important for a team's 11 players. Each position comes with its own responsibilities, demands and required skills, and those will vary based on tactics, style of play, the run of play -- or how the game is unfolding for each team -- and many other factors.
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Keeper of the Goal
It’s impossible to lose if the opposition fails to put the ball in the net. Spanning 24 feet across and 8 feet tall, the goalkeeper’s priority is protecting that 192 square feet between the woodwork. Keepers must possess tremendous leadership in organizing the defense, instincts and anticipation, good hands, and must be fearless in coming off their line to cut down angles, deny crosses and one-on-one scoring chances. A strong leg doesn’t hurt either, nor does the ability to distribute on the counterattack after a big save.
Striking Fear in the Opposition
Conversely, it’s impossible to win if the team can’t find the back of the opponent’s net. The forwards and strikers are charged with much of the goal-scoring responsibility, which is fair considering they spend nearly the entire game in the attacking half of the field. Strikers should be able to finish with either foot, in the air and in traffic. Offensive positioning, timing their runs and possessing a lot of pace -- the ability to run away from defenders -- are crucial to the success of strikers.
The Backbone of the Defense
The centerbacks, who mostly play in tandem, are looked to for defensive leadership, especially when setting the back line. This partnership’s major focus is marking the opponent’s forwards and quelling any opposing attack. Centerbacks are proficient in the air in both boxes, especially during crosses in the defensive box and corner kicks in the offensive box. After stopping the opponent’s advance, it is sometimes the job of the centerbacks to deliver the key pass to commence a counterattack.
On the Wings
The wings -- whether it be the more defensive-minded fullbacks, the attack-minded left and right wingers, or the right and left midfielders -- run up and down the flanks, often overlap with their teammates to join the attack, and deliver pinpoint crosses or cut inside to create chances. Though they play on one side of the field, these players must have two solid feet and have to be in shape to run long distances and to convert from offense to defense. Fullbacks also carry the responsibility of marking attackers, specifically the wingers on the opposing side.
At the Center of it All
The central midfielders must be able to do a little of everything. Traits they must possess include vision and creativity, passing precision, sticky feet while dribbling and keeping possession, stamina and pace to run from box to box, strength to hold off opponents and finishing skills when presented with chances in the attacking third. These players must also be cerebral, as they dictate tempo and often switch the play from one side of the field to the other. Modern formations employ midfield specialists, like the defensive, or holding midfielders; as well as attacking midfielders, called three-quarters players, or “trequartistas.” Some of the biggest names in the sport have played the No. 10 position, including Pele, Diego Maradona, Juan Roman Riquelme, Johan Cruyff, Roberto Baggio, Zenidine Zidane, Landon Donovan and Wayne Rooney.