The following description of each position comes courtesy of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Each position also has a traditional number associated with it, and while players are no longer required to wear the number tied to the position they play and instead have permanent personal numbers, the positional number is still quite often used in the discussion fo tactics and formations. The traditional defensive numbers are:
2– Right Fullback
3– Left Fullback
4– Center Back
5– Center Back (or Sweeper, if used)
1 – Goalkeeper (GK): Usually the last line of defense to stop the opponent from scoring, this player protects the net. Also known as the keeper or goalie, this is the only player allowed to use their hands and arms to block shots and pick up the ball while the game’s in play. These special rules only apply in the designated penalty area. When a goalie steps outside their penalty box, they must function like a regular field player. Also, they cannot use their hands to play the ball if a teammate passes it directly to them during gameplay or off a throw-in.
Soccer goalies wear specialized soccer goalie gear, including gloves, and often opt for long sleeves for additional protection. They wear a different color jersey than the rest of the team, so everyone on the field can tell them apart from other positions (youth teams may use a pinnie to designate the goalie). They can also wear shorts and pants made specifically for the position.
Defenders/Backs: These are the field players closest to the net. They are responsible for protecting the goalie, blocking shots and stopping the other team’s offensive players from passing, receiving, shooting and scoring. More specifically, there can be center backs, fullbacks, wingbacks and one sweeper.
- 4/5 – Center Back (CB): Also known as the central defender, center fullback or stopper, this position plays in the middle of the rear defensive line. A 4–4–2 formation will have two center backs, which will hang back to protect the goal.
- 3/2 – Fullback (LB, RB): These are the rear defenders on the left and right sides of the field, also referred to as outside fullbacks. They usually play wide to protect the sides of the field, but they can also assist with protecting the center as needed. These players will often move up and down the field to help with offensive plays.
- 3/2 – Wingback (LWB, RWB): This position defends like other defensive backs but is a more offensive position, like a winger. They play wide left and right, running up and down the field. This position requires a lot of stamina and can be more physically demanding than other positions.
- 5 – Sweeper (SW): This position isn’t as common nowadays. When used, this player positions themselves between the goalie and the main defensive line. Their job is to sweep up any balls that get past the defensive backs. While they typically stay behind the other defenders, they can also help take the ball up the field in an offensive push.