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An Idiots Guide to Soccer and Soccer Gaming

Soccer, or is it football? It seems like sometimes this gets more discussion in North America than the actual sport itself.

Personally, I don’t really care, but regular readers may notice that I almost always use the term football. Not because of any historical arguments, but rather that it just makes more sense. After all, between the two footballs, only one of them is primarily played with, you know, the foot. For practical reasons though, I’m using soccer for this guide because unlike most articles, this one doesn’t have a game — FIFA or PES, for example — in the title to instantly clarify it. The last thing I need is for Madden fans to click on this and realize they’ve not gotten what’s been promised, even if they should be used to this feeling by now.

So, soccer it is. First of all, if you even have a passing interest in the sport, you owe it to yourself to try out at least one of the soccer video games out there. I’ve said many times that us soccer fans are probably the luckiest ones in the sports game universe, as we get three great games -- FIFA, PES and Football Manager — every year.

First off, the rules: The game is started with 11 players on each team, and the objective is to put the ball into the opponent’s goal. Sounds simple? It is. Soccer is, perhaps of all the major sports, the one with the simplest on-field rules. No shot clocks, balks, icings or tuck rules. As long as the ball stays inbound and no player (except the goalkeeper) tries to play it with their hands or bring down a fellow player, the game plays on. Yes, I’m simplifying things a bit, but the continuous nature of the game really is evident even if you're just watching soccer for the first time. Also unlike the rigidly timed North American sports, the time in soccer runs on even if play is stopped. It is only at the end of each 45-minute halves does the referee decide how much time to add on to effectively cover all that’s been lost to various stoppages.

(And as usual, here’s the caveat: For a sport like soccer with such a massive variety of playing styles and tactics, it’s impossible to cover everything in a guide like this. So if you come across a formation or certain philosophies that didn’t get covered here, go ahead and try them out anyway in your soccer games. But more importantly, please don’t write my dear editors an angry email.)
 

Formations


4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1. What do they mean?

Generally speaking, the pitch is divided into three main areas of play: Defense, midfield and attack. As you may clue in with the names, defenders defend, attackers attack and midfielders link the two areas together by providing extra cover on defense and create opportunities for the attackers. Typically, there are wide players stationed on either flanks of defense and midfield, known as full-backs and wingers.

Here is a nice diagram to show the positions. As you can see, there are some more specialized roles, but by and large the aforementioned ones are the most common.

So, the numbers: Each define how many players are playing in each area of the pitch. For example, 4-4-2 means that your team starts with four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers. I say “start” because during the course of play, depending on the action, some defenders will advance to join the attack, and strikers will drop back to support the midfield or defense. These formations are just a rough guide to team shape, to give you an idea of which phase of play you and your opponent emphasize. It’s generally accepted that 4-4-2 is the default formation, so by that logic a 4-5-1 means that you want to control the midfield, since you took away a striker for an extra midfielder, or that a 4-3-3 means you’ll be looking to attack from the get-go.

As for the actual formations themselves, I’ll refer you to this guide for the peculiarities of many of today’s common formations should you decide to really experiment.

Positions

Each position on the pitch values certain qualities differently. If you’re looking to bring players in for a specific position in your team, here is a brief rundown of what you should look for. Again, there are always exceptions; these are just traditionally accepted archetypes.

Wide players (full backs and wingers): These players should ideally be fast and, especially for wingers, can dribble and cross. Full backs should be good at tackling.

Central defenders: Pace is not as important—though your centerbacks should still be quick enough to keep up with opposition strikers. In addition to no-brainers such as tackling, your centerbacks should also be mentally sound, with good positioning or anticipation skills. Height is important as well, as they are the ones who deal most with crosses into the penalty box.

Central midfielders: Passing, passing, passing. Your center mids, whatever their flaws, should at least be able to pass the ball competently.

After that, the ideal attributes may vary drastically depending on the role you want them to play on your team. If it’s a defensively minded midfielder, you want to look for players with good tackling and position skills to intercept opposition passes. If it’s an attacking midfielder, look for those with high creativity and dribbling skills. The one thing that’s not valued very highly with midfielders is height, which makes sense because midfield is the area where most of the damage is done on the ground.

Strikers: Besides shooting skills (“finishing” if you’re playing Football Manager), what you want in a striker depends on your playing style. If you have wingers who can cross the ball, you’ll want strikers who are strong enough to hold off opposing defenders, and tall enough to head the crosses in. If your team is more of a short passing one, then look for players who are technically capable, are quick and can dribble.
 

Playing Styles


There are two main, generally opposing styles of play: attacking and counter attacking. In the simplest sense, it’s basically initiating versus reacting, both offering different advantages. Without getting into too much, and too overwhelming details, here’s a brief rundown of each:

Attacking: This involves dominating possession and taking the game to your oponents. With the ball, an attacking team looks to push players forward and methodically work their way through the opposition defense. Passes are short and the pace is slow, keeping the ball is the most important part (unless, of course, the clock is against you). The ideal players suited for this style are technically proficient and intelligent, while physical attributes, especially height, are secondary. It is also important that your defenders, especially the fullbacks, are offensively capable so they can contribute to the attack.

Without the ball, an attacking team looks to pressure its opponent very high up the pitch and win it back as quickly as possible. In video games, this means setting your "pressing" to a high value. The team will also play a “high line”, meaning that that its defenders—the last line of defence—venture very high up the field to try to compact the space as much as possible, breathing down your opponent's neck every time their player touches the ball. The drawback of this playing style, as you may expect, is the risk that your team commits too many men forward and is susceptible to a counterattack.

Counterattacking: This is especially good for the less gifted teams, as the philosophy emphasizes defense first. Counterattacking teams play deeply and conservatively, inviting opposition pressure. This is done for primarily two reasons: to concentrate on protecting the most dangerous real estate on the pitch (the 25-30 yards in front of goal), and also to lull the opposition to commit men forward and make their backline more vulnerable when the counterattack is launched.

After a counterattacking team wins the ball, they look to break forward with pace and look to attack quickly and lethally. With players on a counterattacking team, their roles are more defined. Defenders’ priorities are to keep the ball away from the goal, and the attackers—you’d want quick ones—will look to run forward as much as they can.

So that wraps up the first part of the guide. Part two: Some peculiarities in the rules and a section on breaking down stubborn defenses. Stay tuned!


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Member Comments
# 1 UK0wnag3 @ 07/09/12 01:49 PM
Decent stuff there. I would note that attacking doesn't necessarily have to be slow, possession orientated football, though it is the norm.

Also, some counter attacking teams don't use pace either, preferring to play "route one" instead by hitting it long to a target man who holds it up to bring others into play.
 
# 2 shadia147 @ 07/09/12 05:41 PM
Thank You for this Primer. Just curious; I grasp the 4-4-2 etc concept. Pretty basic. But does not Hockey use the same theory? Only with five players rather than 11?
 
# 3 kelvinmak @ 07/09/12 06:54 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by UK0wnag3
Decent stuff there. I would note that attacking doesn't necessarily have to be slow, possession orientated football, though it is the norm.

Also, some counter attacking teams don't use pace either, preferring to play "route one" instead by hitting it long to a target man who holds it up to bring others into play.
Good shout. Those were things that got left on the cutting room floor (I almost feel like I'm doing the sport a disservice by shaving it down to a three-parter... I probably had enough material to do seven.) But, yeah, feel free to use the comments section to toss additional nuggets of knowledge in for those who may be curious, it's very much appreciated

Quote:
Originally Posted by shadia147
Thank You for this Primer. Just curious; I grasp the 4-4-2 etc concept. Pretty basic. But does not Hockey use the same theory? Only with five players rather than 11?
If I assumed correctly and you're referring to the different styles of forechecking and neutral zone formations (2-1-2, 1-4, etc.), then yeah, I think that's a pretty good comparison.

Perhaps the only difference is that for hockey, 99.9% of the time a team would ice 1 center, 1 left wing, 1 right wing, and 2 defensemen; whereas in soccer, with a larger pitch, there are more than 11 positions that a team can conceivably fill, so they have to pick and choose. For example, some teams will choose to play a narrow "diamond" midfield and eschew the traditional wingers.

But theoretically I do agree that they're similar, and is a good indicator of how aggressive or reactive a team will play.
 
# 4 OSUFan_88 @ 07/09/12 07:06 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by UK0wnag3
Decent stuff there. I would note that attacking doesn't necessarily have to be slow, possession orientated football, though it is the norm.

Also, some counter attacking teams don't use pace either, preferring to play "route one" instead by hitting it long to a target man who holds it up to bring others into play.
For examples see: City, Stoke and McLeish, Alex.
 
# 5 kelvinmak @ 07/09/12 08:30 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by OSUFan_88
McLeish, Alex.
Now now, the goal is to get prospective fans getting into soccer, not alcohol
 
# 6 Riderfan @ 07/09/12 11:37 PM
As a soccer player in Canada...

1) "Second Striker" - Where you've got him, he's a Center Forward. A 2nd Striker should be beside the first striker. (It's pretty obvious really, you've got Center Back and Center Midfield right...)
2) A "Stopper" is just another name for a Center Back. (I checked Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defender_(association_football) and it agrees with me)

But overall, good job. That should help those who don't know the game.
 
# 7 gigadkc @ 07/10/12 04:32 AM
"Who cares what you call it. And "soccer" is just as old as football, but ignorant people want to make an issue out of it."

no, ignorants call it soccer because they refuse to accept that this is THE football

"Check your history...soccer comes from AsSOCCiation Football. And has been used for long time and by many countries."

like who? US ... Canada ... ??? Anyway you're right, it doesn't care how you call it. You just shouldn't call it soccer in europe, your day may very well end in a hospital (that's actually no joke, have seen it happen several times )

@Riderfan: a stopper isn't a center back. A perfect example of a stopper is Matthias Sammer and the way he played on the 1996 team of Germany. Some kind of tweener of a Center Back and a Defensive Midfielder. Schweinsteiger also played kinda like a stopper in the CL finale.
 
# 8 65South @ 07/10/12 08:30 AM
Thank you! For both the primer and the replies. This came right on time for me as I always follow the World Cup and recently watched just about all of the UEFA Championship and recently have started watching some soccer matches via ESPN3. I could follow the game but I just felt like I didn't understand the strategy and couldn't totally grasp what was going on.

I bought FIFA because all of the great ratings and all of the good reviews (and because it was on sale) but I never really played because I felt like I didn't really know what I was doing, or better still, what I should be doing. But this info along with the graphic will go a long way in getting me started in real and virtual soccer!
 
# 9 Ermolli @ 07/10/12 08:59 AM
Good article but I have one question, why is the article in the FIFA subforum instead of the Soccer subforum? It would attract more people there don't you think?
 
# 10 kelvinmak @ 07/10/12 09:32 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ermolli
Good article but I have one question, why is the article in the FIFA subforum instead of the Soccer subforum? It would attract more people there don't you think?
Hmm, I don't know why it landed in the FIFA section. I shall get the powers that be to look into it.
 
# 11 Abar22 @ 07/10/12 10:20 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by 65South
Thank you! For both the primer and the replies. This came right on time for me as I always follow the World Cup and recently watched just about all of the UEFA Championship and recently have started watching some soccer matches via ESPN3. I could follow the game but I just felt like I didn't understand the strategy and couldn't totally grasp what was going on.

I bought FIFA because all of the great ratings and all of the good reviews (and because it was on sale) but I never really played because I felt like I didn't really know what I was doing, or better still, what I should be doing. But this info along with the graphic will go a long way in getting me started in real and virtual soccer!
If you want to understand strategy and tactics better I would highly recommend zonalmarking.net. Very good tactical breakdowns to be had there.
 
# 12 Manny_Shevitz @ 07/10/12 11:57 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by gigadkc
"Who cares what you call it. And "soccer" is just as old as football, but ignorant people want to make an issue out of it."

no, ignorants call it soccer because they refuse to accept that this is THE football

"Check your history...soccer comes from AsSOCCiation Football. And has been used for long time and by many countries."

like who? US ... Canada ... ??? Anyway you're right, it doesn't care how you call it. You just shouldn't call it soccer in europe, your day may very well end in a hospital (that's actually no joke, have seen it happen several times )

@Riderfan: a stopper isn't a center back. A perfect example of a stopper is Matthias Sammer and the way he played on the 1996 team of Germany. Some kind of tweener of a Center Back and a Defensive Midfielder. Schweinsteiger also played kinda like a stopper in the CL finale.
Actually, the term soccer originated in England (yes, that England, the one in Europe) in the late 19th Century, as a British slang term for Association Football. This was to distinguish it from other sports that at the time were also called football, such as early forms of rugby and such. You see, the term football didn't originate due to the fact that the ball is kicked with the foot, but rather it referred to any sport that was played on foot, as opposed to on horseback. There's a little free history lesson for you.

And yes, it is true that the term "soccer" was never used much outside of England and the U.S., and has since fallen out of fashion in England, but in all fairness, that is where it came from in the first place.
 
# 13 lufc4ever @ 07/10/12 04:07 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Riderfan
As a soccer player in Canada...

1) "Second Striker" - Where you've got him, he's a Center Forward. A 2nd Striker should be beside the first striker. (It's pretty obvious really, you've got Center Back and Center Midfield right...)
2) A "Stopper" is just another name for a Center Back. (I checked Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defender_(association_football) and it agrees with me)

But overall, good job. That should help those who don't know the game.
I would say there isn't much difference between a center forward and a striker positionally. I would consider a center forward more like a big, old fashioned target man like Emile Heskey. A striker would be someone like Michael Owen, a small, often quick forward who's job is to stick the ball in the back of the net. I would consider Mario Gomez a center forward, even though he scores a lot.

A second striker would be someone like Dennis Bergkamp when he played with Henry at Arsenal. He dropped back into midfield, linked and created chances for the finisher Henry. Generally now, second strikers are being used as lone strikers, like Robin van Persie now.

However, the original article is still good for people new to the beautiful game.
 
# 14 gigadkc @ 07/11/12 05:24 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manny_Shevitz
Actually, the term soccer originated in England (yes, that England, the one in Europe) in the late 19th Century, as a British slang term for Association Football. This was to distinguish it from other sports that at the time were also called football, such as early forms of rugby and such. You see, the term football didn't originate due to the fact that the ball is kicked with the foot, but rather it referred to any sport that was played on foot, as opposed to on horseback. There's a little free history lesson for you.

And yes, it is true that the term "soccer" was never used much outside of England and the U.S., and has since fallen out of fashion in England, but in all fairness, that is where it came from in the first place.
I know, no need to tell me
 
# 15 65South @ 07/11/12 03:39 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Abar22
If you want to understand strategy and tactics better I would highly recommend zonalmarking.net. Very good tactical breakdowns to be had there.
Lots and LOTS of info there. Thanks Abar!
 
# 16 DemiGodzillla @ 07/11/12 06:57 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Riderfan
As a soccer player in Canada...

1) "Second Striker" - Where you've got him, he's a Center Forward. A 2nd Striker should be beside the first striker. (It's pretty obvious really, you've got Center Back and Center Midfield right...)
2) A "Stopper" is just another name for a Center Back. (I checked Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defende...ation_football) and it agrees with me)

But overall, good job. That should help those who don't know the game.
No, a Striker and CF are the same position so a CF would play where the striker is, spearheading the attack, the SS is exactly where he should be, more akin to an AM.
 

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