Did you ever wonder why the #10 is so popular in soccer?
To answer this question, we have to take a step back and look at what numbers on a soccer team originally meant.
Each player on the field was traditionally identified by a number. Goalkeeper was #1. Right back #2. #10 was reserved for the attacking midfielder, the play-maker, the most creative and skilled player on the field.
You’ve almost certainly heard of some of these players that donned the #10: Pele, Maradona, Marta, Georghe Hagi, Michelle Akers, Eusebio, Roberto Baggio, Johann Cruyff, Zinadine Zidane, Carli Lloyd, Lionel Messi, Christian Pulisic.
Whenever we discuss our formations, we start in the back, and end with the players farthest up the field. A common 11v11 shape is a 1-4-3-3, or in other words, one goalkeeper, four backs, three central midfielders, and three forwards. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are other formations and that not all defenders, midfielders, and forwards have the same role.
The Components of Each Position
US Soccer defines the requirements of each position in four components:
#1 – Goalkeeper/Keeper/GK
A vocal leader with athleticism, awareness, and versatility to serve as our anchor and last line of defense.
Though though of as a shot stopper, the GK is also the player that most often starts a team’s attack, whether after a save, from a goal kick, or after a team wins possession and passes back to the GK to reset their formation. The GK usually distributes the ball to the 4 or 5, but can use different techniques (roll, overhand throw, punt, drop kick, side volley, javelin throw, dribble and pass with feet) to get the ball to many different spots on the field.
Without the ball, the GK must be communicate with the defense and be brave, strong, and technically sound to prevent goal scoring chances and make saves.
Players #2 and #3 – Outside Defenders/Outside Backs
Extra-versatile, fit, quick players comfortable attacking and defending in space, with freedom to play all over the field. The 2 (right back) and 3 (left back) on the left generally have the same responsibilities.
With the ball in the defensive half, the 2 & 3 are expected to stay wide to create space and width, combining with the 1, 4, 5, 6, & 8 to hold onto possession and seek opportunity to advance the ball forward without losing possession. The 2 & 3 are often asked to make forward runs, often overlapping the 7 or 11, to create a numerical advantage in the attacking half. They can take on defenders 1v1 to go to goal or to provide a cross into the box.
Without the ball, the 2 and 3 should pinch toward the middle of the field to close gaps between them and the 4 & 5 to prevent penetration and deny the central space in front of the goal. They should be ready to provide cover for another defender that is beaten via a pass or dribble. They need to keep an eye on the wide attacking players – not necessarily closely marking them, but staying between them and the goal and anticipating an attacking run off the ball.
Due to this wide range of possibilities and freedoms, at high levels of play, it is common for some of the fastest, most fit, and most versatile players to be found as a 2 or 3. In a formation with 3 defenders or 5 defenders, the 2 & 3 will be more focused on attacking and will tend to stay a bit wider.
#4 and #5 – Central Defenders/Center Backs
Physically strong, confident, intelligent players that provide composure and extraordinary leadership.
With the ball, the 4 & 5 are expected to be safe with possession while also looking for the opportunity to advance the ball into the middle or attacking third. The 4 & 5 can get involved in the attack, particularly on set pieces, corners, and crosses (2, 3, and/or 6 stay back to prevent a counter attack). Center backs provide leadership, recognize space, and help direct teammates since they can see the whole field.
Without the ball, the 4 & 5 are expected to stay central, keep the defenders compact to deny penetration, win 1v1 battles, and intercept passes. They communicate to the other backs and midfielders on marking responsibilities and defensive tactics, such as which direction to force the ball to make the attackers more predictable. They are strong in the air to win crosses and through balls. They understand how to contain and wait for defensive help when necessary, are rarely out-battled by an attacking player for a 50/50 ball, understand angles and anticipate, while possessing enough speed keep up with attackers.
#6 and #8 – Defensive Central Midfielders/Center Midfielders
Skilled in tight spaces, can receive and distribute, 360-degree field awareness, finds space, keeps possession, creates or finds passing lanes to launch the attack, pressures opponents to force mistakes.
With the ball, these players should initially be a large part of building from the back and advancing the ball in the direction of the middle and attacking third of the field, frequently via penetrating passing. At all times, #6 and #8 need to be asking themselves “What can I do to help my teammate with the ball?” The answer to this question almost always is checking into space and communicating with nearby teammates to ensure that our player with the ball has options forward, left, right, and support. It is important for these players to understand that standing still with defenders in the way or not in open space – in some manner being consistently involved when in possession of the ball – makes it close to impossible for us to advance and makes it embarrassingly simple for the opposition to take away all of our options and force turnovers.
Without the ball these players should be doing their best to disguise and cover the opposition’s passing lanes and angles in order to force turnovers and regain possession of the ball. There is also the expectation of recovering defensively when necessary to prevent being at a numerical disadvantage and/or to assist the back 5 players.
#7 and # 11 – Wingers or Outside Midfielder/Forwards
Imaginative, creative attackers who can become available both on a run or in finding open space, comfortable putting defenders on heels both by passing combinations and on the dribble, with expectations of timing runs well to assist in finishing well when the opposite side of the field of the center of the field creates scoring opportunities as well as communication with other attacking players to creatively create said opportunities
With the ball, #7/#11 are expected to start high and wide to give a quick line passing option from #2/#3 or anyone else, but are absolutely expected to immediately deviate from that once it is no longer an option. Originality and creativity is valued at these positions because of how easily it creates scoring opportunities. Close and frequent combination play between #3/#11 and #2/#7 are simple but effective – overlaps, wall passes, etc. Streaking outside-in and inside-out runs to receive diagonal balls, interchanging of position with player such as #9, #10, the opposite #7/#11. #6/#8, #2/#3. and a strong and diverse arsenal of 1v1 attacking options are all extraordinarily valuable tools.
Without the ball, pressuring the opponent’s defenders, covering passing lanes, and making passing angles difficult are an absolute must. It is also imperative to communicate with #2/#3 respectively and recover as a defender when necessary.
#9 – Center Forward/Target Player
Target Player the preferred name personally, as it is the beginning of our attack on a regular basis and therefore constantly a target which we are seeking rather than a single player upon whom many rely to score individually, is a player that is constantly finding open space higher up field with a role concentrated around both being the start of our attack and possession in the final third of the field as well as creating scoring opportunities and finishing scoring opportunities created by others.
With the ball: #9, while staying high to ensure both height and width, is constantly finding space or making runs to receive the ball (AND KEEP IT) in or near our attacking third of the field. Originality, creativity, and versatility are required as there will be circumstances in which the correct play is to receive, turn, and attack immediately, as well as circumstances in which the correct play is to receive, possess, and wait for teammates’ help. Recognizing which circumstances are which as well as a good sense of variety can be super valuable. Advanced understanding of the opposing defense as a whole as well as individuals can be an amazing tool, such as recognizing an individual whom he or she can beat quickly via the dribble almost every time.
Without the ball: #9 absolutely has to understand the obligation of pressuring the opposing defense aggressively intelligently at the right times, while not unnecessarily wasting energy. Without #9’s defensive presence and pressure, it would be frustratingly difficult to win back possession of the ball.
#10 – Attacking Central Midfielder/Offensive Center Midfielder
With likely the most freedoms and flexibility on the field, #10 is probably the most well-rounded player on the field. It is imperative that he or she is a strong ball winner and that he or she is productive with the ball once the ball is won. Expectations range from penetrating via dribble and/or passing combinations, scoring, creating scoring opportunities for others, and communication with the forward-most players as a whole to maximize efficiency.
With the ball: Rarely does proper attacking play occur without #10 involvement , so a relatively even number of the following is ideal: receiving and turning to attack on the dribble, receiving and laying the ball off and find space or make a run for combination passing, taking players on selfishly with the idea of scoring in mind, taking on players selfishly with the idea of setting up a teammate in mind, etc.
Without the ball: Organizing with #7/#11/#9/etc to effectively pressure and cause the opposing defense to give up the ball.