Advanced Attacking Runs in Soccer



Advanced attacking runs in soccer challenge offensive players to go above and beyond the concepts presented in Intermediate Attacking Runs in Soccer.  The same presentation format provided in the Introduction to Attacking Runs should be used.   By careful observation and implementation of coaching tactics, players make conscious decisions to move to create opportunities three or more passes ahead, or even 20- or 30-minutes ahead. These include individual runs, planned runs and supporting runs.


Advanced individual runs require attackers to observe and react to the behaviors of individual defenders and the opponents’ defense as a whole during the course of a match.  These include:

Blind-side run – A run by an offensive player into the area behind the marking defender on the opposite side and to the back of where the opponent is looking.  This is a subtle opportunity that presents itself momentarily as the opponent briefly looks away from the attacker.  The run must be made at this exact instant.

Drawing defenders out – In an attempt to get bunkered defenders to move out and away from their goal, attacking players first make supporting and lateral runs that permit passing around and retaining possession in midfield.  As defenders are drawn out, space is then created for more traditional slashing runs.  The runs must be made only after the defenders begin to move forward.

Inverted run – A run by a player that is essentially the opposite of what is normal or expected.  For example, a wing may usually be expected to make a straight run parallel to the touchline in the direction of the attacking goal. Instead, the wing performs a straight run along the sideline back toward the defending goal.

Overlap or Underlap runs  – A player runs into the attack from the back, going beyond a midfielder or forward teammate(s) in the position ahead, without making a vertical switch. (In a switch, the two players exchange positions.)  Hopefully, this puts an unmarked attacker into the mix.  For example, a defensive back runs beyond the midfielder and/or striker ahead, or a midfielder runs beyond the striker.  This may begin with an initial pass on the part of the overlapping player, such as a simple give-and-go.  See:  The Overlap in Soccer.

Third attacker, Third-man running – Generally, the second player without the ball, or the second-closest attacker to the goal without the ball, heads directly for the goal.  Otherwise, the third player on the attacking team moves into the best open space available in the attacking third of the field, in an attempt to receive a pass from his teammate with the ball.

Late run, or, Delay in Joining the attack – An attacking player coming into the offense well after the ball was initially sent forward, this run can be the “Fourth attacker or 4th man running” or simply a player making a full sprint ahead at top speed into the attack, hopefully unexpected by the defenders.

Deep-lying run – A specific type of late run involves a sprint made by a back player, often by a trailing or deep-lying midfielder, into the attack, hoping to go unnoticed and unmarked.

Planned Runs

Planned runs are specifically designed attacking runs prepared by the coaching staff and expected to be performed, often by designated players, in specific circumstances such as set plays or when receiving a cross. These include:

Designed runs – A specific route to be run as part of a set play.

Runs to Receive Specific Passes – These runs involve getting to a designated location near the goal, such as preparing to receive an upcoming cross.

Fast Break – Also known as a “fast counter, “quick counter attack,” “counter,” “countering,” or “fast counter attack,” this is often two runs made in rapid succession, used to take advantage of an unexpected change of possession, with the opposition too far upfield.  The first run usually involves a midfielder taking only a few steps forward in order free themselves to receive a pass from the player who has stolen the ball.  The second run usually involves a wing or set-back striker sprinting down the sideline or directly toward the goal.  The pass to this player must be made very quickly in order to ensure that they do not go offside.  (The midfielder can be designated as a “target player.”  The player executing the fast break can be designated as the “sprinter.”  Sometimes the run of play will dictate that the player stealing the ball can pass directly to the sprinter.)

Other Considerations

Offside – An attacking run that puts the runner in an offside position before they even get a chance to receive the pass is essentially worthless. Runners must always know their relationship to the next-to-last defender and work their runs accordingly. On one hand, teammates must recognize runners who have drastically gone into offside positions and not send the pass.  On the other hand, at the highest levels, extremely well-executed runs and passes that are just ahead of offside are well worth the risk.  See the offside series:  Introduction to Offside, Offside – The Basic Scenario, and Offside – The More Complicated Portions.

Timing – Attacking runs always require an understanding on the part of the runner regarding when they should be made, not just being able to sprint off in the optimal direction. Waiting, or showing the patience or restraint to hold a run, can be equally important to success.

Unpredictability – Runners must never just continue to make the same run over and over again.  This type of predictability makes things particularly easy on the defender.  Similarly, even though runners may make different runs, they must not telegraph the run to the defender by always starting a run the same way.

Supporting Runs

Supporting runs, that allow a team to maintain possession of the ball, can be as important as the attacking runs themselves.  These types of runs may include moving into space to set up back-passes or square passes, or to switch fields.

Back-pass option – This run has a teammate move to a position approximately 10-yards or more behind the player with the ball, such that the path of a pass would be essentially straight back.

Square pass option – This run has a teammate move to a position directly to the left or to the right of the player with the ball, such that the path of a pass would be parallel to the halfway line.

Swinging the ball – Defensive backs move to positions such that, upon receiving a back-pass, they can pass the ball among themselves in a way that moves the ball from one side of the field to the other.  Also known as “switching fields,” this allows the offense to change the point of attack and to re-set a whole new opportunity for attacking runs.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • An effective attacking run requires a successfully completed pass. The full array of passes is available to connect with any of the players making attacking runs.
  • Players must understand that there is only one ball, therefore only one attacking run at any given time will receive a pass, but everyone must always initiate and complete their runs because play will dictate who gets the ball.
  • Serious attacking players need to scout the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of the individual defenders they will face in upcoming matches in order to optimize runs. This is also true for team overall defensive tactics.


ORREN KONHEIM contributed to this article.

© Copyright, John C. Harves