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Intermediate Attacking Runs in Soccer


Intermediate attacking runs in soccer recognize more than just opportunities for one individual to move into open space.  Individual attacking runs were presented in the Introduction to Attacking Runs in Soccer.  While Intermediate attacking runs go beyond just sprinting to a spot in the hope of receiving a pass, all of the same basic concepts still apply:  recognizing and reacting to an opportunity; choosing an appropriate run; breaking away from defenders and moving into open space; timing the run properly; setting up and receiving an optimal pass; and, functional oral communication.  The potential receiver is still making an off-the-ball run, this time to create opportunities for both the initial runner and other teammates.  The following represents the next level of awareness of both individual runs and runs involving teammates.


The individual runs contained in the introduction to attacking runs were each oriented toward the direction and pattern of the run.  The next set of individual runs requires more thought by an attacker on how the runs are set up and a better understanding of the timing of the runs.  These include:

Back-door run – After faking toward midfield as if to receive a pass, the player makes a looping sprint around and behind the defense toward the far side of the goal, with the expectation of receiving a cross.

Drifting – The attacker moves around in a generally small area, keeping a defender guessing, until suddenly sprinting into open space.

Doubling back – A player, who made a run and was not rewarded with a pass, returns toward the ball.

Holding the run – The attacking player waits or delays the start of a run, in order for the play to develop or to keep from going offside.

Recycled run – A player who makes a run and is not rewarded with a pass immediately makes another run; For example, a forward comes out of the penalty area after a corner kick or cross is lost, then recovered, and returns.

Setting up a defender – Any of a number of actions taken during a match to create an expectation on the part of a defender that an attacker will keep making the same run or a move, then the attacker does something else.

Drawing an Opponent Away from a Teammate

Runs trigger other runs.  A run by one player to a given space creates an opportunity for another player to run to space that has been created by the initial run.  For example, by running to the wing, an inside striker is likely to cause a defender to go with them. This creates an opportunity for an attacking midfielder to run into the space the defender has vacated.  These include:

Decoy run – A run made by a member of the attacking team, intended to draw a defender toward the runner (and away from the ball handler), creating more space and opportunity for the intended attack – i.e., allowing the ball handler to more-easily attack or to pass to a (now-more-open) attacking teammate.

Drawing or dragging an opponent – Any run made by an attacking player to intentionally move a defender away from an area in order to create space for the ball or a teammate.

Drop or Leaving the Ball – A dribbler facing backward gives the ball, usually in the form of a back-pass, to a trailing teammate and then quickly turns and sprints to open space.

Dummy run – Sprinting to an area to distract a defender’s attention from a pass going to a teammate.  (Not to be confused with Advanced Passing – The Dummy.)

Switches with a Teammate

An offensive switch performed with a teammate is effectively an exchange of positions while on attack.  Also known as “crossover runs,” offensive switches may be “called” or “natural” and may or may not involve the ball.  A “called” switch simply means that one of the two players involved literally uses an oral communication call to say “Switch” to implement the action.  A “natural” switch occurs during the normal run of play, when players recognize the opportunity to perform it, and simply does not involve the oral call.

Offensive Switch – Two teammates near each other run diagonally forward left and right respectively, forming an “X” pattern.  One player starts the diagonal run and the other player immediately reacts by performing the crossing diagonal run behind the first player.  For example, an inside forward runs diagonally left-to-right to the right wing and the right wing runs diagonally right-to-left to the inside.  Until returning to their usual positions, the inside forward assumes the duties and responsibilities of the wing and vice versa.

This type of offensive switch may be performed with or without one of the players having possession of the ball.  Continuing the example above, the inside forward could dribble diagonally in front of the wing and the wing then switches or, upon seeing the wing dribbling up the sideline, the inside makes the run toward the sideline and then the dribbler cuts inside.  An example of switching without the ball could have the inside and the wing perform the crossing runs in front of a midfielder approaching with the ball.

Under any condition, the objective of the offensive switch is to free one or both of the runners for a pass, either by causing a single defender to have to choose who to cover or by causing confusion in two defenders as to which way to go. This type of switch can be performed almost anywhere on the field, but is usually implemented in the opponents’ half.  The offensive switch is also refereed to as a “lateral” or “horizontal” switch because the runs go in the direction of opposite touchlines.  This is to distinguish it from the “vertical” switch.

Vertical switch – In a “vertical” switch, two attacking players exchange positions from back-to-front or front-to-back in the direction of opposite end-lines (goal lines) during the normal course of play.  For example, a right midfielder could dribble the ball up to the right wing and they switch positions with the midfielder continuing on as the wing.  The wing then takes over the position of the midfielder.  As with the horizontal switch, this can be done with or without the ball.  Similarly, the vertical switch can involve oral communication or be performed as part of the normal run of play.  As with the lateral switch, the objective is to confuse defenders as to whom they should mark when the switch occurs.  Note that the vertical switch also involves the actual exchange of positions and is not to be confused with an “overlap” or “overlapping run,” which does not.  (See Advanced Attacking Runs in Soccer.)

When the action of a switch has been completed, and the players return to their original positions, it should be formally initiated or acknowledged by the players using oral communication to state, “switch back” or ”switching back.”

Cross-over exchange – A player, usually moving toward the attacking goal, dribbles up to a teammate who is usually stationary, puts the ball on the teammate’s foot, and then sprints to open space.  In order to avoid confusion – and a possible collision – the foot used to receive the ball must be the same foot as the one used to provide the ball, i.e., right foot to right foot or left foot to left foot.

Next, see Advanced Attacking Runs in Soccer.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • Players must be reminded that they must be prepared to receive the pass if they make an effective run and get open. They must anticipate the move that they are going to make next upon receiving the ball, before they get it.  See Introduction to Receiving and Controlling.
  • If a runner is passed to, they must remember to go to the ball and not let it get cut off.

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms from

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John C. Harves®

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