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Position Numbers (NEW!)

POSITION NUMBERS

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The use of a position number scheme to identify soccer positions has recently come back into vogue.  Possibly due to the proliferation of position names (See: “Soccer Positions”), it appears to be hoped that a general numbering scheme will reduce confusion, both among players and coaches, and help with a common understanding that transfers between teams, coaching instruction, and different formations.

The first position number scheme in soccer appeared in England in the 1920s.  Beginning with number 1, numbers were assigned from the back-to-front, and from right-to-left, starting with the goalkeeper and proceeding along the lines of the fullbacks, halfbacks, and forwards in a straight 2-3-5 formation.  Accordingly, the following numbers were applied to the jerseys of the players, corresponding to the positions they played:

First Numbers and Positions

    1 – Goalkeeper

    2 – Right Fullback

    3 – Left Fullback

    4 – Right Halfback

    5 – Center Halfback

    6 – Left Halfback

    7 – Right Wing Forward

    8 – Right Inside Forward

    9 – Center Forward

  10 – Left Inside Forward

  11 – Left Wing Forward

Original Position Numbering Scheme

With the advent of the “W-M” formation in the 1950s, players started to move into positions on the field that are a little more familiar to the common day.  The numbering scheme and the names of the positions remained the same as first introduced.  The most significant change moved the two Inside Forwards, setting them back off the line and closer to the Halfbacks, thereby making the Center Forward much more prominent. This ultimately gave rise to statements about a “Classic Number 9,” a “Traditional Number 9,” a “True Number 9,” a “Real Number 9,” or someone “In the Number 9 shirt” or “Playing as a Number 9,” all referring to a central striker, leading the attack, up-front, in the middle of the field – no matter what actual number may be printed on the player’s jersey.  Similarly, a strong scorer, playmaker, or striker in the set-back role – made famous by Pele – receives the same references as a “Number 10.”

The second change was to move the center halfback into the defense, essentially creating a center fullback position.  The other halfbacks then pinched in closer to the center of the field:

“W-M” Numbers and Positions

    1 – Goalkeeper

    2 – Right Fullback

    5 – Center Halfback

    3 – Left Fullback

    4 – Right Halfback

    6 – Left Halfback

    8 – Right Inside Forward

  10 – Left Inside Forward

    7 – Right Wing Forward

    9 – Center Forward

  11 – Left Wing Forward

“W-M” Formation and Position Numbers

Beginning in the 1960s, significant experimentation in the use of players, systems of play, formations, and alignments began.  Position functions started to merge and overlap.  “Total Football” appeared and a lot of the previous structure to player numbers and the original team numbering scheme disappeared.  Players were free to select their own numbers (which had essentially been true for substitutes, anyway), and their jersey numbers were no longer expected to correspond to any certain positions being played on the field.  Halfbacks started to be called Midfielders.  The most significant changes were the move of at least one additional midfielder into back defense and the establishment of the trailing forwards as acknowledged midfielders.

Beginning in 2012, U.S. Soccer has attempted to standardize position names and a numbering system based on a 4-3-3 formation:

U.S. Soccer Numbers and Positions

 1 – Goalkeeper

 2 – Right Outside Back

 4 – Center Back

 5 – Center Back

 3 – Left Outside Back

 6 – Defensive Center Midfielder

 8 – Center Midfielder

10 – Attacking Center Midfielder

 7 – Right Winger

 9 – Center Forward

11 – Left Winger

US Soccer Position Names and Numbers

U.S. Soccer has gone further to describe the expected characteristics (“position profiles”) for each of the numbers/position-names based on the “Technical, Tactical, Physical, and Mental (TTPM)” attributes that it determined to be applicable to each.

 

Soccer Coaching Tips:

–       Players with aspirations to move up the USYSA and USSF paths need to know the numbering scheme and associated characteristics of the positions.

–       Television commentators have adopted the position numerology, so parents and viewers need to know the background, as well as players.

–       The term “False 9” has emerged which refers to a center forward who plays, or appears to play, the middle striker position, but often drops back into the middle of the field to provide a link between the leading midfielders and fellow strikers.

 

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at Amazon.com.

 

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John C. Harves

CoachingAmericanSoccer.com®

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