AVID Soccer Training

Systems of Play

  In honor of the World Cup, I thought I would talk a bit about Systems of Play. A system of play is simply the way the players line up on the field. There are two main systems (4-4-2 and 4-3-3) and two less common systems (4-5-1 and 3-5-2). The numbers always count from the back and do not include the keeper. There is also any number of variants of each system and (depending on how you define the lines) a nearly infinite number of other systems. In the end, the system should be determined by the ability of the players; the team make-up; the specific conditions of the match; and the opponent.


  The 4-3-3 is some times called the Dutch system. It is the only system used in youth play in the Netherlands and is favored by their national team. The four backs present a formidable defense and help in keeping numbers up in the defensive third. It also presents an opportunity for a defender to make a run in support of an attack. With only three players in the midfield, there is the risk of being out numbered and losing this area of the field. To work, the 4-3-3 needs defenders that push up (to fill space in the midfield) and forwards who run back to assist. The main reason to have three forwards it to get numbers up in the attacking third of the field. It presents a balanced attack and there should generally be a player on each side of the goal and one in front. This can create significant problems for a keeper and can allow for two targets on a cross.


  The 4-4-2 is the typical English system. It is also the most common system in US youth soccer. The big difference is the additional midfielder. This should help the team control the midfield by having more players in the area. Often, the midfield is played as a diamond, thereby simulating a 4-3-3 or designating one of the center mids as attacking and one as defending. With only two forwards, they tend to stay closer together. This system often relies on the outside midfielders or defenders to act as wings and cover the edges of the field. This allows the forwards to stay more towards the middle of the field and closer to goal.

3-5-2 and 4-5-1

  The five midfield systems are often very similar to the previous systems. In a 3-5-2, the mids may line up in a pentagon with player 5 at the bottom point. In essence, this is a 4-4-2 with the defensive mid playing stopper. The definition has more to do with how far forward they play and the mentality of the player. If the pentagon is turned around, it may be more like a 3-4-3 with the lead midfielder as an attacking mid. The same general rules are true of the 4-5-1. Depending on the shape and roles of the midfielders, it may simulate a 4-3-3 (two attacking mids) or a 4-4-2 (one attacking mid). The five mid systems are flexible and work well if the players have the proper training and understand how their role changes to the specific match conditions. This flexibility may be difficult for younger players to grasp.


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Last updated: 5/01/07.