Are Defenders Important in Soccer? (What’s Their Role?)


are defenders important in soccer

The main goal of this Post is to give credit when the credit is due! In other words, in the world of soccer midfielders and strikers usually get all the credit for each team success …

… Which is totally not fair, at least, in my opinion!

Indeed, no soccer team success is possible without a legit defense that will give the upfront lines the confidence they need to attack and create opportunities to score.

Are defenders important in soccer?

Every goal has to start with a solid defense. Being a defender in soccer is one of the most underrated but crucial parts of the team. It doesn’t matter how many goals your offense scores if there is no defense there to stop your opponent from scoring more. Defenders are the glue of the entire team.

A soccer team needs communication in order to be successful and that effective communication has to start in the backfield with the defenders.

From protecting their goalie, staving off opposing offenders, posing as options for both their midfield and forwards, intercepting passes, creating counter attacks, and setting their own offense up with goal scoring opportunities: their hands are very full.

So yes, defenders are criminally underrated and severely important to the success of any soccer team!

What does a defender do in soccer?

Again, the role of a defender is not typically one that is in the limelight, so what exactly does a defender for the team?

It’s easiest to break up this explanation into the different defensive positions. Typically, a recreational team will play with four true defenders. One center back, a right fullback, a left fullback, and a sweeper.

1. Central back

The center back, also referred to as the ‘stopper’, plays as liaison between the defense and the midfield.

They usually occupy the central area of the field and can move up with the offense but are also expected to drop back when the defense needs them.

2. Fullbacks

The right- and left-wing fullbacks are responsible for defending the wide ends of the backfield as well as communicating with the rest of the defense, most importantly the sweeper, to drop back and cover for them when needed.

They usually stay wide to protect the sides of the field, but they can also assist with protecting the center and helping out the stopper and sweeper as needed.

These players can also move up and down the field to help with offensive attacks.

3. Sweeper

The sweeper, although not as common in professional defensive formations, is normally always included in recreational and beginner formations.

Sweepers are the ultimate protector of the goalie and begin the main defensive line. Their job is essentially to ‘sweep up’ any balls or opposing players that somehow get past the defensive backs.

While they typically stay behind their defensive line, they can also help take the ball up the field in an offensive push if the opportunity presents itself.

You can learn more about soccer defenders tasks

Can defenders actually score in soccer?

A common misconception about defenders in soccer is that they are not a part of any offensive production…

…This is totally untrue and if you look closely, a lot of the times defenders are listed as assists, as well as credited, with many goals.

There are absolutely no rules that say a defender cannot score in soccer. Actually, it makes a defender far more desirable if they are also able to contribute on the offensive side as well as defense.

Even the goalie, although a rare occurrence, could score a goal if they wanted to. Granted, defenders typically have less opportunities to score goals than forwards and midfielders but any position on the field can score at any given time.

How difficult is it to be a defender?

As any position, it is not that easy to be a defender, but it can also be very rewarding!

Being able to protect your goalie and prevent the opposing team from scoring while also assisting in goals to lead your team to victory are only a few of the highs that come from being a defender.

It’s hard work that requires a lot of dedication. The defender must also be ready for a mental burden. Defenders are not only the backbone of a team’s communication, but they are sometimes the scapegoat for people to place blame on for opposing goals.

But no worries – long hours of conditioning, studying of the game, and training will pay off when you block that shot or get back in time to stop an opposing attack on your goalie.

What makes a good defender?

A lot of qualities make up a great defender. Most obviously, you must know how to defend well. This begs the question of how does one defend well? Being able to consistently provide great defensive coverage comes with a mix of strength, agility, and tactical abilities.

Defenders must be fast in order to drop back to defend against the opposition but also in order to push forwards with their own forwards and midfield to help create offensive pressure.

Tactically, great defenders must have precise and crisp passing and heading abilities. Defenders need to know the most efficient route in which to get the ball at their own offense’s feet, whether that means passing with their feet or head.

To encompass the above traits, defenders must be strong physically, but they must also be just as strong mentally.

Defenders need to be aggressive with the opposing team while maintaining constant communication with every player from their own team …

… They also need strong mental health in order to balance maintaining a calm disposition in a high-pressure environment while also applying their own pressure to the attacking offenders.

Tips and Drills to improve your defensive abilities …

Now that we’ve outlined what it takes to be a good defender, you’re probably wondering – how the heck do I get there? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with a bunch of tips and tricks on how to improve your defensive abilities.

1) Learn about the position! So, you’re already halfway there! If you’re reading this article, you obviously have an interest in getting better and improving your game. The more you tactically understand your position, the better you will be able to play.

  • You’ll be able to see the game and all of its moving parts much more clearly without feeling stressed or frazzled.
  • Being unprepared for a game can cause everything to pass by you in a blur but being a student of the game – and your position – will make sure that never happens!

2) The triangle trick! The triangle trick is making sure that no matter where you are on the field, you are positioned in such a way that you would be able to create a triangle with two of your other teammates.

  • I know this tip sounds mentally taxing at first – how am I supposed to defend against a whole team and play a geometry game with my own team all at the same time?! I get it, we’ve all been there, but I promise after a little bit this will feel like second nature. The triangle trick helps promote precise passing and spacing that is absolutely essential for any defender.

3) Keep your communication short! Like I said above, communication is key, but it can be hard to have thorough communication in the middle of a soccer match where everyone is running around. That’s totally understandable, so rather than thorough communication, go for direct.

  • Simple phrases such as “pass”, “back”, “turn”, or “man on” can go a long way in helping your team know when their help is needed in the backfield or when an opposing player is sneaking up on them.
  • Some teams are known to have even made a code word to let their teammates know when an opposing player is coming from behind!

Examples of famous successful defensive players …

There is a long list of pretty legendary defenders in the game of soccer that have absolutely mastered their craft.

These players are no stranger to the biggest sporting events on the world’s biggest stage, such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.

Most namely, Paolo Maldini and Julie Ertz.

1. Paolo Maldini

He is a former professional Italian soccer player who played for AC Milan as well as the Italian national team. He played both center, as well as left back and is widely regarded as one of the best defenders of all time.

Maldini knew the game and his position so well his defending abilities were instinctual. Although Maldini played left back, he is right footed. His ambidextrous abilities allowed him to perform as an offensive asset as well.

2. Julie Ertz

She is a defender for both the Chicago Red Stars as well as the US National Team. She has played in an Olympics as well as two World Cups, earning the US Soccer Women’s Player of the Year Award in 2019.

What makes Ertz so explosive is her ability, like Maldini, to shift from center back to defensive center midfield positions. Ertz can adapt herself and her playing style to any type of field formation. Her adaptability has played a large role in her success.

Final Thoughts …

Being a defender in the game of soccer is not only a physical challenge, but a mental one as well.

With lots of practice, determination, and grit – you too could be the next big thing, or at least a very good and reliable defender that your coach and team could count on at any given moment!

Lastly, if you are a striker, then I highly encourage you to check these tips to beat fast defenders in soccer! You will find those tips really useful …

Claressa Cormier

Claressa Cormier has over 15 years of soccer experience between playing the sport at a semi-professional level, following the biggest soccer teams & leagues out there as well as helping beginners to get started on the right foot.

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