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Defending in the Opponent's Half

As part of our continuing effort to service and educate our membership, each Thursday U.S. Soccer will provide an informative article from one of its departments. Once a week, we will bring you an article/paper/essay that will hopefully enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of the game of soccer - on and off the field.

In this week's Resource Center, U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach Jeff Pill guides you through a drill to improve on defending in your opponents half. Pill joined U.S. Soccer as a National Staff Coach in 1994 and currently heads up the Under-14 Girls National Team Camp.  The following drill is recommended for players in the Under-13 age group and above.

Defending in the Opponent's Half
by Jeff Pill

Over the past few years, it has been our observation that many youth teams do not have a coordinated plan of how they are to defend as a team.  Often, players attempt to get by solely with their athleticism and work rate.  As coaches, we often praise players when they “work hard” to defend, and neglect to help them to “work smart”.

As a result, we often see strikers sprinting after the opposing team’s backs in the attempt to get the ball.  As the level of the game and opponent improves, this tactic often does not work.  The opponent will use this opportunity to easily play the ball behind the onrushing striker.  If the strikers have committed without bringing the midfielders with them, the result is often disastrous, as the opponent is now able to attack with numbers through the midfield as the strikers have been played out of the game.

In order to coordinate the defending action of the midfielders and strikers we use the following activity. This activity can be used as part of a bigger progression of getting the team defending together.  It is a major teaching activity that may be used to assist the players as they learned their roles within the team.

(7 vs. 6)

OBJECTIVE: To help improve the coordinated defensive action of the front players with the midfielders in the attacking half.

(please see the illustration below)

  • The game is played with 7 attacking players (white players in illustration below) vs. 6 defending players (dark players in illustration following) plus a keeper.
  • The seven attacking players in black score a goal by dribbling over midfield.
  • The six defending players in white score by winning the ball back and shooting in to the big goal.


  • Keep together and compact as a defensive unit.
  • Make sure the “gaps” between the strikers and midfielders remains tight - especially when the ball is under pressure.
  • Strikers start central and about halfway in the opponent's half, “baiting” the other team to play out wide.
  • Force play wide, then pinch it and try to keep it there.
  • The rest of the team behind this 'slides over', basically ignoring the attacking players on the 'weak side' of the field.
  • Try to double team the ball on the sideline with the striker and outside midfielder.
  • 'Weak side' striker steps up and denies pass back to the keeper or central back, forcing play down the touch line.
  • Ensure that the gaps between the defensive players remain small, especially on the ball-side of the field.
  • If the ball is played directly in to the front players on the attacking team, the defenders need to step with the attacker and deny a turn.
  • Cover in behind the pressure on the ball to deny a penetrating pass and to assist if the pressuring defender is beat.
  • Help defenders recognize important visual cues:
  • If there is adequate pressure on the ball (i.e.: the player can not make a long pass), the team can “step up” and press the ball further.
  • If the ball is not under pressure (i.e.: the player is able to serve the ball long), then the team “drops back” centrally.  They attempt to read the long service and win that ball when played.
  • Since this is a more predictable pass, it is easier to read and thus intercept.
  • When the ball is won, attempt to play it forward as soon as possible in an attempt to get behind the opponent’s defense before they become organized.  If this is not possible, possess the ball until the opportunity presents itself to go forward.
  • Defend with an attitude of “controlled fury”.  Realize that the defending team dictates where and how the ball is played by the opponent.