Touchline Tactics

One of the key factors in maintaining possession are the players who maintain the width of the team during the build-up. A minimum of two disciplined players are required to provide width. These players occupy the channels along the touchlines, and should position themselves on the touchlines. Sadly, many high school soccer teams are oftentimes forced to play on narrow American football fields. Few premier youth club teams are provided opportunities to play on fields designated for professional or international matches (touch line (length): 100 m (110 yards) to  110 m (120 yards); Goal line (width) : 64 m (70 yards) to 75 m (80 yards)). Width in the attack is critical to maintaining possession of the ball during the buildup. Teams must utilize all of the available width of the field they are playing on to maintain possession and generate more effective attacks. The blog is dedicated to Touchline Tactics.

Teams that incorporate a possession style of play, at the highest levels, will pre-position players in wide positions to stretch their opponents defense to create more space in the interior of each third of the field (Defending Third / Midfield Third / Attacking Third). The term “pre-position” is critically important to the successful utilization of the touchline channels. Oftentimes, players assigned to wide positions will drift inside to the interior of the field resulting in center field congestion. Center field congestion results in high incidents of intercepted passes and steals. You will find the most disciplined teams with at least one player positioned on the touchline on both sides of the field. Even when the ball is on the opposite side of the field, these disciplined players remain wide waiting for the ball to be switched from the strong side to the weak side of the field. Good teams work on drawing defenders to one side of the field through possession play on one side of the field, and then, with one driven pass, the switch to the weak side of the field is made. The faster the pass arrives to wide player, the more time he will have to prepare the ball and then either make a pass or dribble the ball to goal. Defenders can adjust to teams that take or need two or three passes to switch the field. The advantage that may have been available along the touchline will be lost if the ball takes too long to get to the wide player. The most common problem associated with utilizing the touchline occurs when the player in possession of the ball needs a wide outlet player NOW, and is forced to wait for an interior player to run to the proper wide supporting position. Oftentimes, the player running wide to receive the pass will have their back to the goal he is attempting to attack, and will struggle to gain control of the ball or is under immediate pressure of a defender. However, a pre-positioned wide player can receive the pass facing the goal he is attacking, and will likely have some time to pass or dribble the ball before a pressuring defender arrives (depending upon how well the team is able to draw defenders to one side of the field prior to the switch). In addition, when players are in these wide supporting positions, interior supporting players will have a brief period of time to make a supporting run. Note that even when players are properly positioned wide along the touchlines, there will only be two to three seconds of time for a play along the touchline to be executed before the defense arrives and closes down the space. The second most common problem associated with utilizing the touchline are teams who remain along the touchline too long. Defenses can trap the ball along the touchline when teams fail to recognize early that there is no opportunity for a successful play to develop. Teams oftentimes remain along the touchline far too long, struggling to maintain possession and are unable to develop an attack along the now crowded touchline channel. The following animations demonstrate some of the passing, dribbling and supporting run options available along the touchlines during the first two or three seconds following the arrival of the ball.

This first animation demonstrates patience on the part of the team in possession of the ball. The receiving wide Blue Player 1 recognizes early  that he will not be able to make a play or he is helping his team draw defenders to his side of the field  to set-up a switch of the ball from the strong side to the weak side of the field. In either case, the wide player returns the pass immediately to the wide back who has moved into a new supporting position. The player receiving the pass must recognize ahead of time that he has no advantage and should return the ball back to a supporting player.  Players positioned along the touchline should receive the ball sideways on. This position will allow him to see the ball as well as the position of defenders and supporting teammates. If the player will be under immediate pressure, or there are no interior players who have moved to support him, he may elect to return the pass to a supporting player and wait for another opportunity.


This second animation demonstrates a lateral give and go. Blue Player 4 passes the ball to the wide Blue Player 3 who has checked back to the ball. Again, players along the touchline should not only position themselves sideways on, but also receive the ball sideways on.  Blue Player 5 checks laterally to Blue Player 3 as he is receiving the pass from Blue Player 4 (Blue Player 5 should time his run so he does not have to stop or slow down before receiving the pass from Blue Player 3). As Blue Player 3 passes the ball to the checking Blue Player 5, he quickly cuts behind the pressuring Red Defending Player 2. Blue Player 3 receives the ball from Blue Player 5 and dribbles to goal seeking checking players or teammates making diagonal runs ahead of him.


This third animation demonstrates a simple overlap by a supporting player. Blue Player 7 passes the ball to a wide supporting player. Blue Player 6 receives the pass and begins to dribble diagonally to goal. This lateral movement of the player in possession of the ball creates space for the overlapping Blue Player 8. The diagonal dribbling of Blue Player 6 also provides time for Blue Player 8 to make the overlapping run. Overlapping runs would be nearly impossible to complete if the player receiving the ball dribbles directly or nearly directly forward along the touchline. This situation also occurs in the center of the field. Strikers who receive the ball and then turn and begin dribbling directly ahead to the goal, will oftentimes leave supporting players too far behind them to provide immediate support. In these situations the Striker will be grossly outnumbered by defenders who will quickly close the Striker down and eliminate all positive passing and dribbling channels and options. 


This final animation demonstrates a similar situation as the previous animation, except in this instance, a supporting interior midfield player or Striker observes the wide player dribbling diagonally to goal and makes a supporting diagonal run to the touchline. Blue Player 10 passes the ball to the wide supporting Player 9. Since the receiving player was pre-positioned wide he should have some time and space to dribble or pass the ball before a pressuring defender arrives.  Player 11 observes Player 9 dribbling diagonally to goal, and makes a the wide supporting diagonal run to the touchline where he receives a pass from Player 9.  Note that any defender that may track the run of Player 11, will typically remain goal side of the player receiving the ball in order to avoid being beat to the inside. The over commitment of a defender towards the touchline may provide an opportunity for Player 11 in possession of the ball to dribble inside towards the goal.  In addition, Player 9 may also use the diagonal run of Player 11 for a decoy pass, and continue to dribble inside or make a pass to an interior player in the goal area.

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