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Michael Parkhurst applies the defensive principle of delay.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
From the stands, soccer may look like a single, 90-minute-long game that's broken into 45-minute chunks by halftime. In reality, each soccer match consists a series of smaller plays involving groups of players. Soccer consists of nine basic tactical principles, originally developed by soccer tactician Allen Wade in 1967 and expounded upon by coach Alan Hargreaves, that both players and coaches can use to gain skills and evaluate performance on the field. These principles are classified as attacking -- offense -- or defending -- defense -- depending on which team has the ball
Possession, Support and Communication
Wade and Hargreaves note that the principles of possession, support and communication apply to both the attacking and the defending teams. The team with possession strives to keep control of the ball and should never lose possession unless by taking a shot or passing. The defending team works to regain possession by coverage and applying pressure to the attacking team.
Possession requires support; when an offensive team player has control of the ball, other team members should actively -- and unselfishly -- offer support to the penetrator or first attacker. Support should come from the front, back and sides. Supporting players are known as second attackers. The defensive team offers support to the players attempting to thwart the first attacker's efforts.
Depth support should be closer than attack support; the second defender should never be more than 10 yards from the first defender. When a defending player -- or first defender -- attempts to regain possession, the second defender should lend support. Both teams must communicate effectively through signaling, calling and looking.
Penetration and Delay
When your team has the ball, apply the principle of attack. The first principle, penetration, means that the player's first thought should be advancing the ball down the field toward the goal and seeking out forward teammates in the goal-scoring zone to pass to. The first principle of defense, delay, refers to the defensive team's strategy of slowing the offensive team's advance down the field. Delay can be accomplished by an individual player obstructing the ball's forward movement or by attempting to constrict play into a small space.
Concentration and Width
The attacking team should always attempt to push the defense back, both toward the end of the field and toward the sides of the field. Known as stretching, this tactic adds width to the defensive position and serves to keep defenders out of middle-field positions. The defensive principle of compaction -- also known as concentration -- pushes back against the attacking principle of width. Using from three to 11 players, defensive players attempt to concentrate their positions in vulnerable areas, such as around the ball from the front and back and near the goal.
Mobility and Balance
The most successful teams are characterized by fluid play and mobile, agile players. When the offensive team employs mobility -- moving skillfully to the front, back and side to side -- the defensive team must adjust, thereby opening up opportunities to attack. A defensive team uses the principle of balance to counter the attacking team's mobility. Balanced teams keep an adequate number of players in all positions, without letting themselves group into a lopsided formation in the ball-play area. Balance allows for defensive support and ease of position readjustment.
Improvisation and Control
Though not included in Hargreaves' nine foundational principles, Wade also noted the importance of the principle of improvisation. Attacking players use their creativity to come up with new and innovative ways to dribble, pass and volley to get the ball down the field. These creative plays are most effective in the final third of the field. Wade also noted that when a defending team has employed the other four defense principles, it must exercise control and restraint while the attacking team uses creativity near the goal. Instead of defending wildly, a modicum of discipline and patience will place the defense in a good position to deal with attacks.