Best Defensive Strategies for Pickup Soccer – Part 2

Expert section: Mate Kontra – I’ve played soccer at a very high level all my life. Throughout my time playing, I’ve been coached by ex-pro, D1, and Academy level coaches, currently playing at the MLS-Next level. I’ve played countless pickup games in my free time, and have used many different strategies to win. I am here to share the most effective defensive strategies to prevent your opponents from scoring. 

Soccer Photo

Pickup soccer is a free-playing form of soccer, designed to create fun competition between player-made teams. 

As we discussed in the first article, pickup games are generally high scoring, oftentimes with double-digit scores. 

For this reason, defensive ability is one of the most impactful traits that competitive teams have over the rest. 

Today, I will be sharing 3 more effective defending strategies that you can use to win your next pickup game. 

Related article: Defending Strategies for Pickup Soccer | MLS-Next Player

Soccer Pickup Team Together
‘Pickup Team Group Stretch’ (#1 Envato – YuriArcursPeopleImages)

Top 3 defending strategies for pickup soccer

The following list of strategies is focused on reducing the opponents’ ability to score. 

Meaning, limiting the opponent’s passing options, disrupting their attacking play, and preventing them from penetrating the defense. 

Some strategies are better and some are worse, but they are all great at specific parts of the game.

So you can match them with the right team and be sure that you can defend them. 

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the first part of this article containing even better strategies that your team can use to win games. 

Anyways, let’s dive into the list! 

Pickup soccer on a rooftop
‘Pickup Soccer on a Rooftop’ (#2 Envato – YuriArcursPeopleImages)

#1: Player Marking 

Player marking in soccer is the defensive strategy where players are assigned an opposing player to guard throughout the game. 

Though player marking is one of the strategies that require the least tactical knowledge, it can be fairly demanding on the body. 

Tightly marking someone will force them to move more, forcing defenders to also move while marking them. 

These players will be in a constant cat-and-mouse game for space, testing their fitness with intense sprints throughout the game. 

It is possible to mark every opponent in small-sided games, but it is best to pick out only the key players and tightly guard them. 

The goal is to limit their impact on the game and prevent them from helping their team. 

Player Performing Cruyff Turn
‘Defender Successfully Marks Her Opponent’ (#3 Unsplash – Jeffrey F Lin)

When should you use it?

It’s pretty simple to decide if player marking is necessary during a game, and is generally decided after the start of the game. 

Generally, if certain players stand out from the rest or receive the ball often then they should be marked. 

Sometimes the most skilled opponents who need to be marked may not get the ball as much, such as strikers, and that’s fine. 

In these situations, it’s up to the team to decide the approach because it may be more harmful to lose a player by dedicating them to an opponent. 

If they constantly move around, it’s probably better to mark them, but otherwise, just be aware and ready to defend. 

Pros & Cons

Player marking has several advantages that have a great impact on the opposing team’s firepower. 

Firstly, the ability to deny key players from getting the ball is a crucial advantage because they will not be able to create chances for their team or make a difference when it counts. 

Not to mention, eliminating opposing players as an option will disrupt the opponent team’s tactics and passing combinations. 

Similarly to a Jenga tower, if you remove too many building blocks, then the whole system collapses. 

Advantages in short:

  • Reduces opponents’ attacking ability
    • Denies key players the ball
    • Disrupts the opponent team’s tactics
    • Difficult to create passing combinations

The main disadvantage that player marking has is the difficulty of creating turnovers. 

As players focus on denying individual players, it reduces their ability to win the ball back. 

Trying to win the ball back may cause them to lose their mark, give up space and disorganize the defense. 

Defending players must also have discipline while defending in 1v1 scenarios. 

Losing a duel will allow opponent players to penetrate the defense and create scoring opportunities, which ruins the purpose of the strategy. 

Disadvantages in short:

  • Difficult to win ball possession
  • Trying to win the ball back gives opponents attacking options
    • Disorganizes the defensive shape
    • Creates space for opponents to attack
  • Requires defensive skill to win 1v1 duels

#2: Low Block 

The Low-Block is a defensive strategy where teams drop deep into their half to create a compact defensive shape when they don’t have the ball. 

By creating a compact defensive shape, defenders can overcrowd the center of the pitch and prevent opponents from penetrating the middle channel of the field. 

So instead of putting pressure on the ball, defenders take a more passive approach and prioritize their shape over the ball. 

This makes it difficult for opponents to find gaps and spaces between defenders to exploit during their attack. 

Defending players must be positioned very close to each other with multiple defensive lines in front of the goal. 

Soccer Player Shielding The Ball
‘Soccer Player Shielding the Ball’ (#4 Pexels – Laura Rincón)

When should you use it?

You may have noticed that this approach places heavy emphasis on preventing opponents from penetrating the defense. 

For this reason, it’s the absolute best choice for maintaining a tight lead in a competitive match.

In tough matches, having that extra bit of lockdown on defense is what can prevent fatigued opponents from finding spaces to exploit. 

Another case where the low block is an effective strategy that teams can use is when the opposing team is more skillful. 

Regardless of the skill level, it is a daunting task for any team to break down an organized defense with fewer players in the attack. 

The defensive team may sacrifice possession, but it doesn’t matter if the opposing team can’t score. 

So who cares if they have the ball when they can’t win? 

Pros & Cons

The main advantage of the low-block strategy is the domination of the middle channel of the field.  

Preventing opponents from penetrating the middle channel of the field is key in preventing opponents from scoring goals. 

Essentially, it forces opponents to attack the outside channels of the field to create scoring chances, via crosses and passes into the box. 

Defending passes into the box is much easier than predicting passing combinations, tracking runs, and blocking shots in front of the goal. 

The low block strategy can quickly frustrate opponents trying to find a way through a compact defense. 

Opponents will lose their cool and become very predictable with their attacking combinations, often forcing passes out of desperation. 

Last but not least, teams who attack against a low block tend to overcommit on the attack which leaves their defense vulnerable. 

This makes counterattacks an effective attacking strategy that teams utilize when they defend with a low block. 

Advantages in short:

  • Protects the center of the pitch
    • Forces opponents to attack from the wings
    • Easier to defend crosses into the box
  • Frustrates opponents
    • Makes them predictable & desperate
    • Desperation often causes careless mistakes
  • Great pair with counterattacking

The most significant disadvantage that using low block has is sacrificing the attacking buildout. 

Eliminating the attacking buildout means that risky passes are encouraged in the hope that one or two of them work. 

This leads to very low ball possession throughout the match, fewer attacking opportunities, and fewer scoring chances. 

Lastly, conceding a goal in a low block can lose the entire match. 

Since attacking options are limited with this strategy, teams will have fewer opportunities to score.

So being scored on will highly reduce the probability of winning the match. 

Disadvantages in short:

  • Sacrifices attacking buildout
    • This leads to less possession throughout the game
    • Fewer attacking & scoring opportunities
  • Conceding a goal reduces the chances of winning
  • Constant fight for the ball after crosses
    • Requires fierce defenders

#3: Gegenpress

Gegenpress is a popular version of the high-press strategy in soccer, where the only focus is winning the ball. 

Rather than forcing the opponents to play long passes, players focus on fighting for the ball with intensity to create a turnover. 

That means closing down the opponents quickly, taking away all passing options, and preventing the opponents from clearing the ball in dangerous areas. 

Since in pickup games, there is little space for teams to work with to build the attack, the gegenpress is an effective defending strategy.  

Players can close gaps faster and opponents have to be more skillful to find options to beat the press. 

Soccer Team Applying Intense Pressure
‘Soccer Team Applying Intense Pressure’ (#5 Unsplash – Jeffrey F Lin)

When should you use it?

The gegenpress is most effective when the opposing team is vulnerable in possession. 

When opponents have a set piece, throw-in, or goal kick, it signals that opponents are not organized and may not be able to beat the press. 

This makes them vulnerable and gegenpressing should be utilized to win possession. 

Though, there are also times when using the gegenpress is a mistake and can have detrimental effects on the outcome of the game. 

In the defensive half, using gegenpress can open gaps that opponents can use to penetrate the defense very quickly. 

So gegenpressing should be avoided in the defensive half to eliminate the risk of conceding easy goals. 

Pros & Cons:

The main advantage of the gegenpress is that it can be used to win possession of the ball in dangerous areas. 

Winning the ball in dangerous areas can lead to almost effortless goals. 

Not to mention the mental effects that a quick-paced goal from the intense press has on the opposing team. 

Their confidence will be destroyed and it will cause doubt and uncertainty in their passes, making them predictable and easy to defend.

Advantages in short:

  • Effective for winning possession in dangerous areas
    • Initiates quick counterattack goals
  • Mental effects on opponents
    • Destroys their confidence
    • Donut & uncertainty when passing the ball

Although gegenpressing can be a great tool to catch opponents off guard, it can also severely backfire. 

If the press is completely unsuccessful, the worst-case scenario is that the opponents get an easy counterattack goal. 

Since pressing the opponents requires defenders to hold a high line, it makes the strategy prone to counterattacks. 

The other disadvantage that gegenpressing has is that players must be in extremely good shape to maintain the press throughout the match. 

When opponents are skillful enough to find spaces through gegenpressing, the defending team is essentially just chasing the ball with intense sprints. 

This can quickly fatigue players early in the game, decreasing their overall performance. 

Disadvantages in short:

  • Prone to counterattacks
    • Possible to be caught with a high defensive line
  • Skillful opponents can find spaces through the press
    • Can drain players’ energy early in the game
    • Requires extreme fitness


Gegenpressing is also known as counter-pressing by some, however, there are key differences between the two that set them apart. 

Gegenpressing is used in certain situations that are disadvantageous for opponents and capitalizes on them by winning the ball.

However, counter-pressing specifically refers to winning the ball after losing it. 

When teams win the ball, they need time to transition from a defensive shape to an attacking shape.

During this time, it is much easier to win the ball because the opponents are not organized, and this limits their ability to keep possession. 

So pressing the opponents immediately after losing possession can make it easier to win the ball. 

Soccer Players Celebrating a Win
‘Soccer Players Celebrating a Win’ (#6 Unsplash – Jeffrey F Lin)


Player marking is a strategy in which players are assigned opposing players that they are responsible for defending. 

It’s very effective for denying key players from having an impact during the game, as well as disrupting the opponents’ attacking combinations. 

The low block is used for defending to keep a tight lead or to make it very difficult for skillful teams to score. 

Additionally, it can be used to catch opponents with a high defensive line and score on a counterattack. 

The gegenpress is used to take advantage of opponents in vulnerable situations, such as set pieces, throw-ins, and goal kicks.

Players use their intensity to close down opponents and work together to win the ball back in dangerous areas. 

The Gegenpress is often confused with the counter-press, however, there are key differences between the two. 

The counter-press is used to win back possession of the ball immediately after it is lost. 

It builds on the idea that the opponents need time to transition from defending to attacking, during which their ability to keep the ball is limited. 

So in short, it is easier to win the ball back immediately after it is lost. 

Image Attribution & Licensing

Featured Image: ‘Successful Soccer Tackle’ by drazenphoto (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#1: ‘Pickup Team Group Stretch’ by YuriArcursPeopleImages (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#2: ‘Pickup Soccer on a Rooftop’ by YuriArcursPeopleImages (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#3: ‘Defender Successfully Marks Her Opponent’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)

#4: ‘Soccer Player Shielding the Ball’ by Laura Rincón (Licensed via Pexels)

#5: ‘Soccer Team Applying Intense Pressure’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)

#6: ‘Soccer Players Celebrating a Win’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)