Guide to Analyzing Soccer Games Like an MLS-Next Player

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 as a wingback in California. A significant aspect of what separated me from my competition is my ability to analyze my gameplay. Today, I will show you how you could do the same. 

Soccer Photo

Soccer is a complicated game that requires meticulous game analysis to gain a deeper understanding of tactics and necessary skills. 

Well, analyzing gameplay is difficult because if players made a mistake in the game, how could they know what to do differently the next time?

Believe me, it’s as complicated as it seems. 

Throughout my time playing, I’ve had to analyze countless games I’ve played to learn about areas of my game that need improvement.

So in this article, I will show you exactly how to analyze your gameplay.  

Each step will be explained in detail, and be sure to check out any links to certain topics if you are interested to learn more about them. 


Related article: Soccer Skills to Practice During The Season

Ready to Play
‘Soccer Player Ready to Play’ (#1 Unsplash – Nigel Mispa)

The 5 Steps of Analyzing Soccer Gameplay

Before we get into the steps, it’s important to know the core principles of analyzing game film. 

Firstly, having an open mind is vital. 

Without acknowledging mistakes, there is no improvement.

It’s important to recognize weaknesses because they allow players to improve. 

Additionally, the film is not necessarily about seeing technical mistakes, such as an inaccurate pass or bad touch. 

Rather, making the right decisions and seeing everything that happens on the field. 

In general, 4 core questions need to be asked for each decision on the pitch, especially mistakes. 

The core questions for analyzing gameplay:

  • 1: What did you do wrong?
  • 2: What should you have done instead?
  • 3: Why did you do it wrong? 
  • 4: How can you correct it during the next match? 
  • What if…
    • Think about what would happen at each option

So without any further due, let’s get right into the article.

Writing Steps on a Piece of Paper
‘Writing Steps on a Piece of Paper’ (#2 Unsplash – Glenn Carstens-Peters)

Step #1: Find Every Event That Involves You

Before starting to find any events in the game film, I like to decide whether I’m analyzing attacking, defensive plays, or both. 

If it’s both, picking just one of them first makes the analysis process easier because it allows you to focus on one thing at a time. 

Though this is more time-consuming, it also makes the analysis more thorough, helping not to overlook anything. 

Soccer Player Highlighted With a Pennie
‘Soccer Player Highlighted With a Pennie’ (#3 Unsplash – Janosch Diggelmann)

So What is considered an event? 

Most importantly, any time that you have the ball is considered an event. 

Here, we will analyze passing options, open space, third-man runs, or anything else that could have been done better. 

Then, we will analyze positioning when your teammates have possession of the ball. 

Any time the ball is nearby, we will check if you’re an open option, creating space for your teammate, or benefitting your team in any way. 

Finally, we will analyze positioning in the defensive shape. 

Specifically, when the opposing team had a successful play, such as a goal or shot on target.

Additionally, we will check if the correct opponents were marked, the correct passing lanes were blocked, and any other defensive mistakes. 

Step #2: Possession Events

Once you gathered every event in the film, it’s time to start analyzing. 

We will start with the events in which you have possession of the ball.

So, what are the most important things that should be noticed in these scenarios? 

Soccer Defender Chasing Down Attacker
‘Soccer Defender Chasing Down Attacker’ (#4 Pexels – Stanley Morales)

First, did you check your surroundings? 

Before receiving the ball, checking the surroundings for opponents and teammates is crucial. 

The most common way that players lose possession is by making blind turns, unaware of the opponent waiting to take the ball. 

Checking the surroundings provides a chance to avoid losing the ball in dangerous areas, preventing opponents from scoring. 

Additionally, checking over the shoulder can help gather useful information to help progress the attack forward.

The location of teammates and open space are necessary pieces of information found by checking over the shoulder. 

Furthermore, you can decide your next move earlier, giving the opponents less time to react.

Second, Did you find the correct option? 

After checking for passing options, let’s assume you found a pass to your teammate. 

So now the ball has left your possession and is at your teammate’s feet. 

The question is, were there other teammates better suited to receive the ball? 

To answer, we must start by analyzing if they have enough space to receive the ball. 

If they are tightly marked by an opponent, it’s generally better to find a different passing option. 

Pressure from opponents reduces their space, increasing their chances of losing the ball and limiting their ability to progress the attack forward.

But if they have space behind them to turn with the ball, passing to them is likely a good decision.

This way, they will not be blindsided by opponents and will have enough time to progress the attack forward. 

Next, we will analyze if the teammate who received the ball has further attacking options. 

These are called third-man runs, used to penetrate the opposition’s defensive line with quick passing combinations. 

So passing to players with further passing options increases the speed of play, limiting the opponent’s ability to defend. 

Finally, How fast did you find the next option? 

Though it isn’t the objective, the speed at which the next option is found is also a significant aspect of soccer that can elevate your game.

So let’s assume that you passed the ball to the best available option. 

What we want to know is how long it took you to find this option. 

The rule of thumb is to never take more than 4 seconds to pass the ball to the next teammate. 

However, my advice is to instead focus on the number of touches you take. 

This is because the action that wastes the most time in a game is an extra touch on the ball. 

Focus on taking a maximum of 2 touches before passing, but depending on your position, sometimes it’s necessary to take more. 

Now, if you took more than 3 touches to pass the ball, the main skill that needs improvement is awareness. 

That means scanning the field more often. 

Check teammates’ positions by looking over your shoulder and decide your next action before you even receive the ball. 

Additionally, you can check out our article about skills that you should train during the offseason if you are interested in improving your technical skills. 

Step #3: Team Possession Events

Team possession events are when one of your teammates has the ball. 

In this case, off-ball movement is key to helping your team maintain possession. 

Possession can be broken up into two phases that require players to perform different types of movement to keep the ball. 

The first phase is building the attack from the back, and the second is creating scoring opportunities.

Female Soccer Player Passing
‘Female Soccer Player Passing The Ball’ (#4 Unsplash – Jeffrey F Lin)

Building Phase

The objective of building out from the back is to keep possession while playing forward passes. 

For this to happen, players must focus on creating space for themselves and their teammates. 

So the main aspect skill that we will analyze is the ability to create space. 

The first question that needs to be asked is, are you constantly moving around? 

Movement forces opponents to move, creating gaps in their defensive shape. 

These gaps can be used to perform forward passes and reduce the need to perform risky passes in the defensive third. 

So as long as you are moving away from opponents, open space is created.

Either by losing the defender, or dragging them away from your teammates. 

Secondly, are you moving into an open space, or are you crowding the space of other teammates? 

After confirming that enough movement is performed, we need to make sure that the movement is productive. 

Generally, what makes a run productive is when the player moves according to their teammates. 

This is because it helps teammates predict your movement and occupy the open space you left behind. 

From my experience, the best way to learn this skill is simply by pausing the film and searching for open patches of grass between opponents. 

These spaces should be memorized so that in the next game you can recognize them quickly.

After several matches, you will have enough experience to know where open space is without having to think about it.

It will become instinctual. 

Attacking Phase

In the attacking third, your job without the ball is similar to the building phase in the sense that the same principles are applied to create space. 

However, the objective in this phase is to increase the speed of play as much as possible, to have the best chance at scoring. 

Always being available for teammates and having the next passing option ready are both crucial aspects of off-ball attacking. 

Firstly, if you aren’t directly involved in the attack then there is one question that you need to ask yourself. 

Are you drawing defenders away from the play? 

By drawing defenders away, teammates will have fewer opponents they have to beat to score a goal. 

Defenders are most easily drawn away from the play with the use of a decoy run. 

When performed with enough intensity, decoy runs are convincing enough for defenders to decide to guard them instead. 

Secondly, if you were part of the attack, the question in mind is whether you were an available option that could have benefitted the team. 

In other words, did you perform runs that provided a scoring opportunity, or put your team in an advantageous position? 

Actions such as losing a defender or challenging for a cross all count as putting your team in an advantageous position. 

Step #4: Defensive Events

When opponents have possession of the ball, teams generally form a tight defensive shape. 

Keeping the shape compact is a vital aspect of preventing opponents from penetrating the defensive line to cause havoc. 

So the main aspect we will focus on for defending situations is keeping an organized defensive shape. 

Fierce Defender Challenging For a Ball
‘Fierce Defender Challenging For a Ball’ (#5 Unsplash – Jeffrey F Lin)

Analyzing defensive scenarios

The defensive shape of a team is almost always decided by the coach or team captain. 

So whether a certain movement is beneficial for your team is not completely clear. 

To help you decide, here are the principles that should be followed. 

Firstly, are you aware of the opponents around you? 

See on the film if you were checking your shoulders, opening your hips, or adjusting according to the opposition’s movement. 

If not, don’t worry, it is easy to correct this mistake. 

Just be sure to check over your shoulder more often, making sure to recognize the position of opponents as well as teammates. 

Second, are you fulfilling your role in the defensive shape? 

Examples of this could be stepping to opponents, or simply marking an attacker. 

To find out exactly your role, just ask the coach or the team captain. 

Then compare your actions to your role, and find the differences. 

Step #5: Onto the next game!

The last step in analyzing your soccer gameplay might just be the most important. 

Memorize everything that you need to improve with short phrases such as, “Shoulder checking”. 

Repeat these phrases to yourself before practices and games, and you will easily remember them while you play. 

I also recommend writing them down on a small piece of paper that you can quickly glance at during a water break or at half-time. 

Whenever you open your bag, the piece of paper will be right there to serve as a reminder of what you need to focus on. 

Soccer Team Pre-Game Walkout
‘Soccer Team Pre-Game Walkout’ (#6 Unsplash – Jeffrey F Lin)


The first step in the process of analyzing soccer gameplay is to gather every event that you were involved in. 

Whether it is on the ball, off the ball, or in a defensive scenario, they all matter. 

Second, we will start by analyzing each event in which you had possession of the ball. 

Aspects such as checking over the shoulder or finding an open teammate should be reviewed to improve tactically on the ball. 

The third step is to check the events in which the team had possession of the ball. 

It is necessary to review the two phases of possession, which are building out and creating a scoring chance. 

Both of these follow similar principles, such as progressing the ball forward, however, there are also notable differences between the two. 

The fourth step is to analyze events that happened during defensive scenarios. 

Analyzing defensive scenarios is highly dependent on the coaching instructions. 

Before deeming certain actions as mistakes, I recommend that you speak with your coach about your duties in the defensive third. 

Otherwise, the two most important aspects are being aware of the surroundings and fulfilling the assigned defensive role. 

The fifth step is to memorize everything. 

Mistakes should be memorized to serve as a reminder of weaknesses that need to be improved during games and training.  

This ensures that every weakness will improve as quickly as possible. 

Image Attribution & Licensing

Featured Image: ‘Taking Notes While Analyzing Information’ by ConvertKit (Licensed via Unsplash)

#1: ‘Soccer Player Ready to Play’ by Nigel Mispa (Licensed via Unsplash)

#2: ‘Writing Steps on a Piece of Paper’ by Glenn Carstens-Peters (Licensed via Unsplash)

#3: ‘Soccer Player Highlighted With a Pennie’ by Janosch Diggelmann (Licensed via Unsplash)

#4: ‘Soccer Defender Chasing Down Attacker’ by Stanley Morales (Licensed via Pexels)

#5: ‘Fierce Defender Challenging For a Ball’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)

#6: ‘Soccer Team Pre-Game Walkout’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)