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 previously and have played with various types of players. Today, I will share how to create a great pickup lineup.
Pickup soccer is one of the most popular ways players enjoy the sport with their friends, family, or even themselves.
It’s generally competitive, with players often giving it their all to win matches and feel the excitement of beating another team.
Teams naturally want to be the best, better than all of their competition, and that starts with a strong lineup.
So how do you create a strong lineup?
The best way to have a solid lineup for pickup soccer is to find players with exceptional passing skills. Pickup soccer is generally played in a tight area which makes dribbling ineffective. By passing the ball instead, opponents are forced to adjust their positioning, creating gaps in their defense that can be used for creating scoring chances.
It’s challenging to perform this strategy, requiring highly skilled players with tactical knowledge in every position to be successful.
Of course, finding an entire team of players with exceptional passing abilities is easier said than done.
So when this strategy is not possible, it’s better to match each player to the position they fit best to avoid having weak areas on the pitch.
In the rest of this article, we discuss how to create a strong lineup for pickup soccer by objectively analyzing the positions of a soccer formation.
With this information, teams can create strong lineups with minimal weaknesses across the board.
So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Related article: Equipment You Need To Play Organized Soccer | Beginner’s Guide
How to Assemble a Strong Pickup Soccer Lineup?
When objectively assembling a soccer lineup, a common mistake is choosing players based on position preferences.
Different positions on the pitch require different skills to be successful and benefit the team.
For example, attackers will have different jobs than defenders, so they must have additional skills to accommodate.
So it’s better to choose positions based on players’ skill sets instead of their preferences.
In the next sections, we will discuss all positions, from Goalkeeper to Attacker, and analyze the traits needed for each.
If the pickup match includes enough players, then the first player on the team will be the Goalkeeper.
As with every other position on the field, goalkeepers have different skill sets that serve the team various purposes.
The two most important skills for pickup soccer are shot-stopping and passing ability.
Of course, the best-case scenario is that the Goalkeeper is great at both skills, but it’s more common that goalkeepers possess one or the other.
I recommend choosing a goalkeeper with great shot-stopping abilities to have the best chance at winning.
Here is why.
Shot-stopping is a vital skill that goalkeepers should master because pickup soccer is played on a small pitch.
Outfield players can shoot the ball more frequently because the distance to the goal is significantly shorter than on a normal field.
This also allows opponents to perform dangerous shots from a larger part of the field, making shot-stopping a necessary skill.
Some argue that it’s the defenders’ fault if the opponents can shoot, so they should be the focus of the conversation.
But in a pickup environment, that statement is false.
The skill gap between players is huge, and attackers are often skilled enough to beat defenders consistently.
So shot-stopping goalkeepers are always useful for teams who want to win in pickup soccer.
Passing Ability (Distribution)
Arguably the less important skill is the passing or distribution skills of the Goalkeeper.
The reason for this is the small size of the pitch.
The defenders are very close to the Goalkeeper, so they can easily take the responsibility of distributing the ball.
Furthermore, the pitch size would limit the Goalkeeper’s ability to distribute the ball, even if they were great at it.
Attackers can easily crowd passing options in a small space, so the keepers would have to clear the ball or perform aerial passes.
Similar to goalkeepers, two main types of defenders are effective for pickup soccer.
First, the more effective type of defender is great at distributing the ball and finding passes in any situation.
Second, the brick wall defender, who is fearless in using their body to fend off attackers with brute force.
Both can be effective and having one of each type on the field is best.
But which one is better for pickup soccer?
I recommend choosing a defender with great distribution skills, especially with a goalkeeper that lacks passing skills.
Here is why.
As we said previously, the field in pickup soccer is much smaller than in normal games.
The smaller size makes it easier for opposing attackers to lock down defenders and take the ball.
However, defenders with exceptional passing abilities and tactical knowledge can find the next passing option before being closed down, maintaining possession of the ball.
When is the Distributor beneficial?
The Distributor is better in any high-pressure situation because they can find the next passing option before losing possession of the ball.
So, any time the defensive line has possession of the ball since most teams use a high-press strategy in pickup soccer.
And while distributors often lack physical traits useful for defensive scenarios, their tactical knowledge makes up for it.
Tactical knowledge allows players to make smarter decisions while defending, which benefits their team more than temporarily taking the ball from the opponents.
Brick Wall defenders can also be an effective choice for pickup matches.
Small and nimble attackers often have difficulty beating strong and physical defenders because they can’t run past them.
Strong defenders can put their bodies between the ball and the attacker, and the attacker can’t do anything about it, so they lose possession of the ball.
So when is the Brick Wall effective?
While these defenders may be great at 1v1 scenarios or last-ditch tackles, they’re less effective at preventing attackers from creating scoring chances.
It’s more important to prevent opponents from creating chances because pickup games are high-scoring, so last-ditch tackles make little difference in the game’s outcome.
Midfielders are the next line of players on the field that teams need to be successful.
These players should be the most technically gifted on the team because they are the primary orchestrators in the attack.
As soon as midfielders receive the ball from the defense, they’re responsible for progressing it to the attackers as quickly as possible to help them score goals.
The two most effective types of midfielders for pickup soccer are the Playmaker and the Box-to-Box.
Both are equally important as long as they have great passing abilities, stamina, and tactical knowledge.
Here are the traits of both midfielders and the situations in which they’re the most effective.
Playmaker midfielders in real life resemble the likes of Busquets or Toni Kroos, who are exceptionally great at finding beneficial passing options and executing the passes.
They take two or three touches on the ball and pass it to the next player to progress the attack.
Their most recognizable trait is that they stay close to the defensive line to act as an extra layer of defense and an available passing option.
But in what situations does this benefit teams the most?
Firstly, during high-press situations.
Playmakers help their team tremendously when opponents use a high-press strategy because they can pass the ball to the next player before attackers close them down.
Additionally, when opponents have several attackers in their front line, playmakers act as an outlet for defenders, helping their team keep possession of the ball.
In short, playmakers act as problem solvers during high-pressure situations to bail their team out of trouble by finding the most beneficial passing options.
Box-to-Box midfielders differ from Playmakers because, in addition to tracking back to defend, they join the attack to create scoring chances.
These players progress the attack the most, transitioning from the middle third to the attacking third without losing the ball.
Their primary job is to supply attackers with the ball in dangerous areas to help them score.
Additionally, they are responsible for stopping the opponents’ attack before it reaches the defensive third or slowing them down to allow teammates to organize the defense.
So what situations are they beneficial for?
Box-to-Box midfielders are the most beneficial for building momentum in the attack.
They speed up the attack by quickly progressing the ball forward, which makes it more difficult for opponents to defend, and increases the chances of scoring.
Another situation that requires Box-to-Box midfielders is when there is no Playmaker present.
In this situation, the defenders don’t have a protective layer, leaving them exposed and helpless.
Box-to-Box midfielders are also beneficial for slowing down opponents or forcing risky passes to help defenders succeed.
Attackers are the highest line in a soccer lineup and are primarily responsible for putting the ball in the back of the net.
Everything that the defenders and midfielders work for comes down to the ability of the attackers to finish the play.
The Finishers and Skillful Forwards are the two types of attackers most beneficial for pickup soccer.
As long as a team has reliable midfielders, finishers will be more beneficial for the team.
Here is why.
Finishers are mainly responsible for scoring goals for their team.
The more goals they score, the more their chances of winning increases.
These players are usually big and strong to fend off defenders during the attack.
Additionally, they have a killer instinct to finish the ball at any chance they get in front of the goal.
So when are they most beneficial for the team?
Finishers are most beneficial when the team already has great midfielders.
Great midfielders can deliver the ball to dangerous areas, which Finishers can use to score goals.
So as long as the midfielders know their jobs, the Finisher will benefit the team.
They use their individualistic skills to create scoring chances by themselves.
Instead of passing the ball to progress the attack, they take it up the field to score or supply their teammates with dangerous opportunities.
So when are they beneficial?
Skillful Forwards are most beneficial when a team is lacking great midfielders.
Without capable midfielders, skillful forwards can take their job using their creativity to create scoring chances.
They do it by dribbling the ball forward instead of passing.
It’s less effective, but it’s the next best option without proper midfielders.
The best lineup for pickup soccer includes the correct type of Goalkeeper, Defenders, Midfielders, and Attackers.
Pickup matches are played on a smaller pitch than regular matches, allowing opponents to shoot the ball more often.
So Shot-Stopping goalkeepers are more beneficial for teams because they let fewer shots reach the back of the net.
Two types of defenders are beneficial for a pickup team, the Distributor and the Brick Wall.
The Distributor is more beneficial because they can find passing options to avoid losing the ball in dangerous areas and are capable of building the attack.
Additionally, instead of using brute force to defend, they use their tactical knowledge to prevent the opponents from creating scoring chances.
Two types of midfielders benefit a pickup team, the Playmaker and the Box-to-Box.
Both of them are important in their ways, but what they have in common is what makes the difference for a pickup team.
They both deliver the ball to dangerous areas for attackers to score and provide a layer of protection for the defenders to make their job easier.
Attackers also have two main types that benefit a pickup team, the Finisher, and the Skillful Forward.
The Finisher is the more beneficial of the two, assuming that the team has great midfielders supplying the attackers with dangerous passes.
Alternatively, skillful attackers can take the midfielders’ jobs using their creativity when the team lacks in midfield.
Now you know everything about making a solid lineup for your pickup team.
What kind of team will you assemble? Does it have winning potential?
Image Attribution & Licensing
Featured Image: ‘Soccer Team Picture on the Soccer Field’ by Leah Hetteberg (Licensed via Unsplash)
#1: ‘Basic Soccer Gear for Beginners’ by RTimages (Licensed via EnvatoElements)
#2: ‘Goalkeeper Making a Diving Save’ by Lars Bo Nielsen (Licensed via Unsplash)
#3: ‘Soccer Player Performing Fierce Credit’ by Kenny Webster (Licensed via Unsplash)
#4: ‘Soccer Player in Blue Jersey Passing Their Opponent’ by Marcel Strauss (Licensed via Unsplash)
#5: ‘Striker Taking Advantage of Goalscoring Opportunity’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#6: ‘United States Women’s National Team Celebrating a Goal’ by Chris Leipelt (Licensed via Unsplash)