Soccer Tactics You Should Use for Small-Sided Games | MLS-Next Player Advice

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 attended small-sided games plenty of times at my local arena, and I have played plenty of different styles with different people. I’m here to share these tactics with you so you can utilize them in your own gameplay.

Soccer Photo

Many soccer players like to play pickup with other people, but it is always a debate about what kind of tactics work and how the team should play.

Everyone usually has various opinions so it’s easy to get the wrong idea about certain tactics or playing styles.

Well, I’m here to help you out by providing tactics that your team can play to guarantee a win the next time you play.

Related article: Best Soccer Mini-Games to Play With Friends

Friends Relaxing After Playing Soccer
‘Friends Relaxing After Playing Soccer’ (#1 Envato – vladans)

The 3 Best Tactics to Use in Small-Sided Games

All of the tactics in the following list are selected from experience, due to their effectiveness. 

They are easy to learn and perform with a team, even if your team consists of people that you just met. 

Be sure to discuss each role of the players, and don’t forget to have fun!

Soccer Player Practicing Soccer
‘Soccer Player Practicing Soccer’ (#2 Envato – ADDICTIVE_STOCK)

#1: Tiki-Taka 

The main focus of the tiki-taka style of play is, of course, keeping the ball. 

Or more importantly, not forcing attacking plays. 

Rather, it strives on moving the ball around patiently until small gaps open in the opposing defense, to slip passes through to attackers toward the goal. 

Patience is key to the success of this tactic because forcing a play can cause a loss of possession, and give an easy counterattack to the opposing team. 

So don’t be afraid to pass the ball back backward, because as long as your team has possession, the opponents can’t score. 

It’s important to note that this style of play requires players to hold a high line when the team has possession to move the ball more effectively. 

And having players on a high line naturally makes counterattacks a huge threat, giving you another reason why you want to keep possession. 

Soccer Player Guarding the soccer ball
‘Soccer Player Guarding the Soccer Ball’ (#3 Pexels – Laura Rincón)

When should it be used?

This tactic should be used when your team consists of players who are equally skilled and consistent in their level of play. 

Primarily if they are good at passing and can make quick decisions, playing a tiki-taka style should work well. 

Additionally, players should focus on keeping their discipline to not dribble, because the ball moves faster than the player. 

Moving the ball around quickly is more efficient than dribbling the ball and it will open more attacking opportunities for the team to capitalize on. 

Not to mention how easy it is to give the ball away by dribbling in small-sided games, which can gift the opponents a quick counterattack. 

Pros & Cons

The advantages to playing the tiki-taka style are generally just disadvantages to the opposing team, which is great if you can recognize them in a live scenario. 

So firstly, your team will be dominating possession, which means that your team has more time on the ball to carve out a scoring chance. 

Of course, it still depends on individual brilliance to find those chances and score, but the point is that the opposing team has less time to find their moments and has less chance to finish them. 

Another advantage is that as your team moves the ball from side to side, your opponents will be constantly chasing the ball around the pitch and tiring them out. 

It is much easier to beat tired opponents because they will be fatigued, and lack the willpower to play at 100% capacity. 

Advantages in short:

  • Dominating ball possession
    • Gives more time to find scoring opportunities
    • Allows very few chances for opponents to score
  • Drains the opponent’s energy
    • Fatigue will disorganize opponents & open more gaps to score
    • Opponents will have less willpower to fight for the ball 

The main disadvantage of this tactic is the fact that it is prone to counterattacks. 

Center backs are the last line of defense before the goalkeeper, who in this style of play hold a high line. 

They usually sit near midfield, or a little bit higher than midfield depending on the opponents’ tactics. 

But the point is that losing the ball while holding a high line can be detrimental because it allows the opponents to immediately pass the last line of defense, and be through to the goal. 

Disadvantages in short:

  • Prone to counterattacks
    • The high line on defense makes it easy to concede a goal
  • Requires skilled players to be successful
  • Weak links can collapse the whole system

#2: Mid-block 

The mid-block is a defensive tactic that is used to prevent opponents from penetrating the defending third and completely prevent the opposition from scoring. 

When a team loses possession, they drop back to their own half to prevent an easy counterattack. 

The idea is that it is much easier to win the ball in your own half than in the opponent’s half. 

So as soon as the opposing team does enter the team’s half, they high press the ball and fight to win possession. 

Soccer Players Pressing Opponents in the defensive third
‘Soccer Players Pressing Opponents in the Defensive Third’ (#4 Envato – Jeffrey F Lin)

When should it be used?

A mid-block is the most effective when the opponents rely on their forwards’ pace and sharpness on the ball to score. 

This tactic will eliminate the advantage that they have and makes them play soccer instead of creating a foot race every time they get the ball. 

It is also a good idea to use this tactic when your team is counterattack oriented. 

Since this tactic helps win the ball back when the opponents are overcommitted to the attack, it makes counters more dangerous. 

Pros & Cons

The main advantage of this tactic is that the opposition will have a difficult time finding scoring opportunities, or even entering the defensive third without losing the ball. 

Since the defensive half is so congested in the middle, it’s difficult for opponent players to create space to build out from the back. 

This forces opponents to play overhead passes, which are relatively easy to defend because there are generally more teammates in the defensive third. 

Winning the ball in these areas can help your team catch the opponents off-guard and use counterattacks more effectively. 

Advantages in short:

  • Opponents have an extremely difficult time building out from the back
    • Makes opponents frustrated and play passes over the top
    • Helps the team win the ball more easily
    • Reduces chances of conceding from a counterattack
  • Increases chances of scoring from counterattack

The main disadvantage of this tactic is that it is physically demanding. 

Every time your team loses possession, the players will need to track back to defend.

Also, if the opposing team decides to play possession to force gaps in the defense, it will require a lot of running from the entire team to keep these gaps closed.

Another potential disadvantage is that this tactic requires a lot of organization and communication to pull off because everyone has to know exactly when to step to the ball, or if they’re in the right position.

It is crucial to keep the defense tight, and not let any opponents through to the goal, otherwise, it would defeat the purpose. 

Remember, the idea is that winning the ball in your own half is easier, but it only works if everyone knows what they’re doing.

Disadvantages in short:

  • Physically demanding
    • Players have to track back a lot
    • Constant adjustments are exhausting
  • Requires excellent communication & organization

#3: Gegenpress

Firstly, what exactly is the gegenpress? 

The gegenpress is a high-pressing tactic where the single goal in mind is to win the ball from the opposition. 

So closing down the opponents very quickly, blocking all of their passing lanes and immediately fighting for the ball to prevent clearances. 

Gegenpress works very well in small-sided games because there is very little space to work with on the ball. 

Cutting off their options is easy to do on a small pitch because players can cover more space than they would on a regular size field. 

This also means that keeping the opponents in their own half is easier, giving you a higher chance to create turnovers in dangerous areas to score. 

Soccer Defender Chasing Down Attacker
‘Soccer Defender Chasing Down Attacker’ (#5 Pexels – Stanley Morales)

When should you use this tactic?

The first sign that tells you that you should use this tactic is if your opponents are slow on the ball. 

You can tell that they’re not good on the ball if their touch is sluggish, their passes are slow, their dribbling is not sharp, and they’re slow at making decisions. 

All of these traits will make it easier for you to trap them, close them down, and take the ball from them. 

As long as a turnover happens, the purpose of the gegenpress is fulfilled.  

The other sign that tells you that gegenpressing can be effective, is if your opponents like to dribble. 

When the opponents dribble a lot, it makes gegenpressing more simple because they are less likely to play a quick pass. 

In this case, all that has to be done is win a 1v1 defensive scenario and you have won the ball in a dangerous area. 

Pros & Cons

The main advantage of the gegenpress is that if it is successfully performed, it can gift your team a quick goal. 

Even if it doesn’t completely work, the gegenpress will cause the opponents to make mistakes and force the ball forward, which should make them more predictable and easier to defend. 

Advantages in short:

  • Potential for quick goals from turnovers in the attacking third
  • Makes opponents predictable
    • Opponents will force dangerous passes to build out
    • Easier to defend when their attack is unorganized 

The most significant disadvantage to the gegenpress is its physical demand on the players if they want to be successful. 

Players are constantly sprinting and fighting for the ball everywhere on the pitch, which requires immense fitness and physical ability to continue. 

Obviously, for small-sided games, it may not be as demanding on the body, but for an entire match, it is a challenge. 

Additionally, as most players will be marking their players tightly to take away the opponents’ options, this tactic is prone to counterattacks.

If the opposition team can play a pass overhead to their forwards, it takes a lot of defensive skill to prevent them from scoring a goal. 

Disadvantages in short:

  • Gegenpress requires great fitness & will power
    • Even small-sided games can be a fitness challenge
  • Prone to counterattacks via overhead pass


The tiki-taka is one of the best tactics for players who have some experience with playing soccer. 

Some key ideas of tiki-taka are that the ball moves faster than the player so it should rarely be dribbled, and as long as the opponents don’t have possession, they can’t score. 

Patience and discipline are two crucial traits that players should possess when playing the tiki-taka style. 

Using a mid-block is a great defensive tactic to prevent the opponents from building their attack into your defensive third or even half. 

When the team loses possession, they drop to prevent a counterattack and crowd the center of the pitch to force the opponents wide. 

As the opponents enter the defensive half, the team puts great pressure on them to win the ball back and create a counterattack. 

The main skills that the mid-block requires are organization and communication.

The gegenpress is a tactic that is used to quickly close down opponents, take away all of their passing options and immediately win the ball. 

Not just after a loss of possession, but on goal kicks and throw-ins everybody is sprinting and fighting for the ball in some way. 

This can be physically forcing a player to give up the ball or covering passing lanes to take away any passing options that the player in possession has. 

Beware, this tactic is also prone to counterattacks. 

Image Attribution & Licensing

Featured Image: ‘Soccer Tactics Board Next to the Bench’ by Jasper Benning (Licensed via Unsplash)

#1: ‘Friends Relaxing After Playing Soccer’ by vladans (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#2: ‘Soccer Player Practicing Soccer’ by ADDICTIVE_STOCK (Licensed via Envato Elements)

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

#4: ‘Soccer Players Pressing Opponents in the Defensive Third’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

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