Youth Soccer

Youth soccer report: Positioned to win?

Photo: Earl Gardner

At the start of a professional soccer game, one of the first things a savvy fan will look to understand is their team’s formation. Perhaps the players are organized in the classic 4-4-2? Fans of the US Men’s National Team would instantly recognize coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1 formation, which is used throughout the professional world. Anson Dorrance, head women’s coach at the University of North Carolina, pioneered the 3-4-3 formation at the collegiate level and has leveraged it to great success.

While there are a seemingly infinite amount of formations, one thing is sure: The professional coach believes that the formation deployed provides his team with the best chance to win the game.

But when it comes to youth soccer, a coach should prioritize player development over winning when it comes to the tactical decision of formation and how to place players on the field.

In the formative years of youth soccer (ages 8 – 12), teams play on a smaller field with a reduced squad, typically with 7 field players plus a goalie, allowing each child more touches on the ball during the course of a game. Common 8v8 formations are 3-2-2, 3-3-1, and 2-3-2.

In the competitive travel soccer environment, playing three in the back is a popular choice among coaches looking to secure a win as it offers a strong defensive mindset. In the 3-2-2, the midfielders typically play centrally as a pair thus encouraging a less skillful, more direct game played straight up the middle. While the 3-3-1 offers more balance across the middle of the field, the lone striker is left without any attacking support.

In contrast, there are many benefits in terms of player development within the 2-3-2 formation, and they are spread across all lines. With two in the back, defenders quickly learn to play 1-on-1 defense instead of just relying on numerical superiority to stop the opposition. The keeper also stays active in the game serving as a “sweeper-keeper” responsible for clearing long balls that make their way into the 18. Having three across the midfield encourages wing play and reinforces the tactical concept of left, center and right channels up-and-down the field of play. Up top, two forwards develop the notion of playing in tandem while mastering attacking concepts like wall passes and off-the-ball runs.

However no formation is perfect, and the 2-3-2 has its downsides. With only two defenders, the team is often susceptible to quick counterattacks. At the younger age groups, service from the wings often comes up short as players often lack the power and skill to properly cross the ball.

But it is important for all those involved in youth soccer (coaches, parents and players) to take note that while these downsides might negatively impact the scoreline today, they do so in the interest of providing learning opportunities for the children that will enable them to more fully develop into well-rounded, successful soccer players in the future.

Big youth tournaments coming up

Summer is a prime time for youth soccer tournaments and events. Here are a couple of local standouts.

Eastern Pennsylvania soccer tournament for boys & girls ages U9 – U19 held in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area. Hosted by Mid-Atlantic Soccer Showcase League and Lehigh Valley United SC, it provides competitive soccer at a great destination with easy access to local attractions like the Crayola Factory.

This new tournament hosted by Jersey Premier Soccer in Ocean City is open to U8-U14 boys and girls. As a bonus, the Ocean City Nor’easters PDL club is offering players free tickets to the Nor’easters July 7 match against the New Jersey Rangers.

A 24-hour 6-on-6 soccer marathon and fund-raising event for kids and adults hosted by the Quakertown Soccer Club. In this sixth edition of the event, all proceeds will be donated to the Sarah Parvin Foundation in memory of Sarah Parvin, a former QSC player who lost her battle with cancer at the age of 12.

The 25th annual West Chester Summer Classic is a local soccer tournament for boys and girls teams ages U9 through U15. The tournament games will be held at Delacy Soccer Complex and Thornbury Soccer Park, along with a number of additional local venues in West Chester, Pa.

This competition serves as a showcase for U15-U19 and draws teams from the U.S. and Canada. The registration deadline is July 13.

The West-Mont United organized tournament is now in its tenth year and is open to boys and girls from ages U9 through U15. Teams will play a minimum of three games on the professional grass surfaces of the HillTop Complex.


  1. Adam, nice new colum! Just dropped off my son at a soccer camp, that are the big thing for kids who want to play in College. We must have gotten 200 emails from College coaches who invited our son to ‘their’ soccer camp… Is a nice way for players to see a College, be seen by multiple College coaches and get extra confidence (if a coach approaches them), but is an additional expense…

  2. Great post, Adam. So glad that you point out the importance of player development over winning. I think it is one of the main reasons we still underperform at the men’s national level, but I’m encouraged that there are more and more coaches who take your approach. I still remember as a kid hating practices because there was only one ball for about 20 kids and complaining to my parents that all we do is stand in line and wait for our turn to see how far we can “boot it.”

  3. thank you for posting an informational content like this…get fast instagram followers

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