Set pieces are the bread and butter of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams, who work hard to create dangerous scoring chances at every corner kick. While scoring on a corner doesn’t pan out nearly so often at the recreational level, you still need to set up your defense shrewdly to avoid giving up a cheap goal. A vocal goalkeeper generally takes over, large and in charge, to make sure the field players don’t miss an important assignment.
The Penalty Box Midfielder
Once the referee awards a corner kick, you may have up to a minute to get organized, unless the other team is scrambling quickly at the end of a close game. Regardless of the situation, the nearest midfielder should trail after the player planning to take the corner kick and position himself at the top corner of the penalty box. This midfielder serves as an obstacle to a quick corner and a sentinel against a short corner -- where the ball is served in on a short pass to a teammate instead of a giant cross in front of the goal.
Field Players’ Positions
Two of the fullbacks promptly station themselves just inside each goal post. Their job, crucial to preventing an easy goal, is to clear out any shots there. In recreational soccer, the midfielders may mark attackers man on man based on who they’ve been marking during the run of play, or with some switching allowing taller middies to take on tall forwards. In more advanced leagues, though, you may be asked to play a mix of man on man and zone. The zone players will watch in front of the post at the 6-yard box, and along the top of the 18-yard box, to snuff out likely shot locations. The central defenders not on the posts will likely engage runners cutting into the space in front of the goal. Each player needs to follow his assigned role, work fluidly with teammates, communicate and prevent unmarked easy shots.
The goalkeeper scans her teammates and directs anyone out of position into a better alignment. Keep track of the player taking the corner kick and stand in the ready position, feet apart, weight on the toes. Be prepared to “own the box” and make a strong move to catch the ball in the air if possible, anywhere in the penalty box where hands are allowed, snuffing out a scoring chance. You may have to contend with a “keeper menace,” a player from the other team who stands right beside you to create a distraction and annoyance. If so, direct a teammate to mark this player man to man, but between the player and the origination of the corner kick, to keep the ball away from the keeper menace.
Heat of the Action
As the ball comes in, the goalkeeper notes its swing and location and tries to catch it herself, or direct teammates to clear it, if necessary. If it’s a short corner, the goalie can direct two players out to defend the receiving player and the incoming kicker, who may receive a back pass. Once the keeper gathers the ball, he can clear it to an outlet player -- you should have one or two forwards positioned wide and already near or sneaking to the halfway line.
- Photo Credit ChoochartSansong/iStock/Getty Images