When watching a game of soccer, you often see the defenders staying in one half of the field. It may seem as though they restricted from moving too far up the soccer field. In this article, I want to share with you what the rules of soccer say about defenders crossing midfield.
Defenders can cross midfield during a game of soccer. The rules of soccer permit defenders to move to any part of the soccer field they want to. The reason defenders don’t often cross midfield is that their primary role is to stay close to their team’s goal and defend it.
Knowing this is a good starting point. However, it’s also important to know what, if any, restrictions the rules put on defenders and what the reasons are for a defender to cross the halfway line in midfield.
Let’s answer those questions now.
What the rules say about defenders crossing midfield
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is the organization that governs the rules of soccer. They have responsibility for creating and amending any rules as needed. [source]
You can find the IFAB’s full in-depth document containing the rules and regulations for soccer by clicking here. Or, if you prefer, you can click here to go to an Easy to Understand Guide to the Rules of Soccer that I created to help everyone understand and appreciate the game.
Although the rules of soccer cover many points, one thing that is not mentioned anywhere in the rules is a restriction on where a player can move on the soccer field during a game.
There are restrictions on how many players are on the field at one time and restrictions on when a new player can enter the field. But once a player is on the field, they are free to move around wherever they like.
This is similar to many other sports. If you think of sports such as basketball, football, or hockey, you see the players covering all parts of the playing area throughout a game.
The confusion over whether a defender can cross midfield or not in soccer usually arises because, unlike basketball or hockey, you don’t see the players moving all around the field so much.
Why Defenders Often Don’t Cross Midfield
The main reason you don’t regularly see a defender cross midfield is because of the position that is assigned to each soccer player and the role and responsibilities that come with playing in that position.
The primary role of any player playing in a defensive position is to defend their team’s goal. They must do everything they can to stop the ball or any opposition player from getting too near their goal.
If you have a look at the image below, you will see that every defender is positioned in front of their team’s goal.
For a full break down of all the abbreviations used for positions in soccer, including the abbreviations used for defensive soccer positions, as shown in the above image, click here to check out the guide I put together explaining them.
A defender needs to stop the opposition from scoring any goals.
To make it as hard as possible for the other team to score, the defenders will do their best to position themselves between the opposition player and the goal. This tactic will slow down and often prevent the other player from moving forward and closer to the goal.
But to achieve this aim, the defender needs to make sure they are in the optimal place on the field to get between the opposition player and the goal as soon as the need arises.
If the defender finds themselves out of position and up the wrong end of the soccer field when the opposition is attacking, then the opposition players will have a free run at goal with no one to stop them.
This isn’t good for the team or the defender.
To prevent this situation, a defender will ensure they stay in the area of the field they have been assigned – close to the goal.
This requirement for a defender to be in a defensive position on the field when the team needs them is the main reason you don’t often see defenders crossing midfield. The risk of them being out of position when required in defense is too high.
For a more in-depth overview of this, have a look at my article on defensive soccer positions I recently wrote. You can find it by clicking here.
The Reasons Defenders Do Sometimes Cross Midfield
Now, despite what we have just talked about, the other side of the coin is that there are occasions when you see a defender crossing midfield. There are even some well-known defenders who are regular goalscorers for their team.
For an example of this, have a look at this video below showing Real Madrid defender, Sergio Ramos, scoring multiple goals for his team.
Although it is not the primary role of a defender to cross midfield, there are several reasons a defender may do this.
- A defender may cross midfield to support the midfielders and forwards on their team
- A defender may cross midfield to take a set-piece for their team
- A defender may cross midfield to be an extra player to target at a set-piece
To support the forwards
When a team is attacking the opposition’s goal, it can be an advantage to have as many of their own team’s player’s up at the same end of the field.
These extra players can provide more options for the player with the ball to pass to and keep possession with the attacking team. The extra players can also offer an additional option when it comes to someone being in a position to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
If a defender sees that their team is in possession of the ball in the attacking half of the field and they see an opportunity to support their team in creating a possible chance to score a goal, the defender may decide to cross midfield and make themself available to receive the ball.
If a defender does choose to do this, then they must make sure they are not leaving their goal exposed. They must be able to get back into defense if needed quickly.
To take a set-piece for their team
Another common reason for a defender to cross the halfway line in midfield is to take a set-piece for their team. This may be a corner, a free-kick, or a penalty. Although a defender can also take a goal kick instead of the goalie for each of the reasons I explain in this article here.
Throughout the history of soccer, there have been defenders who have been expert set-piece takers — players such as Roberto Carlos or Siniša Mihajlović.
Have a look at this video below showing defender Siniša Mihajlović scoring multiple great free-kicks.
Just because a soccer player isn’t playing as a forward doesn’t mean they are not a great striker of the ball. Any team should use the best player for the job when making decisions such as this one.
To be an extra player to target at a set-piece
The third reason a defender may cross midfield is to be an extra player in a position to score a goal from a set-piece.
When a team has the opportunity to take a corner kick or a free-kick near the opposition goal, they often want as many of their players as possible near the goal. This increases the chance of one of their team’s players receiving the ball from the set-piece.
As the defender’s team is in possession of the ball and there is a chance to score, the defender may choose to make their way up to the other end of the field and do their best to make contact with the ball as it moves into the oppositions penalty area.
Another advantage of using this tactic is that defenders are often some of the taller players on a soccer team. When the ball has been kicked in from a set-piece, the taller players often have an advantage as they can reach the ball first as it comes down from being in the air.
A defender may be the perfect candidate for this role.
I hope you now feel more confident in your understanding of if a defender can cross midfield and why they may do this.
If you want to find out more about the qualities of great defenders, click here to go to my article 21 Qualities of Defenders: Tips to Improve Your Game
If you want to know if a defender can score in soccer have a look at this article I wrote answering that question
And if you want a comprehensive but easy to understand guide to how soccer works in 21 steps then click here to go to my article explaining everything you need to know.