So with the equipment secured, we need to assemble a team. There are eleven players on each side, of whom one is a goalkeeper and, as such, is governed by slightly different rules. The most important distinction is that a goalkeeper is the only player who can touch the ball with his hands (for the sake of easy reading, let's assume it's a boy goalkeeper). In fact, since goalkeepers are charged with preventing the ball from crossing their goal, they do an awful lot of touching with the hands. There are a few limitations on all this handtouching: first, a goalie cannot use his hands outside of an area called the penalty box, which is a box 18 yards deep affixed to the goal line within his own half; second, the goalie cannot use his hands if the ball is passed to him intentionally by one of his own defenders. This second rule was instituted to avoid excruciatingly boring games in which a team with a lead would preserve it by kicking the ball back to their goalie chronically.

In front of the goalkeeper is usually a row of four players who are defenders. On the left and right, you have the left full back and right full back, and between them, you have a center back or central defender. The fourth defender often plays slightly behind the center back, and is called the sweeper, because his or her job is to sweep up any defensive work that the three others cannot handle. Captain Obvious says, "As the last line of defense, this player is usually an excellent defender."

In front of the defense, you have the midfield, which refers collectively to the three of four players who operate in the middle of the field, between defenders and attackers. Unimpaired by overactive imaginations, soccer's founders have named these positions left-half, center-half (or center-midfield), and right-half. These players are responsible for defending when needed, and for winning the ball in the many skirmishes that occur in the middle of the field. When the ball falls into their team's possession, midfielders are responsible for orchestrating the attack by passing amongst themselves and ultimately giving the ball to forwards who may be well-positioned to score.

The front line consists of forwards or attackers. Perhaps because of their goal-scoring, these players have slightly more interesting monikers. On the sides, there are the left-wing and right-wing, and in the center, there are the center-forwards or strikers. These players are known for their speed and ability to score goals. The wingers are often used to cross the ball with accuracy into the middle of the field where the strikers, or midfielders, should be positioned to take a shot on goal. Strikers are renowned for their ability to score goals with either foot and their head — although central midfielders are often the quarterbacks on a soccer team, it is the successful striker who is usually the fans' favorite. Forget about the long ball, it's all about the goals, baby.

Unlike almost all American sports, these players cannot be substituted freely. In a typical FIFA contest, only three players are allowed be substituted throughout the entire course of a game, which places a premium on stamina. Many substitutions are used late in the game, so that the team that is behind can put in an extra striker (by replacing a defensive player) or two to press for that needed goal; and so that the team that is ahead can load up on fresh defenders to help preserve their lead.

Although the most common configurations are 3-5-2 (three defenders, five midfielders, and two forwards, in addition to the goalie, of course) and 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards), these positions are eminently flexible and there are no restrictions on movement. That means a team that needs to score can switch to a 1-3-3-4 configuration, and one that wants to defend a lead may switch to a 1-4-4-2 format. These variations should not be taken too literally, since strikers may be called to defend, with their skill at getting to a ball obviously a useful asset on either end of the field.