In team sports, the key to victory goes beyond just putting the best players on the field. Soccer is a thinking person's game because it is low-scoring and involves tactics beyond just beating the other team with speed, strength or hustle. A mix of those three qualities in defense, midfield and offense is crucial to success, but is still only one piece of the formula. A layered strategy with the ability to change plans of attack quickly is essential.
Leaving nothing up to chance
Distribute equal attention and practice time to three areas: Physical conditioning (running for cardiovascular improvement, breathing and leg strength); skills for passing, trapping, ball-handling and defense; and tactics and attitude. It's wise to dedicate more practice time to conditioning and skills earlier in the week, with a larger focus on tactics closer to game day. This concept pertains mostly to midseason. It's OK to shift more emphasis to conditioning during the preseason and tactics during the postseason. The attitude area means every player has to agree with this system and not be allowed to become greedy, arrogant or resentful as the season progresses.
Analyze the opposing team. Watch one of its matches if time allows, and invite your players along. Follow the local newspapers to track statistics and the performance of its players. Contact other coaches for insight and advice and compose a scouting report to share in practice.
Select a lineup based on exploiting the other team's weaknesses or withstanding its greatest threats. A player who is exceptionally strong at head balls, for example, could be positioned as the center defender if the other team regularly scores by putting long crosses into the box. If the other team is notably stingy on defense, you'll want to use patient midfielders who can play defense first, maintain ball possession and wait for creative scoring chances instead of continually attempting to send long balls past the defense or feeding forwards who can't beat the defenders one-on-one, losing the ball in the process.
Maintain a mix of skills on the field at all times. Don't just trot out your fastest, craftiest ball-handlers. That tall defender who can clear head balls could also be sent up as a forward on corner kicks. The speedy striker could replace a defender in situations where you want to push more players forward and have someone back who can catch anyone on a counter attack.
Place an emphasis on players who make an extraordinary effort at their position. At any point during the game, you'll need a forward who stays hungry in the opponent's goal box and works harder than most to get a shot off or keep a play alive when he senses the goal is near. Midfielders who get back on defense quickly are always needed off the bench. Defenders who continually improve their one-touch passes under pressure are invaluable, especially late in the match when other players get tired and play becomes sloppy.