Soccer: Cleats by Position
Eastbay Cleated Copywriter, T. Scharfenberg | Date Updated on: 07/2/13
A soccer game is all about positioning — the right place and the right time. Make sure your cleats are specialized to work with you and the needs of your position.
Whether you're the quick-striking forward, the commanding midfielder, the tough-tackling defender, or the goalie your team depends on, your game requires the best cleats for your position. You should choose your cleat's weight, material, stud placement, and other factors based on your playing style and location on the field. Our guide will help you do just that.
Forwards: Lightweight, Predictable Striking
As the finisher on the field, your playing time and the team’s success depend on your ability to consistently score goals. In order to do that, you need a pair of soccer cleats that is both dependable and predictable. To get both of those qualities, look for a comfortable level of ball feel to help maximize each shooting opportunity. The design of the striking area over the toe is completely up to you. However, most shooters prefer a smoother kicking surface so there is no interference with ball movement. Also, consider durability in this area so the material will stand up to the constant contact your foot is making with the ball.
As a whole, your cleat needs to remain lightweight. Forwards need speed boots more than anyone else on the field, since their job requires staying ahead of defenders. For quick sprints, we suggest keeping your cleat weight under 9 ounces. With all the new technologies, this shouldn’t be difficult to find. The weight of your cleat will depend a lot on the upper material and the outsole pattern. Look for a traction pattern that is designed for acceleration, with geometrical stud shapes rather than rounded ones. The harder angles of these shapes allow you to grip the ground better, without any slipping.
It's nearly impossible to watch professional forwards play without catching a glimpse of the Nike Mercurial flying toward the goal. One of the reasons this boot is so popular is its smooth Teijin synthetic upper that allows maximum feel on the foot while giving you more predictable control over the path of the ball. Now with a dimpled texture, the Mercurial has even better control in harsh weather conditions.
The Vapor IX was completely redesigned for 2013. It features arrow-shaped central speed studs that not only look fast but also boost your acceleration during full-out sprints. You've seen it on some of the best forwards out there like Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Ronaldinho (Brazil), and Eastbay cover athlete Sydney Leroux (USA).
Another hugely popular offensive boot is adidas F50 adiZero, the lightest soccer cleat on the market at 5.8 ounces. Available in leather or synthetic, this cleat is made for speed. It's built with a single-layer upper, so it sacrifices some protection but gives incredible feel. Underneath your foot are the ultra-light Sprint Frame and TraXion® studs. These all-over triangular cleats are built for acceleration that doesn't sacrifice stability. To see it on the field, check out Eastbay cover athletes Darlington Nagbe (Portland) and Brek Shea (USA). Lionel Messi (Argentina) is also an F50 fan, so much so that he is introducing his own version of the cleat.
Midfielders: Comfort, Ball Control
The second aspect that cannot be overlooked is comfort. Of course every position looks for this, but a high-quality midsole is especially important in the middle of the field. To counteract the constant movement your position requires, you need cushioning that seriously reduces pressure from your studs for all 90 minutes.
We certainly see speed cleats like the F50 and Mercurial throughout the midfield, but make no mistake; control cleats are really starting to take hold. The new adidas Predator LZ design, released for the fall of 2013, features five raised control zones that give you more power over driving, passing, dribbling, striking, and your first touch. These three-dimensional areas are placed on their Hybrid L-S upper, created to blend the benefits of both synthetic and leather. Since comfort is also needed, adidas has placed a pre-molded EVA sockliner inside this boot. It’s also miCoach compatible and worn by mids like Eastbay cover athletes Will Bruin (Houston) and Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles). It gets attention all over the field though, also being seen on forward and July 2012 cover athlete Teal Bunbury (Kansas City).
Upon the release of Nike's CTR360 Maestri III, midfielders like Michael Bradley (USA) started playing in the boot. He wore it on his April 2013 cover, just a few months after forward Landon Donovan (USA) showed his pair off on his own Eastbay cover. Along the inside of the foot, the CTR360 has 3D Pass Pads for no mistakes during passing and receiving. The comfort-based lining includes a high-performance molded sockliner with Poron cushioning.
There's also another popular option for middies that are more focused on scoring than controlling. New on the field is the Nike HyperVenom Phantom, designed specifically for attack-minded strikers. On players like Clint Dempsey (USA), the boot features all-over texture with NikeSkin technology. It doesn't interfere with the smooth ball contact strikers look for and is packed with tons of other technologies. Be sure to get a glimpse of this all-new, truly unique design.
Defenders: Traditional Feel, Tackle Protection
Consistency is an attribute that all players look for in their cleats, but it takes on a new meaning for the backs who are literally the last line of defense. For that reason, the upper material of a defender’s cleat is of utmost importance. Most defensive players prefer leather for its performance attributes, including predictability. Leather comes with a little extra weight, but it’s slight and is a smaller concern here than anywhere else on the field. It’s also naturally durable, which brings us to the next important factor in your cleat’s upper.
Being a defender means you take a beating, and hard tackles are bound to happen. For that reason, you want some extra coverage on the top of your foot. Leather will give you that with its natural toughness. Extra durability will also help give you additional power on the kicking area for when you need to really send the ball up the field.
Because of the benefits of leather for this position, Nike’s Tiempo cleats are a very popular choice. All of the adult Tiempo boots are natural leather, including the Tiempo Legend IV, which features both kangaroo leather and Kanga-Lite support. This combination retains all of the comfort of kangaroo but is more protective than regular leather alone. Some incredible defenders depend on this coverage: Gerard Pique (Spain), Sergio Ramos (Spain), and Rachel Buehler (USA).
We're also seeing the adidas 11Pro TRX making big strides within this position. Right now, Philipp Lahm (Germany) and Sacha Kljestan (Portland) are wearing it, likely because of its newly developed, full-grain Taurus leather upper and anatomically shaped saddle for increased midfoot support. It also uses adidas Sprint Frame outsole and TraXion 2.0 cleats for ultra-light traction.
More of a power player? adidas' Nitrocharge 1.0 is the newest of our cleats. It brings elements that we've never seen in soccer cleats before. Protecting from slide tackles are Achilles in inner toe padding, allowing you to really go after it. Along the bottom of the forefoot is also a highly elastic Energypulse area that literally puts a spring in your step. That extra push-off is all you need to get the best of attackers. One of the big-name players starting off the Nitrocharge right now is Daniel De Rossi (Italy).
Goalkeepers: Powerful Traction, Comfort
There aren’t specific cleats that are designed for keepers, because it’s the group with the widest range of playing styles and preferences. The small details of your cleat are up to you, but there are some overall things to consider, like the fact that you’ll need a boot for power. Since most of your strikes are long goal kicks and punts, you need an upper that can withstand that and protect your foot.
The other important factors are underneath your feet. The first is midsole comfort. While you’re keeping loose and bouncing on your feet within the goal, you’ll need some cushioning to keep your feet from wearing out before the big play. And under that is the second consideration: traction. You absolutely cannot risk slipping, especially during a dive.
Goalies are taking their cues from other players' cleats. For a strong, durable, and powerful kicking surface, go with the Nike Tiempo Legend IV, as mentioned in the Defenders section. It's got great comfort as well, with a molded sockliner, heel cup, and arch support that are loved by keepers like Tim Howard and Hope Solo (USA). Or look to the mids for traction and surface control with the Predator LZ. In addition to its TraXion stud shape, this boot also contains anti-slip EVA inserts in the back of the heel, so there's no hesitation when you need to make a save. To see these on the field, take a look at Iker Casillas (Spain) or Petr Cech (Czech Republic).
Now that we've broken it down by position, you're better equipped to select a cleat. If you're still unsure about material, you can get a more in-depth summary of synthetic, leather, and kangaroo leather by reading Soccer Cleat Uppers. Also be sure to check out the Field Tested reviews under our cleats to give you an even better idea of what players at your position think about each style.