There are three zones that determine different positioning and tactics by the goalkeeper on the field based on where the ball is being played. The three zones are the Direct Threat Zone, the Cross Threat Zone, and the Sweeper Zone.
Direct Threat Zone
The Direct Threat Zone covers the 18 box and a chunk of space directly in front of the 18, depending on the skill level of the soccer players. In a higher skilled tier of soccer, that threat zone extends out about 20-25 yards (18-23m), while in a beginner tier or early age league, the threat zone might not extend past the 18 at all.
In the Direct Threat zone, the keeper will position himself at all times between the goal’s center point and the ball as shown in the diagrams. Two imaginary lines can be drawn from each post to the ball creating a triangle/wedge shape. The keeper centers himself in the wedge on an imaginary semi-circle that starts and stops at each post. This cuts down space the goalkeeper actually has to protect. This action is called cutting the angles.
Cross Threat Zone
The Cross Threat Zone positioning is something I only teach after my goalkeeper has mastered cutting the angles. In the Cross Threat Zone, the keeper no longer cuts the angle of the ball because the biggest threat to the goal is not the player with the ball but instead the players coming down the middle the field.
In the following diagram, we cover the section of the Cross Threat Zone that has the least probability of the player taking a shot on goal. From this angle and possition, a striker would not have enough power to beat a goalkeeper from getting the ball. The real threat is players coming into the direct threat zone to receive a pass.
To be correctly positioned, draw an imaginary line (as in the red line in the diagram) from the far post straight out to the ball. The goalkeeper should stand by bisecting this line and the center frame of the goal (marked by a blue x in the diagram). This places the goalkeeper in an ideal position to handle both the cross and current position of the ball.
If at any time the ball comes into the direct threat zone, then the goalkeeper should immediately position himself by cutting the angle as described in the direct threat zone tutorial.
In the following diagram, the ball has moved parallel to the 18 box and now posses a possible shot on goal, while the threat of a cross is also possible. This time, the goalkeeper has moved back into the goal on the line, standing in the center. This positions the keeper in the best manner to handle a direct shot on goal while being in the position to handle incoming strikers in the direct threat zone. If a pass is made, the keeper will change to direct threat positioning and cut the angle.
Finally, for the Cross Threat Zone, the ball has reached the end of the field around the corner. With this, the keeper must stand about one yard centered in front of the goal. The keeper must resist the urge to stand at the near post since a cross past him will leave the entire goal open.
If the ball comes into the 18 around this area, only then does the keeper move to the front post.
In the Sweeper Zone, the keeper assumes a sweeper defender position. The keeper now moves outside the18 box directly between the goal and the ball. The keeper’s position is relative to how far the rest of the team is down the field. For example, if the ball and the majority of the players are on the far third of the field, the keeper might move halfway between the 18 and the center of the field line.