If you regularly play soccer down the park with your friends, you’ll probably play matches involving almost any number of players. To put it simply, there’s no strict rules when you’re playing for fun.
Different age groups are also allowed their own rules about how many players can play on each team, but this luxury doesn’t translate into adult soccer.
When it comes to adult soccer and professional leagues, teams must have the correct number of players on the pitch. This number is dictated by the Laws of the Game.
While factors such as red cards and injuries can impact the number of players there are on the pitch, teams must continue to follow the rules in order to avoid risk of punishment and suspension.
It’s Law 3 of FIFA’s Laws of the Game which addresses the exact number of players there should be on a soccer team.
As stated by the Law, a soccer match must be played by two teams, each with a maximum of 11 players on the pitch at any one time. It’s worth noting that one of these players must be a goalkeeper.
While teams will always try their best to play eleven-a-side, there are occasions where they may be forced to play less. Some of the most common examples of this are injury problems and players arriving late for kick-off.
If a team has fewer than seven players however, play isn’t allowed to begin or continue. This is because seven players is deemed the absolute minimum to compete in a match.
A Closer Look at the Rules
In the majority of soccer leagues, only players and substitutes that are named on the team sheet prior to kick-off are allowed to play any part in the match. This stops players rolling up halfway through the game and joining in.
However, some leagues are stricter on the rules than others, so it’s always worth checking with your local league on their stance and what the official rules for your team are.
Regardless of which league your team competes in, sending offs will always be a part of the game. Therefore, while teams will start with 11 players, they may well end up with fewer players on the pitch at the end of the game if any of their players receive a red card.
Another possible scenario where a team may end the match with fewer players is if they’ve made all their substitutes and one of their players can’t continue due to an injury. While this is unfortunate, there isn’t a loophole in the rules which allows you to bring on an extra player.
In both of the situations above, a soccer team can continue playing so long as they have at least seven players still out on the pitch.
In all professional adult leagues, teams can use up to three substitutions per match. Some competitions also allow an extra substitution if a game progresses to extra time.
On the substitutes bench, teams can select between three to 12 players. It’s from these players that they choose their substitutes.
The number of substitutes can be expanded further in certain leagues, competitions or friendly matches - it all depends on the specific rules that are in play. Again, only a maximum of 11 players can be on the field at the same time.
In order to make a substitution, a team must clearly signal to the referee that they are looking to replace a player. Once this has been achieved, the substitute can then enter from the halfway line when the ball is next out of play.
They must wait for the referee’s signal to come onto the pitch, otherwise they risk receiving a punishment (usually a warning or a yellow card) for entering the pitch without permission.
In the majority of cases, players that have been substituted off the pitch aren’t allowed to return to the field during the rest of the match. There are, however, some amateur leagues which may allow this.
On the other hand, if a player has been substituted onto the field of play, they can still be substituted off later in the game so long as the team has enough substitutions left.
While goalkeeper substitutions don’t happen very often, any player in the squad can take the keeper’s place so long as the referee is informed and the substitution follows the standard rules.
If either team in a match has more than 11 players on the pitch at any one time, it’s the responsibility of the referee to immediately stop play and have any additional players removed.
The team fielding an additional player(s) may then face further punishment if the offence is deemed severe enough.
There are also occasions where a supporter or team official may stray onto the field of play and the referee must again stop play before deciding on an appropriate punishment.
If it’s a team official, they’ll likely be sent to the stands, whereas if it’s a supporter, they’ll usually be escorted from the stadium.
The referee can restart play whenever the situation has been dealt with, from the place where the ball last exited the pitch.
As the Law states, each team may have a maximum of 11 players and a minimum of seven players on the pitch at any one time in order for the game to begin or continue. Therefore, barring red cards, a soccer match should begin with 22 players and finish with 22 players.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a player refuse to be substituted?
Yes, a player can refuse to be subbed off. The referee has no right to force a specific player to be substituted. It should be sorted out between player and manager.
If a solution can’t be found, the referee can then show a yellow card or issue a warning. This is often the case when a team uses the situation as a time-wasting opportunity.
Can a soccer team play without a goalkeeper?
The goalkeeper is a requirement of each team, so at no time should a soccer team be without a goalkeeper. It’s against the laws of the game.
The goalkeeper can switch positions with an outfield player, but the referee must be informed and the switch must happen in a break of play.