Whether it is watching or playing, soccer can sometimes come off as a bit of organized chaos. Even those who have casually followed the sport might not exactly know how many players are on each team. Understanding lineups, and how they can change in the middle of a match, is also a big step towards understanding soccer in general.
How many players on a soccer team? Traditional soccer matches are played with 11 players on each side. Each team will have ten field players each, and one goalie. Teams also carry a set amount of substitutes to use if they wish. The number of substitutes varies, but usually, it is a minimum of three, and a maximum of 12.
How Many Substitutions Are Allowed During a Game?
The rules for the highest levels of soccer allow for three substitutions per contest. Any player can be subbed out, and that player is officially out for the rest of the contest. There are certain scenarios where teams might decide to later use another substitute opportunity on that person who came in midway through the contest, but that rarely happens.
Where leagues and competitions differ is whether or not a fourth substitution is allowed in extra time. Some give this bonus, while others stick with just three substitutions.
Why Do Teams Have So Many Substitutes?
With the rules stating that a team can only sub out three players in a match, or four if it goes in the extra time, why do teams have as many as 12 players on the sidelines? This is a tactical decision made by management, as they want to make sure that they have several replacements available if needed.
Depending on the opponent, there might be a need to use one substitute player over another. For example, if the team is not moving as quickly as they should on offense, it might be the perfect time to bring in a faster offensive-minded player to help out. If a team has a leave, they might go with a sub who is a better defender than who is currently playing in the game.
Some teams also use substitutions as a way to monitor the minutes of particular star players. Maybe there is a bigger match coming up in a few days, so subbing them out and giving them time off allows them to rest. There are also star players who are getting up there in age, so they might not be able to provide a full 90 minutes of value. They can either start the game and come out later, or be used as a finisher late.
In important competitions, there are some substitutes who never get to enter any of the matches. However, they are right there for the manager to use if they wish. It is better to be over-prepared for any scenario than to have limited options. They also still contribute to the team in other ways, such as during practice sessions.
Can Soccer Be Played Without 11 Players On Each Side?
Every match starts with 11 players on each side, but numbers can dwindle all the way down to seven for one reason or another. One way this happens is if players are injured, and a team does not have a way to replace that player.
Another reason for playing down as many as four players comes down to cards issued. If a player receives two yellow cards, or one direct red card, they can’t continue playing. A team does not have the opportunity to sub that player out, must play without one player for the rest of the game.
Rarely does a match get to the point where it is 7 vs 11. However, it is not that uncommon to see a team have to play a significant part of the match down a player. Teams practice for these scenarios, and hope to minimize the damage as much as possible.
Alternatives To The Regular 11 vs 11
Playing 11-on-11 soccer is usually reserved for soccer leagues involving teenagers, all the way up to the professional ranks. However, soccer does not always have to follow this format, and it makes sense to shrink the team size in some scenarios.
Soccer teams at a young age sometimes play with smaller lineups on the pitch at all times. This is because the field is smaller, and no one wants to have to clutter up everything for no reason. It allows for a bit more spacing, and learning the game in general.
Indoor soccer is another popular form of the game that does not always 11 players on the field for each team. It can sometimes be as small as six players per team. This is again due to smaller playing areas. Indoor soccer is also a game meant to be played at a faster pace in general.
Finally, adult recreational leagues might use different combinations depending on field size and competitive level. Adults who are just trying to casually stay in shape and have some fun while playing soccer do not need to suit up and play 11-on-11. In some of these leagues, teams might not even have a single substitute, meaning that everyone has to play the entire match.
Along with different lineup sizes, there are some other variations to soccer to keep in mind. Some leagues will go without a goalie, and instead, use a much smaller goal as a way to vary the sport up a bit. They might still have ten field players, but no dedicated goalie.
Soccer does not always have to be played by the book. People are becoming more and more creative, depending on the scenario.
A Final Look At Soccer Roster Construction
A starting 11 for every team is important, but it takes a full team roster to put together a truly remarkable squad. There have been many cases of team switching up their lineups for strategic purposes, and using substitutes at just the right time.
Even if a player does not make an impact on the field, they are still contributing in other ways. This is the reason why teams are deep in just about every sport, because any player on the roster could end up being the hero.