What Is a Cap In Soccer?

When soccer players take a look back at their career, one of the crowning achievements of their career is the number of caps they have for their national team. People who are not familiar with the game of soccer, might not know what a soccer cap actually is.

What is a cap in soccer? Every time that a soccer player suits up for and plays for their national team in an international matchup between the two countries’ best squads, they receive a cap. It’s a term that goes back in history, but now is a short way of indicating how experienced a player is playing at the international level.

The Origins of Caps In Soccer

The history of caps in soccer goes back quite a bit. It makes a lot of sense when looking at it historically, as players actually received caps after the match.

It was considered the biggest honor for players, and being able to show off the recognition, later on, made a huge difference. This goes back all the way to the very first international football match in 1872, as Scotland and England handed them out.

Since this first started with the very first international match, it was natural for other countries to follow along the same lines.

Countries give out caps for every match, except for when they play in the World Cup or European Championships. Even though each match counts as a “cap,” they only get one physical cap with the names of each opponent on it.

How Do Soccer Players Earn a Cap?

Only certain types of matches will count towards a cap total. They mostly go off of the world governing body of soccer, known as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

All games that are in a World Cup, qualifying for the World Cup, or continental competitions automatically qualify. Friendly games between two senior national teams count, and so do qualifying matches and finals in the Olympics.

If two teams decide to send players not considered on the A-Team, there is a chance that the caps are not awarded. It’s just a matter of how the game is viewed, and whether or not it makes sense when compared to other matches with caps.

Does Everyone on the Team Automatically Get a Cap?

The only way to earn a cap in soccer is to actually play in the match. There are a lot of people who have dressed for a national team, but they never actually played. Therefore, they technically do not have any caps, which can be very frustrating for those attempting to earn their first-ever.

Getting into the match late still counts as playing. Some people have earned caps while being a substitute and playing less than a minute in a match.

Do Certain Countries Still Offer Actual Caps?

There are still some countries to this day that offer caps to the players. It is in essence, their prize for being at the top of their game and representing their country. A player generally holds onto their first cap ever, and even teams that normally don’t give out caps will do something to commemorate the occasion.

Now that there are so many international competitions every single year, caps are not handed out as frequently in a physical manner. It’s still a big deal, but physical caps aren’t stressed.

What Players Hold a Record For The Most Caps In Their Career?

PlayerCapsCountry
1. Soh Chin Ann219Malaysia
2. Bader Al-Mutawa186Kuwait
3. Ahmed Hassan184Egypt
4. Cristiano Ronaldo182Portugal
5. Ahmed Mubarak182Oman
6. Sergio Ramos180Spain
7. Mohamed Al-Deayea178Saudi Arabia
8. Claudio Suarez178Mexico
9. Gianluigi Buffon176Italy
10. Maynor Figueroa176Honduras

Soh Chin Ann, a striker for the Malaysia national team, has the most caps in men’s soccer history. He’s made 219 appearances for his national team, and nobody is even close to his record.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Romo are the two biggest names in soccer who are both well within striking distance of having the record. Ronaldo sits at 182 caps, while Ramos is at 180.

United States players dominate on the women’s side, as Kristine Lilly sits at 354 caps for her career. Recently retired Carli Lloyd wraps up her career with 307, and she was viewed by many to be one who could possibly catch Lilly in the all-time rankings. Her number is not impossible to beat, but it’s going to be a while before someone takes it down.

How Important Are Caps To a Player’s Legacy?

Many would argue that caps are the most important individual statistic when looking at international play for players. Scoring goals and picking up assists are nice, but just making an appearance in a match shows dedication to the country.

It’s no surprise that when looking at the most caps in association football history, it’s littered with some of the biggest names in sports history.

Cristiano Ronaldo is getting closer and closer to having the record, but Sergio Ramos and others are competing for that title as well. With four active players all within a few caps of each other, the record could change quite a bit coming up.

Winning a major team title is the ultimate goal in international play, but earning a ton of caps shows just how important a player is to their country’s history.

The Final Word on Caps In Soccer

As long as international competition is important in soccer, getting a cap is a huge deal. Even players with hundreds of caps to their name still take pride in reaching milestones and moving up the leaderboard for their specific country. Getting a chance to wear country colors to represent in any type of competition is a huge deal.

Earning a cap in a victory makes even more of a difference for a lot of players. There’s a reason why countries document cap stats to keep up with the history of the game. Teams with a rich soccer tradition will always have the most respect for players earning a ton of caps during their careers.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired at the age of 21 due to injuries - which led me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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