Complete Guide to How Many Soccer Players on a Team and Active on Field

If you’re just starting in the beautiful sport of soccer, you’ll want to catch up on the basic rules quickly. But before you evolve into a complete player full of technical awareness on and off the ball, you must know how the game is set up and the roles of each team member. So how many players make a soccer team? 

Eleven players make up a soccer team. They include a goalkeeper and ten outfield players, consisting of variable formations of defenders, midfielders, and forwards. Teams are currently also allowed five substitutions over the 90 minutes plus injury time duration of a match.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these rules of soccer and go over the different player positions and roles in greater detail. Hopefully, this will ‘kickstart’ your soccer career and get you ready to unleash your full potential.

How Many Soccer Players Are on the Field?

Professional Soccer Fields
Professional Soccer Fields

Usually, there are 22 players on a pitch at any given point in a soccer match. They include two teams consisting of a goalkeeper and ten outfield players each. Additionally, depending on league and tournament rules, each team will have anywhere from 3-12 substitute players who can replace active players during play. 

Note that this has not always been the case. 19th-century English teams often had between 15-21 players, and it wasn’t until 1870 that the UK Football Association established the enduring eleven-player standard. 

Some claim eleven players a side make the most optimum use of the space on a pitch, but this is likely just guesswork. Standards for pitch size vary in soccer even today. It’s more likely that the number was just borrowed from other popular team sports of the time, such as field hockey and cricket.

Of course, there are particular circumstances under which the number of players on a pitch can fall below the designated 22. We’ll go over these in the following few sections.

Caveat 1: Red Cards

Red Card In Soccer
Red Card In Soccer

One prominent situation when you’ll find less than the stipulated eleven players a side on a field during a soccer game is following the exit of a player penalized with a red card. 

In the case of a player being sent off, the affected team cannot replace the red-carded player and will have to play with a man less. It’s also worth noting that a team can be handed more than one red card by the referee. 

Soccer referees only show players a red card for the most egregious fouls or if they’re guilty of repeated offenses. The penalty is meant to act as a deterrent against breaking the rules and excessively rough play. 

Caveat 2: Injuries

Another situation in which a team can end up with fewer than eleven players is if a player gets injured, and the team has already used up all their substitutions. Although teams have significant rosters and are allowed to announce several substitutes on their squads before a game, they cannot indiscriminately substitute players on their team.  

Substitution Limits

Soccer Players
Soccer Players

Until recently, teams were only allowed three substitutions a game. However, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) now allows up to five substitutions per game

However, the rule is not universal, as the number of substitutions permitted in a game has varied over the years and from league to league. If you’re new to the game, note that once a player has been taken off the pitch in a substitution, they cannot return.

Now that we’ve established the number of players on a field at any point, let’s look at the positions they play and what these imply for a player’s role in a game. These are important nuances to understand if you’re looking to develop your technical ability as a soccer player. 

What Are the Different Player Positions and Roles in Soccer

As mentioned earlier, a soccer team consists of a goalkeeper and ten outfield players. Outfield players are further divided into defenders, midfielders, and forwards. But these designations are not hidebound; they hide a dazzling complexity that can make following a soccer match so much fun.


Soccer Referee
Soccer Referee

Goalkeepers are the last line of defense for a team. They usually stand close to the team’s goal and try and protect it by preventing balls from going in. They’re the only players in the game allowed to work the ball with their hands but only from within their penalty box – the area right in front of their team’s goal.

Their critical role means that goalkeeping errors can be fatal to a team’s chances. For the same reason, goalkeepers can also play a heroic role in their team’s victories. At no time is their performance more critical than when the opposing team is awarded a penalty kick or the game goes into a penalty shootout at the end of regular play.



The defenders usually stay in front of the goalkeeper and close to their team’s goal. Their primary role is to shield the goalkeeper by thwarting the opponents’ attacks before the goal risk becomes higher. However, defenders can also play a role in helping their team attack, especially when playing in an offensive system.

Teams often use between 3-5 defenders depending on the strategy and system preferred by a manager. While they do, on occasion, score goals, defenders are less likely to do so than either midfielders or forwards. 

Central Defenders

‘Central defenders or center-backs usually stay in the central areas of the pitch, right in front of their team’s goal. They’re usually tall, strong players, good on the ground and in the air. They need to be to push back their opponent’s attacking players effectively.

Teams sometimes deploy center backs as sweepers, especially when using five defenders. A Sweeper is a center-back with a more fluid role that allows them to fall back and “sweep up” loose balls that may get through other defenders.

Full Backs

Left-backs and right-backs operate on either side of the central defenders, with the flank they roam marked by their name. Teams that play 4-5 defenders can sometimes use widely spaced full-backs as wingers, who roam further upfield, assisting their team on attacks. 


Soccer Team
Soccer Team

Midfielders are players that occupy the middle sections of a pitch. They can play a defensive role – assisting defenders in staving off attacks – or an offensive one – helping their team build momentum as it moves forward. Midfielders are less likely to score goals than forwards but much more likely to do so than defenders.

Central Midfielders

Although they need not be their team’s most prolific goalscorers, central defenders can be among a team’s most valuable players. That’s because they anchor defenses by coordinating the defense or acting as “playmakers,”  setting it up on incisive forays upfield.


Wingers are midfielders that play the flanks, much like Wing Backs; only they’re a little more forward-oriented and play a more significant role in setting up attacks against their opponent’s goal. They’re among the fastest players on the pitch and usually have excellent dribbling ability. Wingers also often cover the most ground in the course of a match.


Forwards are critical to a team’s chances because they’re primarily responsible for scoring for their team. So, in addition to speed and agility, they need excellent finishing skills. Being able to kick accurately with both feet is a great advantage. Additionally, ability in the air is a great advantage, especially on set pieces, such as corner kicks.

A team can employ a number of Forwards. 

  • Center Forwards: operate close to the opponent’s goal
  • Left and Right Forwards: work on the flanks of the Center Forward
  • False 9’s: they operate in front of central midfielders

You can learn more about goal rules in soccer here


A soccer team for a given match consists of a goalkeeper, ten outfield players, and anywhere from 3-12 players – of whom five may be substituted for active players during the game. Outfield players include defenders, midfielders, and forwards, who can be arranged in various ways depending on the manager’s strategy.


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