Complete Guide to Substitutions in Soccer


Knowing how many substitutions a particular league or level of soccer allows can be complex and vary from level to level of soccer. Fortunately for you, we have done the research to provide you with a complete and exhaustive guide to substitution rules for soccer across various leagues and levels.

Are The Number Of Substitutions the Same Across All Leagues and Levels of Soccer?

No. The number of substitutions can vary by league and level of soccer. However, most professional leagues abide by the International Football Association Board revision of Law Three to allow five (5) substitutions per game.

Enclosed below is a table of containing many leagues and levels of soccer and the number of substitutions allowed:

LeagueLevelNumber of
Substitutions
Allowed
Comments
Premier League – Men’sProfessional5
Premier Leagues – Women’sProfessional5
MLSProfessional5used over course
of three opportunities,
excluding half-time but
including drinking/cooling
breaks
NWSLProfessional5
US College MenCollegiateup to 11 at
time
See explanation and
details in next section
below table
US College WomenCollegiateup to 11 at
time
See explanation and
details in next section
below table
US High School Soccer BoysScholasticunlimited
US High School Soccer GirlsScholasticunlimited
US Youth SoccerYouthunlimited
Bundesliga – MenProfessional5
Bundesliga – WomenProfessional5
La LigaProfessional5
Liga MXProfessional5
Serie AProfessional5
K-LeagueProfessional5
J-LeagueProfessional5
Number of Substitutions allowed by League and Level

What are the Substitution Rules for College Soccer?

The rules allow for up to 11 substitutions are one time. However, once a player has been subbed off, the rules for re-entry of that player are the following:

PeriodRe-entry allowed?
first halfno re-entry
second half1 re-entry
1st overtime periodno re-entry
2nd overtime periodno re-entry
NCAA soccer player substitution re-entry rules table

This rules defined above apply to both NCAA men’s and women’s soccer.

College Soccer Players
College Soccer Players

Looking for a primer on offsides in soccer? Check out our Guide to Offsides in Soccer! This guide provides everything you need to know about offsides whether you are a player, coach or a parent of a soccer player.

What are the Substitution Rules for US High School Soccer?

The number of substitutions and re-entries in US high school soccer is unlimited.

High school soccer players
High school soccer players

What are the Substitution Rules for US Youth Soccer?

The number of substitutions are re-entries in US Youth Soccer is unlimited. Quoting Tom Hart at US Youth Soccer, “Generally, substitutions are made prior to throw-in by your team, after a goal, prior to a goal kick by either team, at half-time, or because of injury.

Kid soccer players with coach
Kid soccer players with coach

Can a Soccer Player Who Has Been Substituted Come Back On?

The answer depends on the level of soccer. For professional soccer leagues, the answer in no. Once the player has been subbed off, the player cannot re-enter the game. For college soccer governed by the NCAA, a player subbed off in the first half can re-enter in the second half. For High School and Youth Soccer leagues, players can re-enter the game after being subbed off on an unlimited basis.

LevelCan Subbed off players
re-enter game?
ProfessionalNo
NCAA College SoccerYes in second half if subbed off
in first half
US High SchoolYes (unlimited)
US Youth SoccerYes (unlimited)
Soccer player re-entry rules after being substituted for by level table

Are There Specific Soccer Substitution Rules for Players Suffering Potential Concussions?

The answer depends on the league. Some professional leagues have recently started to implement special substitution rules for players that might have suffered a concussion.

soccer concussion
soccer concussion

In the United States, US Soccer, MLS and the NWSL have implemented a program that allows teams up to two additional substitutions for players who are suspected to have a concussion. The Premier League will also allow for up to two substitutions for players who may have suffered a concussion.

In both the US and Premier League cases, if the team with a concussed player subs them out, the opposing team is also granted an additional substitution.

Why Do Leagues Limit the Number of Substitutions Allowed in Soccer?

There are several reasons why leagues limit substitution in soccer. The two main reasons are:

  1. To minimize the disruption to the ebb and flow of the game
  2. To prevent richer teams with better depth players from having an outsized advantage

The first reason, minimizing disruption to the game, is fairly obvious. If there were unlimited substitutions in professional soccer, the games would take much longer and the rhythm of the game would be halted. This would result in less compelling matches which would turn off the fans and make the games less watchable.

The second reason is talent disparity. In the top leagues of professional soccer in particular, there is a wide gap in finances between the top teams and the smaller clubs. The wealth gap is increasing and makes it harder for the smaller clubs to compete. This limits the ability for smaller clubs to have experienced, high quality reserve players when compared to their deeper-pocketed competition.

Having no limit to substitutions in leagues like the Premier League would further the divide between the rich and smaller clubs and would break the competitive balance of the league.

How Does a Player Get Subbed On in a Soccer Match?

The process of a player being subbed into a match is the following:

  1. The referee is alerted that a substitute player is there
  2. When an appropriate moment is available for the substitution to be made, the referee will allow the player leaving the game to exit the field
  3. Once the subbed out player has left the field, the replacement player can enter the field of play

There may be occasions, albeit rare, where a player refuses to be substituted for. In this case, the referee will wave off the substitution and the player currently in the game will remain in the game.

Summary

Substitutions are a critical component of soccer. The ability to leverage reserve players at key moments of the match can be the difference between winning and losing. I hope this guide was helpful to you. Good luck.

Sources

https://www.mlssoccer.com/about/competition-guidelines

https://nwsl-cdn.global.ssl.fastly.net/wp/uploads/2021/03/2021NWSLChallengeCupTournamentRules.pdf

https://www.ncaapublications.com/productdownloads/SO21.pdf

https://arlingtonsoccer.demosphere-secure.com/_files/programs/recreation/rules/HS-Soccer-Rules-1.pdf

https://www.usyouthsoccer.org/assets/1/6/managing_substitutions.pdf

https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/bundesliga-retain-five-substitutions-welcome-away-fans-aug-27-2021-07-14/

https://www.barcablaugranes.com/2020/9/8/21427336/official-la-liga-will-allow-five-substitutions-this-season

http://www.kleagueunited.com/2021/02/new-rules-for-2021-five-substitutions.html

https://football-italia.net/serie-a-confirms-five-substitutions-in-2021-22/

http://www.footyjapancompetitions.com/rules/soccer-7s-rules

https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12206665/premier-league-concussion-substitutes-explained-how-green-and-white-card-system-to-protect-player-welfare-works

https://www.si.com/soccer/2021/04/05/us-soccer-mls-nwsl-usl-nisa-concussion-substitutes

https://www.thefa.com/football-rules-governance/lawsandrules/laws/football-11-11/law-3—the-players

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-football-premier-league-investment-ownership-inequality-7586519/

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