Is There a Mercy Rule in Soccer?

Is There a Mercy Rule in Soccer?

We’ve all seen or experienced soccer games that get out of hand. Maybe the score is 11-0 and there’s no chance a team can come back. The winning team is playing keep away so they don’t run up the score and the opposing team is so defeated that they are embarrassed. This is where the mercy comes in.

The mercy rule also known as a ‘goal difference rule’ or ‘goal average rule’, is a regulation that allows a game to end early if one team is significantly ahead of the other. This rule is intended to prevent the losing team from being further humiliated and ensure the game remains competitive.

Is There a Mercy Rule in Soccer

So, is there a mercy rule in soccer? The answer is yes, but it depends on the league or tournament. Some soccer leagues have adopted the mercy rule, while others have not. For example, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States has a mercy rule ‘if a team is leading by 5 goals or more with 5 or less minutes remaining in the 2nd half, the game will end.

On the other hand, high-level youth leagues such as MLS NEXT, ECNL, and Girls Academy do not have a mercy rule in place.

Let’s explore this topic some more!

Understanding Mercy Rule

The mercy rule is typically applied in younger youth soccer, where teams consist of players who may not have had enough experience playing against each other. This can lead to an uneven playing field where one team could dominate over another due to skill or physical size discrepancies. Some matchups are just lopsided and, with smaller fields, the score can get out of hand.

In such cases, the mercy rule is enforced to prevent the weaker team from being demoralized and to avoid unnecessary injuries that can occur when one team is outmatched.

Each league is different but some mercy rules come into effect when a team is up by 5-10 or more goals. Once a team has a lead over that threshold, the referee can stop the game and declare the team with the lead as the winner.

Sometimes it’s best for both teams to end the game early.

Pros and Cons of Mercy Rule

While the mercy rule has its advantages, it also has its drawbacks. Here are some of the pros and cons of mercy rule in soccer:


  1. Safety Measure: The mercy rule is a crucial safety measure for young soccer players during matches, ensuring that they are not at risk due to overly competitive situations when teams are noticeably mismatched in terms of strength or skill levels.
  2. Saves Time: The mercy rule can save time by ending a game early when one team has a huge lead. This can be especially helpful when multiple games are to be played in a day or when there is a tight schedule.
  3. Reduces Humiliation and Embarrassment: By ending a game early, the mercy rule can help reduce the humiliation that a losing team may feel. It is embarrassing to go down by a large margin but when goals don’t stop it can be demoralizing.


  1. Discourages Effort: The mercy rule can discourage players from putting in their best effort, especially if they know that the game will end early. This can be detrimental to their development as players and can lead to a lack of competitiveness. Sometimes a team can have a late push that carries over to the next practice or game.
  2. Reduces Playing Time: The mercy rule can reduce playing time for both teams, which can be frustrating for players who want to play a full game. This can also be a disadvantage for teams who are losing but want to continue playing to improve their skills.


The Mercy Rule is a regulation in soccer that allows a match to be ended early if the score difference between teams reaches a certain amount of goals.

The Mercy Rule is not unique to soccer and is also present in other sports like youth American football and baseball.

It is important to note that the Mercy Rule may not be present in all soccer leagues or tournaments, as it is up to the governing body or organizers to decide whether to implement it. Therefore, it is important to check the rules and regulations of the specific league or tournament before assuming the presence of the Mercy Rule.

Overall, the Mercy Rule is a fair and necessary regulation in soccer that prioritizes player safety and ensures a more balanced and enjoyable game for all players involved.

Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

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