Soccer Substitution Rules: How Many & Why

Soccer Substitution Rules: How Many & Why

Last updated on July 15th, 2023 at 11:43 am

For some parents and fans, soccer substitution rules can be complicated. When can a player go in? How many subs can you put in each half? What do they have to do to get into the game? You get the idea.

Soccer substitutions can sometimes change the course of the game. The offensive energy that comes in when a team is down by one can even the game up.

There’s a certain strategy involved when it comes to subbing during soccer games.

In professional soccer, one of the most important things to know about substitutions is that they are permanent. Once a player is substituted, they cannot return to the match.

In youth soccer, it’s important to get everyone in and ensure they are developing under your guidance.

By understanding the soccer substitution rules, you can inject a little bit of strategy when coaching or watching a game. In this article, you will learn the rules around soccer substitutions.

Basic Soccer Substitution Rules

Number of Substitutions Allowed

soccer sub

According to the IFAB Laws of the Game, each soccer team is allowed to make up to five substitutions per game.

However, this rule may vary depending on the league or tournament. It’s important to check the specific rules and regulations of the competition you are participating in to avoid any penalties or disqualifications.

For example, my son’s U14  MLS NEXT team is allowed unlimited substitutions per half but the player being subbed out cannot go back in again that half.

When Substitutions Can Be Made

Substitutions can only be made during a stoppage of play.

A stoppage includes a break in halftime, when a foul or violation is called, the ball goes out of bounds, a goal is scored, or a player injury occurs on the field.

It’s important to note that the referee must be notified before any substitutions can be made.

How Substitutions Are Made

When a substitution is made, the player being substituted must leave the field of play before the substitute can enter.

The substitute must enter the field from the designated substitution zone, which is usually located near the halfway line on the touchline on the bench side.

Once a substitute enters the field of play, the substitution is permanent and cannot be reversed.

Other Soccer Substitution Rules

Temporary Substitutions

If a player is suspected of having a head injury, they may be temporarily substituted so that they can receive medical attention.

This temporary substitution will not count towards the maximum number of substitutions allowed for a team.

The substituted player may return to the field of play if they are deemed fit to continue by the onsite trainer or medical staff.

Injury Substitutions

If a player is injured and cannot continue playing, they may be substituted at any time during the game.

This substitution will count towards the maximum number of substitutions allowed for a team.

The injured player cannot return to the field of play unless the referee allows it.

Substitution Order

When making substitutions, the order in which they are made is important.

If a team wishes to make more than one substitution simultaneously, they must indicate the order in which the substitutions are to be made.

The player who is to be substituted first must leave the field of play before the second substitution can be made.

Can a Player Who Receives a Red Card Get Subbed Out?

If a player receives a red card, they must leave the field of play immediately and cannot be substituted.

The team must continue playing with one less player for the remainder of the game.

However, if a player receives a yellow card, they may be substituted before leaving the field of play.

Controversies Surrounding Soccer Substitution Rules

While soccer substitution rules are designed to provide a fair and flexible system for teams to make changes during a match, controversies have arisen surrounding the use of substitutions.

Two of the most common controversies are:

Faking Injuries to Waste Time

One of the most controversial tactics in soccer is faking an injury to waste time. This tactic is often used by teams that are winning and waste time on the game clock.

A player can force the referee to stop the game, giving their team a chance to regroup and waste time.

This tactic can be frustrating for the opposing team and fans, as it can disrupt the flow of the game and make it difficult for the other team to mount a comeback.

A couple of ways to combat this tactic is to introduce a time penalty for players who are seen to be faking injuries and give out yellow cards for faking injuries.

This would discourage players from using this tactic and would ensure that the game continues its flow.

In the case of youth soccer clubs, this ‘tactic’ should not be taught! 

Substitution Time-Wasting Tactics

By making a substitution, a team can take their time to make the change, forcing the referee to add extra time to the game.

This can be frustrating for the opposing team because it wastes precious minutes.

Referees can encourage players to run off the field if they are getting subbed out. They can also add in stoppage time for the wasted time if it is obvious.

What Happens in Extra Time?

Extra time is an additional period of play that is added to a soccer game when the scores are tied at the end of regular time.

The purpose of extra time is to determine the winner of the game if it needs one. For example, a tournament knockout round (not pool play).

Extra time is traditionally divided into two halves of 15 minutes each. The teams switch sides at the end of the first half of extra time. If the scores are still tied at the end of extra time, the game proceeds to a penalty shootout.

Typically, a team will be awarded an extra substitution in extra time. For instance, during the 2022 World Cup, each team had five substitutions. If it went into extra time, each team would be able to sub a sixth time.

Reasons Soccer Limits the Number of Substitutions

When it comes to soccer, there are rules for substitutions that limit the number of changes a team can make during a game. Here are some of the reasons why soccer limits the number of substitutions:

  • Prevent Interference with Play: One of the main reasons for limiting substitutions in soccer is to prevent too much interference with play once the game is underway. Unlimited substitutions could really disrupt the game’s flow which would leave players, coaches, and fans agitated.
  • Encourage Strategy: By limiting substitutions, soccer encourages teams to think strategically about when to make changes. This means that coaches must carefully consider their options and make the most of the substitutions they are allowed.
  • Reduce Time Wasting: Limiting substitutions can help reduce time-wasting tactics. If teams were allowed to make as many substitutions as they wanted, they could use this as a way to run down the clock and waste time.
  • Preserve Fairness: Limiting substitutions can help preserve fairness in the game. If one team were allowed to make an unlimited number of substitutions, they could potentially gain an unfair advantage over the other team.

What Does a Super-Sub Mean?

If you’re a soccer fan, you may have heard the term “super-sub”. A super-sub is a player who was not in the starting line-up to begin the game but comes into the match and has a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

A super-sub can be a game-changer, turning the tide of the game in favor of their team. They can come on as a substitute and score a crucial goal, make a game-saving tackle, or create a game-winning assist.

These types of players make organizations and coaches look like heroes. On some occasions, teams may not have their best finisher starting the game. But, they may be used in the second half to spark the offense.

Super-subs are usually players with a specific skill set, such as pace, dribbling ability, or aerial prowess, that can be used to exploit weaknesses in the opposition’s defense.

College Soccer Substitution Rules

NCAA soccer has established an unlimited substitution rule. Teams can make as many subs as they want but there’s no re-entry for a substituted player in the 1st half, one re-entry in 2nd half, and no re-entry in overtime periods (when there is OT).

Youth Soccer Substitution Rules

If you’re playing or coaching youth soccer, it’s important to understand the substitution rules.

It’s difficult to provide a rule of thumb as to how many subs each team can make. Each age group and league is different. Most younger age groups have unlimited substitutions. While many leagues U15 and older mimic the professional rules.

In most youth soccer leagues, substitutions are allowed at any stoppage of play, such as a throw-in, goal kick, or corner kick.

It’s important for coaches to keep track of substitutions to avoid confusion and potential penalties.

Here are some official substitution rules of a few U.S. national youth leagues…


For U15, U16, U17, and U19 Games, there will be unlimited substitutions over three (3) moments in the game, plus half time, with no re-entry after exiting the match.

For U13 and U14 Games, there will be unlimited substitutions over three (3) moments per half, plus half time, with no re-entry per half.

Girls Academy (GA) Rules

All GA games will have a maximum of seven (7) substitutes per game with no reentry per half across five “opportunities”, no more than 3 opportunities per half. Halftime does not count as an “opportunity”.

ECNL Rules

For age groups U13-U18/U19: FIFA, there can be a maximum of seven (7) substitutions per half.  Players may not re-enter in the same half.


I hope these substitution rules and guidelines help you understand the game more.

Substitution rules are more cut-and-dry in professional matches compared to youth games. But, the same process applies (i.e. – wait at the half field, can’t go in until the player gets off the field, etc.)

If you want to fully understand the subbing rules for your league, you’ll have to dig into the league’s official rules and regulations handbook.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many substitutions are allowed in professional soccer?

Each soccer team is allowed to make up to five substitutions per professional game.

Does the clock stop on a substitution?

No, the game clock keeps running when a substitution is made. On rare occasions, a ref will stop time if they deem the subbing team is wasting time.

Can a player who has been substituted come back on?

It really depends on the competition’s rules. In most professional soccer leagues and international competitions, a player who has been substituted cannot come back onto the field. However, in some youth leagues, players are able to re-enter after being substituted.

When can you substitute in soccer?

In soccer, substitutions can be made at any time during the match, except for certain circumstances. The actual sub can be made during stoppage time which includes a break in halftime, when a foul or violation is called, the ball goes out of bounds, a goal is scored, or a player injury occurs on the field.

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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