Soccer Substitution Rules

Soccer Substitution

Soccer is a competitive game played between two teams where each team can have up to 11 players on the field during the run of play. But what happens if a player gets injured or tired during a match? Since soccer games last 90 minutes in professional leagues, and the clock rarely stops, it makes sense that these same 11 players don't play the entire game.

Typically, a team has a goalkeeper, defenders, forwards, and midfielders on the field. On the bench are one or more backup players for each position who are ready to be substituted into the game whenever they are needed. Keep reading for all the rules of substitutions in soccer.

What is a Substitute in Soccer?

A substitute is a player who is brought into the game from the bench during the game. The substitute takes the place of one of the 11 players on the field, while the subbed-off player is removed for the rest of the game. Players who are about to come into the game via substitution may be found warming up along the touchlines out of the field of play.

How Many Substitutes are on a Bench?

Substitute players are available on the bench, with the number of available substitutes ranging from five to 12, depending on the league or tournament rules. At professional levels, substitutions are limited to a certain number per game, typically five (and six during extra time). However, in youth, collegiate, or international friendly matches, coaches have as many substitutions as they have players on their bench.

Can a Player Return to the Game After Substituting Out?

Outside of the lowest levels of competition, once a player is substituted out of a game, they may not return to play. This means that coaches must be very pointed and strategic with their substitutions. If a coach decides to substitute out their star player, that player is done playing for the rest of the match. Furthermore, if a substitution leads a coach to alter their formation, they may very well be stuck in this formation for the remainder of the game.

How Does a Substitution Work?

At professional levels, when a substitution occurs, the referee will hold up a sign that displays two numbers: the jersey number of the player going into the game and the number of the player coming off the field. The clock does not stop for substitutions. Once there is a dead ball, the referee will halt play and allow for the substitution(s) to happen. Once all players are ready, the referee will mark down how much time ran off the clock for the purposes of adding it as stoppage time and will subsequently resume play.

When Does a Substitution Happen in Soccer?

In soccer, teams are only allowed to make substitutions during a stoppage of play, which includes halftime. A stoppage also occurs if a foul or violation is called, the ball goes out of bounds, a goal is scored, or a player injury occurs on the field. During any of these instances, the coach can alert the official that they would like to make a player substitution. Each team gets only three substitution opportunities during a match, meaning that managers must make multiple substitutions at a time in order to use all five of their substitutions. They get a fourth opportunity and sixth possible substitution, though, during extra time.

Olympic Soccer Substitution Rules

As in most professional leagues, the Olympics only allows each side five substitutions per match. This means that most Olympic soccer players stay on the field for the entire 90-minute match, requiring them to maintain an impressive level of physical conditioning.

Soccer Substitution Rules Summary

  • In professional soccer, each team gets five substitutions in one game. An additional substitution is permitted in extra time, as well as an extra substitution opportunity.
  • Once a player has been substituted out of a game, they cannot re-enter the game.
  • In professional soccer, the clock does not stop for substitutions.
  • Substitutions may only be made during stoppages in play.
  • When a substitution occurs, the referee will hold up a sign showing the jersey numbers of the players going into and out of the game.
  • A player who has received a red card cannot be substituted back into the game.


Can a player who receives a red card be substituted?

No, a player who receives a red card cannot be substituted. Once a player receives a red card, they must immediately leave the pitch. The coach is not allowed to bring anyone in to replace them, and the team must play a player down for the remainder of the match. In the case that the player is suspended from the next game as well, the team is permitted to start the next match with a full 11-player roster.

How many substitutions are allowed in professional soccer?

In professional soccer, each team is permitted a total of five substitutions over the course of a game. This total is extended to six total substitutions in the event a game goes into extra time. This is meant to factor in the added strain of extended gameplay and allow coaches to get an extra set of fresh legs into the game.

Do substitutions stop the clock in soccer?

Substitutions do not stop the clock in professional soccer. The game clock never stops in a soccer game, except at the end of a half or match. Instead, referees keep track of how much time is taken up by matters such as substitutions, injuries, and other circumstances where play has stopped, and they use that measured time to determine how many minutes of stoppage time will be added onto each half. At lower levels of soccer, such as NCAA college soccer, the clock may stop for substitutions, but only during the last five minutes of a match.