How Many Soccer Players on the Field?

The official rules of soccer state that a game should be played by two teams, and each team should have a maximum of 11 players on the field. One of the 11 players on each team must be a goalkeeper. Therefore, there will be a maximum total of 22 players on the field at once.

It is important to note that 11 players per team is the maximum number of players allowed, and there are situations where there may be fewer players on the field, which we will cover in this article. For example, youth games will often play with smaller fields and fewer players.

Image showing 11 players in a soccer

There are 11 players on a soccer team. Photo credit: Alan Levine

Minimum number of players

There are sometimes situations where a soccer team may have less than 11 players on the field. This can happen when a player receives a red card and is sent off, or if a player is injured and there is no substitute available to take their place. Play can continue if players leave the field, however, a team must have a minimum of 7 players on the field for the game to continue.

If a team is reduced to 6 players, the referee will end the game. If this happens, the specific competition rules will decide the outcome of the game. Some competitions will use the score line at the time of the abandonment to determine the winner, while others will replay the game at a later date.

"The Board may order a League Match which for whatever reason lasts for less than 90 minutes to count as a completed fixture or to be replayed either partially or in its entirety."

- English Premier League rules regarding abandonment of a game.

Although it is very rare for a game to be abandoned because a team has fewer than 7 players, it does happen occasionally. For example, in November 2022, an incredible ten players were sent off in the final of the Champions Trophy in Argentina. The game between Boca Juniors and Racing Club went into extra time because regular time ended with the score at 1-1. Racing Club scored in the 118th minute to make the score 2-1, and the subsequent celebration caused a mass brawl. The referee proceeded to send off five players from Boca Juniors and two players from Racing Club. This was in addition to three other players that had already been sent off earlier in the game. This meant that the game was abandoned because Boca only had four players left on the field.

How many substitutions are allowed in soccer?

The number of substitutes is very much dependent on the competition and the level of the game being played, and the rules may change over time. As of 2023, the general rules for substitutions in senior soccer are:

  • Each team is permitted to make a maximum of 5 substitutions per game.
  • Each team has a maximum of three opportunities to make substitutions during the game.
  • Half-time can be used as an additional substitution opportunity.
  • The number of available substitutes can range from 3 to 15 per team and must be specified in the competition rules.
Image showing 11 players in a soccer
Crystal Palace substitutes warming up.

If the game goes into extra time, teams will be able to use any remaining substitutions and substitution opportunities. Some competitions will also allow an extra substitution during extra time.

Once a player has been substituted off the field, they are not permitted to return to the field again. There are sometimes exceptions to this rule when considering youth, veterans, disabilities, and grassroots soccer.

Number of allowed substitutes in the major leagues of soccer
LeagueMaximum number of substitutionsMaximum substitutes on the bench
Premier League59
Serie A515
La Liga512

International games

In senior international soccer, a maximum of 6 substitutions may be used.

Friendly games

In a friendly soccer game, a greater number of substitutions may be used if both teams agree on the number before the start of the game, and the referee is informed.

Concussion substitutes

The use of concussion substitutes is being trialed in a number of competitions, including MLS, in an attempt to prioritize player safety. The trial allows for the use of two additional substitutes to replace any player that is suffering from a suspected concussion, even if the team has already used all of its permitted substitutes.

"The IFAB strongly believes that, where there is any doubt about a player having been concussed, the player should be protected by being permanently removed from the match and, to facilitate this, the player's team should not suffer a numerical disadvantage as a result of prioritizing the player's welfare."

- IFAB: Background to the Concussion Substitutes trial

The team doctors will be responsible for making the diagnosis and decision to use a concussion substitute, as opposed to one of the 'normal' allocated substitutions. The referee has no input in the decision-making process.

Image showing an injured soccer
Extra substitutions may be allowed for soccer players suffering from a concussion.

Impact on the Game

The number of players on the field is a crucial factor that greatly affects the dynamics of a soccer game. Having 11 players on the field creates a balance between offense and defense, as the team is able to maintain a solid defense while still having enough players to push forward and create scoring opportunities.

Losing a player or multiple players puts the team at a big disadvantage. The players will now have to work much harder and run further to try to compensate for the missing player(s). The team has suddenly lost the balance between attack and defense, and will instead make tactical substitutions to primarily focus on defense in order to try and salvage something from the game or to avoid a humiliating defeat.

Too many players on the field

Only the 11 players that are officially named on the team list are allowed on the field of play. On very rare occasions, a team may accidentally put more than 11 players on the field, or a substitute may enter the field before the substituted player exits.

If a player enters the field of play without the referee's permission, the referee can wait until play stops (unless the player is interfering with play), and then caution the player and remove them from the field. The game will then be restarted with a free-kick.

An example of a referee realizing that a soccer team has too many players on the field.

If a goal is scored while an extra player is on the field, then the goal must be disallowed if the extra player is on the team that scored the goal. However, the goal will be allowed if the extra player was on the team that conceded the goal.

If the referee only realizes that there was an extra player after the goal was scored and play has already been restarted, then the goal can no longer be disallowed.

How many players for youth games?

The format of soccer games for youth players is different from that of adult or professional players. Youth soccer games often have smaller playing fields and smaller teams, with games being shorter in duration. The rules and regulations are also adjusted to suit the developmental needs of young players, with an emphasis on skill development, teamwork, and fair play.

Recommended number of players for each age group in soccer.
Age groupFormat
Under-1611 v 11
Under-1411 v 11
Under-129 v 9
Under-107 v 7
Under-85 v 5

Most football associations advise that the youngest players start with 5 v 5 games, but there's evidence to show that other formats can be better for younger players. Formats like 2 v 2, 3 v 3, or playing with an uneven number of players can help kids develop their offensive and defensive skills faster. These smaller formats are recommended because they can make playing soccer a positive and fun experience for kids that is more about play than the competition.

Kids will get better at soccer by playing. In the early stages, the focus should be on helping each player improve, not just on winning games. This means that during a game or over several games, every player on the team should have the chance to start, come off the bench, or be substituted. The goal should be to give each player a similar amount of playing time. But, this should be done in a way that helps the players improve, not just because of a strict time limit.

Alternate formats

In addition to the 11-player format, soccer has also seen the introduction of smaller-sided games, such as 5-a-side and 7-a-side. These smaller formats are not only used for younger players and are often used for more casual/informal games for adults. They provide players with an opportunity to develop their skills and learn the sport in a less intense and more enjoyable environment.

Image showing a number of small soccer

Small soccer fields used for 5-side games | flickr photo by Soft Surfaces Ltd shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

5-a-side and 7-a-side soccer include smaller fields, smaller goals, and reduced game duration. Because of the smaller fields, the games can also sometimes be played indoors.

The history of the number of players used in soccer

Soccer has been played for over 150 years and has undergone several changes over the years, including the number of players on the field. The early versions of soccer involved as many as 20 players per side, and the rules were not standardized, making it difficult for the sport to gain popularity and spread.

In the late 1800s, the number of players was reduced to 11 per side, and the rules were standardized, helping to increase the popularity of the sport and making it easier for players and fans to understand. This 11-player format became the standard for the sport and is still used today.


Is there a maximum number of players that can be sent off in soccer?

The rules state that a team must have a minimum of 7 players on the field for a game to continue. This means that if a team received 5 red cards it would result in the game being abandoned.