How many players are on a soccer team?

Though soccer has grown exponentially in the United States over recent years, it has never been one of the historically ‘big three’ traditional sports played in America: 

  • American Football run by the (NFL), 
  • Basketball run by the (NBA
  • Baseball run by the (MLB

Therefore it is only natural that it can be a bit confusing for newcomers to understand it. The reason: Soccer is fundamentally a different sport to the three sports previously mentioned and indeed any other sport in the United States.

So in order to help people understand a game that might appear very alien to them at first, in this article I intend to break down the rudimentary basics of soccer as simply as possible. Thereby in doing so, I can hopefully help those who wish to follow the game and give them the greatest chance of enjoying it though first allowing them to understand how it works. 

The basics:

Well in this article we are going to concentrate on the traditional eleven aside game played in the amateur and professional leagues around the world.

(*Nb there are five aside, six aside and even seven aside versions of the game but these formats are not what is being referred to when someone asks you – ‘do you follow soccer?’) 

Not surprisingly given the format we are focusing on you will not be surprised to hear that eleven players comprise a full soccer team, plus the substitutes or ‘bench’. The full official rules of the game regarding this can be viewed here and particularly at rule 3 here 

Which as you can see might appear altogether a bit overwhelming for a newcomer. So for this reason I am going to try and simplify it as much as possible. 

So in answer to the first question: quite simply, ten outfield players plus a goalkeeper, (so eleven in total) comprise one soccer team and it takes two soccer teams to play a match. 

This leads us on to the next facet of soccer which can get slightly more complex though only occasionally.

How many players are on a soccer field?

Well considering there are eleven players on each team it stands to reason that there should be 22 players on a soccer field when a match starts and indeed no more than that are allowed according to the laws of the game. 

If you look more closely at Law 3 however you will see that it states that a minimum of seven players must be present to not only start the game but for the game to continue to a finish. Now you may be wondering why and how a team might start or even end up with less than seven players. Well here are some reasons that have caused this to happen.

  • Illness. Somewhat topically CoVid19 has seen quite a few games recently called off because a team could not field seven healthy players.
  • Injuries & red cards. Though it doesn’t occur often how many players are on a soccer field and indeed how many players are on a soccer team can be affected by this. For example if one side for some reason decides to use all its three (*see later) substitutes early in the game then receives two red cards and has three players who are injured to the extent they can’t take the pitch. It would mean they would have less than the seven required players and the game must be abandoned.
  • Mass brawls. Occasionally a mass brawl or fights have occurred in soccer leading to not enough players left on the pitch to continue the game. In this Brazilian derby for example between Vitoria and Bahia, ten players were sent off and 8 players were yellow carded forcing the games abandonment,

Other reasons outside of the above have also resulted in not enough players being present on the soccer field for the game to continue and/or the referee calling the game off. These have included: 

  • Some teams actually walking off the field of play and refusing to carry on for such things as racist abuse. See this recent game Champions League game between PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir in 2020.
  • The referee (under his discretion) declaring the pitch or other factors too dangerous to carry on.

Indeed two infamous tragedies Heysel and Hillsborough illustrate examples of when how many players are on a soccer team made absolutely no difference to whether the game even started let alone finished. Such was the seriousness of the circumstances that surrounded the events in question. The games did not even start let alone finish and you can view why at the previous hyperlinks. 

How many players are on a soccer team – on the substitute’s bench?

The answer to this differs from country to country and competition to competition but generally between 7 and 9 players are allowed to be named to sit on the substitute’s bench.

* Note however, in any ‘friendly’ matches’ played including international matches any amount of substitutes are permitted. With coaches often using this to its full potential by playing an entirely different side in each half in order to experiment and work out their best eleven.

How many players are allowed on the bench?

Traditionally only three players were allowed under the laws of the game to be substituted with three players on the pitch. With the advent of CoVid19 though, FIFA temporarily allowed this to be changed to five players and most countries and leagues around the world voted to adopt the change. The English Premier League however was the exception for not enough sides voted for its implementation. The poorer sides arguing it gave an advantage to the richer sides with bigger and better squads. To this date this has not changed and only three players are allowed to be substituted in the English Premier League. 

However, the outlook globally is that five players will continue to be allowed (due to increasing strains on a player’s health) and that the English Premier League will eventually gain enough votes also to effect this.

How many players are on a soccer team – and how do they set up ?

The above question is often asked but can never be definitively answered due to the varying nature of the game of soccer itself. Different managers employ different tactics and formations according to the players they have. The only constant is that they will all field eleven players if they can.

For a better understanding of how managers then set up the eleven players please check out my previous article about soccer formations and tactics.

In the meantime hopefully this has provided you with a rudimentary grasp of the game of soccer and will help you to further understand and enjoy it.