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How Many Soccer Players Are On The Field? Guide To Professional And Youth Soccer Games

Knowing how many soccer players are on the field is a fundamental rule that fans and coaches need to be aware of. If we compare soccer to other sports such as basketball and football, it has different rules and the number of players allowed on the field at any one time.

There are 11 players in a standard soccer match meaning that 22 players will be on the soccer field at any one time. As there are different soccer formations it’s not easy to give an exact number of defenders, midfielders, and strikers. But the 11 players are usually broken up into:

3-4 defenders

3-4 midfielders

1-3 strikers

1 goalie

But, there are certain situations when there are fewer than 11 players in a soccer match. Here’s why.

Why Would There Be Fewer Than 22 Players On A Soccer Field?

Red Card

The most common reason that a team is playing with less than 11 players is that a player has received a red card.

When a player commits a foul they will either receive a yellow card or a red card. A yellow card acts as a warning meaning if they receive another yellow card receives a red card. At this point, the player must immediately leave the game.

This is why you might hear the commentator saying that a team is down to 10 men because one of the players has received a red card.

This is different from other sports like basketball, where if a player fouls out, then another player will enter the game, balancing out the teams. In soccer, if a player receives a red card they are not allowed to be replaced by a substitute.

If a team continues to lose players because of red cards, they risk forfeiting a game. If they can only field up to 6 players, or get more than 4 red cards, the match is abandoned and the win goes to the opposing team.

This doesn’t mean that a total of 4 reds will stop a game. Each team can be shown up to 4 red cards until they can no longer field a team of 7, meaning in theory you can have a soccer match of 7 vs 7!

Age

Age is another factor that will change the number of players. Here is a breakdown of the number of players per team in the different age categories:

Under 6 teams – 3

Under 8 teams – 4

Under 10 teams – 7

Under 12 teams – 9

Anyone over 12 – 11

They do this so youth soccer teams have a reduced number of players relative to the size of the pitch. A 5-year-old is not expected to run the length of a full-sized pitch and shoot at regular-sized goals with only 3 players on their team, so the number of players per team changes.

This also means that any player over the age of 12 will play on regular-sized pitches with regular-sized goals. This is something you need to be aware of, especially when you have 12-year-old players entering middle school.

Soccer Formats

You might also play other types of soccer games. I enjoy playing indoor soccer and in these types of games, you will have 5 or 6 players per team. In more official formats indoor soccer has 6 players per team.

There also might be tournament-style matches where teams from the local area will compete over a day. These are usually played on smaller pitches and will only be 5 or 6-a-side.

Some pitches only cater for smaller games, and may only have room for 8-a-side. You find this on artificial pitches or fields with reduced space for a full-sized pitch.

How Many Players Are There On A Soccer Team?

Now that we know how many players can be on the field at any one time, it’s also worth noting how many inactive players are on each side.

With players warming up next to the pitch along the sideline, there are as many as 12 players on the bench ready to enter the game in case of a substitution.

To avoid confusion for one of the players on the field, a substitute will need to wear colors that are not the same as their team. In other words, a substitute has to keep their jacket on or wear a different top if they plan to warm up or move about the pitch along the side.

What Happens If There Are More Than 22 Players On The Field?

There are certain circumstances when a team wants to bring on another player and make a substitution. To avoid any confusion, like a substitute coming on the pitch without replacing another player, there are rules to ensure this does not happen.

According to IFAB rules, the referee needs to be notified of a substitution before it happens.  At this stage, a player swap occurs during a stoppage in play under the guidance of the referee. They can only do this once the player that is exiting the game has left the field of play.

If a player that has exited the game through a red card or a substitution renters the game, then the referee will stop the game and ask for the player to leave the pitch. Any appropriate disciplinary action will go to the offending player. The play then restarts as a free kick or penalty to the non-offending team.

You might also see coaching staff or officials enter the field of play. In this instance, the game stops, and a free kick or penalty goes to the non-offending team.

What Happens If There’s A Goal With An Extra Player On The Field?

With the above information, it should come as no surprise that gaining an advantage by having an extra player on the field is not allowed. If a goal is scored with an extra player, then the goal is disallowed with play returning via a free kick.

Having extra players on the field not only comes from players but also from fans! If a fan tries to enter the game, the game is immediately stopped and play will only resume once the fan is ejected from the field, and likely the stadium or immediate area.

What Other Soccer Rules Are Misunderstood?

Knowing how many players there are on a soccer field is important for fans and coaches to know. But there are plenty of other rules in soccer that aren’t always clearly defined.

Here’s a guide on how long a soccer game should last for MLS Games, college matches, and tournaments.

A sports bag lying on grass with items in it
A soccer player holding a large sweeper
Two soccer players battling for the ball
The letters FC on a grass field
a soccer player striking a ball
A person being applied a bandage by another person with sterile gloves