Simple question, do you have to have a goalkeeper to start a game? Or can you use the minimum seven players as on field players.

Why I ask, while watching a game last week, the keeper walked off the field (with permission by the ref) and the team refused to put a keeper in as there was 10 minutes to go. The referee refused to start the match until a keeper was put in. Is this correct?

USSF answer (July 1, 2009):
Simple answer: Yes, each team must have a designated goalkeeper on the field of play for the game to begin. However, that does not require that the goalkeeper be on the field the entire time nor present for every REstart.

While the team is required to have a goalkeeper, there is no requirement that that goalkeeper be on the field nor able to participate in play. (We could point to an October 2004 incident in an English Premier League match between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers in which the referee allowed the goalkeeper to lie on the ground unattended for well over a minute; the goalkeeper, who had fallen without any contact from either opponent or teammate, finally got up. Luckily for him and his team no goal was scored.)

The Law also allows the goalkeeper (or any other player) to leave the field during the course of play and if, after the restart (typically a throw-in), the goalkeeper has not returned and a goal is scored, life is hard.

While off the field with the permission of the referee, the goalkeeper (like any other player) is still a player for purposes of determining the number of players on the team (the ‘keeper in your scenario remains legally allowed to be on the field, though in this case he requires the referee’s permission to return).  We would consider this as comparable to the decision process the referee must go through if a team has only seven players and one leaves the field:  If the departure is very temporary and in the course of play (no referee permission required to re-enter), play continues.  If the departure is temporary and the player needs the permission of the referee to return, the referee should not restart play until the player has returned with permission. If the player (whether goalkeeper or not) is not ready to return when the restart is able to be taken, why should the game wait for this player? That is not fair to the other team. In the case of a goalkeeper who is not willing to return within a reasonable amount of time, the team should then either substitute in a new goalkeeper or the game would be abandoned and a full report submitted to the competition authority.

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