A question has arisen regarding USSF soccer games which specifically use UNLIMITED substitutions.


FIFA LOTG allow for modifications to the substitution law for youth, all women’s games and veteran’s games. In MA all U19 town travel soccer, most if not all premiere youth soccer, all women’s soccer and all O-30 soccer use Unlimited Substitutions.

In those games, as the referee, I am Not informed of who is starting the game nor who is starting the second half. During the game, at specific times, I will allow awaiting substitutes to replace players on the field, but I never record who enters or who leaves. I do have a roster, that I checked prior to the game, for both teams which provides me a list of players and numbers who are allowed to participate in that game.

Therefore, not knowing who will be asked by their team to start the 2nd half of the game, I always assume that once I blow my whistle to end the first half, and thereby start the half time interval, Everyone is a Substitute.

Question: During the half time interval, I need to dismiss a person on one of the teams who is in uniform and is on the roster for that game. For the start of the second half, I would allow that team to have eleven players on the field, as the person I dismissed, is by my definition, a Substitute.

I can find no place in the USSF position papers, ATR, etc. that differs from my assumption: During the half time interval, all people on the roster are considered Substitutes if the game is using an Unlimited Substitution rule.


{This is for Youth, Women’s games and Veterans games that specifically use Unlimited Subs.}

USSF answer (January 14, 2010):

This sort of situation is one of the reasons that the Laws of the Game forbid unlimited substitution. In point of fact, the modifications specified by the International F. A. Board permit modifications only for players through Under 16 (not Under 19), women, and “veteran” players, who are defined as over 35 (not Over 30). If the person sent off at halftime was a player at the end of the half — in other words, was on the field as a player and not on the bench in the role of substitute — the team plays short in the second half (or, in extra time, in the next period). If the person sent off was not a player at the end of the half, the team does not play short. If the officiating crew cannot determine that the person was in fact a player at the end of the period, then the team does not play short.

Your basic assumption, that during the halftime break every player/substitute on the team’s roster is considered to be a substitute, is clearly wrong. Every person who is officially a player at the end of the first half remains a player of record until officially substituted. And every referee, no matter in which competition he or she referees, should know what “officially substituted” means, because the process is described in Law 3 and is NOT subject to local rule variations (or a referee’s personal opinion). That includes permission of the referee AND entry onto the field of play. It is the referee’s JOB to know who was and was not a player of record (though this can be tricky in youth play with its standard exceptions to Law 3’s limited substitution rules). It is one of the reasons why we generally recommend knowing who was NOT a player at the end of the first half by identifying those persons in uniform who were on the bench, since this is usually a much smaller number.

This is not covered in the Laws because it would not be a problem in higher-level games. They KNOW who is in the game and who is not, because there is none of the constant shuttling of players in and out of the game that we see in competitions that permit it. We expect the referee and assistant referees (and fourth official, if there is one) to know who was in the game at the end of the half. Those who do not yet exercise due diligence in determining this fact ought to consider doing so.

Leave a Reply