Each soccer team has 11 players on the field, consisting of a goalkeeper and ten other players which are referred to as ‘outfield players’. The outfield players are a mixture of defensive and offensive players.
On the substitutes bench, a team can have between five and seven players. The coach can use between 3 and 5 of these subs depending on the particular league regulations.
You might think that soccer is a game played only by teams of eleven players. That’s true of games played by most adult teams – but there are also other variants played with teams of different sizes, as we explain in this article.
Soccer has always been conceived and played as a team sport. In most instances, it is played on a large field around 110 yards long and 70 yards wide – that’s nearly 8,000 square yards, so a pretty big area.
The best soccer teams are those which make the most of all that available space, and whose players can move into the right spaces on the pitch to allow themselves to receive the ball and either pass it to a team-mate effectively, or take chances to score goals created by the team-work of their colleagues.
With such a large amount of space to cover, it cannot be a surprise that many younger players who are learning the game will do so on a small version of a full-sized pitch – often one which is half the size of a full pitch – and in these games, the number of players on a soccer team can vary, as we explain later.
In theory, a game of soccer can be played on a pitch which is pretty much any size, provided it is rectangular, and where the various sectors of the pitch – the two halves, the touchlines and the penalty areas for example – are proportionately smaller than on a full-sized soccer pitch.
As this suggests, the question of how many players are on a soccer team can vary, the most important proviso for this being that both teams start a game with the same number of players on the pitch.
How Many Players Start A Soccer Game For Each Team?
Within the constraints of the size of the pitch being used, most commonly a soccer team will have 11 players on the pitch at any one time.
Those 11 soccer team players will be arranged on the pitch in one of a number of formations that are commonly employed by a soccer team manager, basically covering three territorial areas and functions – defense, midfield and attack.
The defense nearly always consists of five or six players – a goalkeeper, and a defensive line of four or five, arranged in a formation intended to cover the whole width of the pitch.
Ahead of the defensive line is the midfield. Again, they will usually be arranged in a line consisting of two to five players depending on the formation being played. Finally, a third rank of players have the job of playing the furthest up the field, receiving the ball from their team-mates playing further back, and creating or taking the chances to score a goal created by themselves and their colleagues. You might often find the formations adopted by a team expressed as a series of numbers, reflecting the number of players in the defensive, midfield and forward lines respectively, commonly 4-3-3, or a more defensive formation of 5-3-2. In the first of these, the three forward players will usually comprise one centre forward, whose job is to stay in the central section of the pitch and try to get into position to take the scoring chances created by their team, while the other two forward players might be called wingers or wide players, whose job is to use the full width of the pitch to move the ball quickly upfield, so that the ball can be passed into the middle for another player to collect and head or kick the ball towards the goal.
In addition, a manager of a team playing in one of the elite league – the English Premier League, Serie A in Italy, or Germany’s Bundesliga for example – is allowed to name between five and seven substitutes, of whom three or five, depending on the regulations of the particular league, can be introduced during the course of a game.
These regulations were changed during the 2020-21 soccer season in many countries, because the COVID-19 pandemic saw many squads weakened as players were forced to isolate, and the number of substitutions allowed in all major leagues was increased to five during the course of any senior-level game.
What Other Team Sizes Are There In Soccer Apart From 11-A-Side?
Variations on the standard 11-a-side game are also played regularly, the most common variant being five-a-side soccer, which is usually played on a court, either indoors or outdoors, used for basketball. Occasionally, matches are also played between teams of six or seven-a-side, often as training exercises for the players who comprise a full squad of 11-a-side soccer players.
Also, younger teams often vary how many players are on a soccer team, because they are not sufficiently physically mature to play on a full-sized pitch, and that means there is not enough room to accommodate 22 players on the pitch at once.
Having fewer players per side in a game of soccer helps hone individuals’ skills in a number of ways. Principally, it helps players to concentrate on their own positioning on the field, rather than having to mark an opposing player. Smaller-sided games of soccer also tend to be played at a faster pace, because players do not have to sprint as far, yet still have to find the space on the pitch to outmaneuver their opponents.
Playing in a game with fewer players on each side also allows participants to hone skills such as dribbling with and close control of the ball, accurate passing and being able to find space on the pitch where it is at a premium.
How Many Players Can A Soccer Club Have In Its Squad?
The 11 players who comprise a set of soccer team players at the start a soccer game for an elite or senior-level team, together with those chosen at the start of each game to act as substitutes, are of course those whom we see most often, and get to know about. But they are only a part of the story.
This is because, in the course of every soccer season in every league, players will suffer injuries which will leave them unable to play. Whether it’s just for a single game, or many more, this leaves the team manager with the problem of having to replace the incapacitated player with someone else who can perform the same role for their team.
Often, one of the players who performs the role of a substitute can act as a direct replacement on a temporary basis. But as the pro soccer season has become so crowded, and players are expected to regularly play more than 50 games over a season typically lasting for nine months, and sometimes as many as three in a week, the biggest soccer teams now have players who might not be a manager’s first choice to play every game, but who they know can step into a position on the pitch at short notice – whether it be just for a portion of a single match, or a number of games, until the injured player is fit enough to play again.
A maximum squad size in a competition such as the English Premier League is 30 players, although alongside this the major teams also have separate squads which play in competitive leagues at under-23-year-olds and under-19-year-olds levels, as well as in the club’s academy, which is for players under 18 years of age, who are hoping to get the chance to move into one of the senior squads.
There are time windows during a season during which players can be transferred into and out of a team’s senior squad, so that players who are suffering a long-term injury preventing them from playing, or have been sold or loaned to another team can be replaced. In the case of most of the major European leagues, this means that, barring emergency loan transfers to cover for player shortages, players cannot move from one team to another later than roughly halfway through a season.
Starting out deputizing for a more senior player is how many players become a part of a senior squad, when they are called up to stand in for an injured player, and then when they get their chance, proving that they can play a valuable part in the first-choice squad.
As we have shown in this article, while we are well used to soccer being a game contested between two teams of 11 players each, there are variations on this formula, and good reasons for those variations to be commonly used. But most games you see will be 11-a-side.