Making the Case for Unlimited Substitutions in Soccer

By Sam Matthews

First, in full disclosure, I did not grow up a soccer fan. I follow soccer now, but I grew up watching football, basketball, and baseball (in that order). So, when watching and following soccer I sometimes compare it to the other sports I started following earlier in my life.

I enjoy soccer and the uniqueness it has. I like the fan base clubs have. I like the passion. I like the endurance and skill shown by the players. However, there is one aspect I think that soccer could improve by following after other sports – substitutions.

In soccer, only three substitutions can made the entire match. This requires an amazing level of endurance from players. But this also dilutes the quality of play we see on the pitch.

Think about it – because soccer players are going so long, they aren’t playing at quite as high of a level. To make a basketball comparison, it’s like asking LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Russell Westbrook to play all 48 minutes (and they would still even get the benefit of timeouts). Could they do it – of course! Would it show us all an amazing amount of physical prowess and endurance – yes. Would we be entertained by the same amount of high flying dunks, deep three-point shots, and explosive drives to the basket – probably not. The reason that coaches sub out even their best players during a game (even in games with huge stakes like the Finals), is so that they can perform better when they are in the game. This leads to more entertaining basketball for the viewers.

So while the endurance and stamina of soccer players is amazing, that’s not why I watch soccer. If endurance and stamina were what I wanted, I’d watch marathons instead. I watch soccer to see the best players in the world pass, dribble, and shoot the ball. And unlimited substitutions in soccer would allow me to watch a higher quality of that.


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