What are the MLS substitution rules and are they different to the other leagues?

What are the MLS substitution rules and are they different to the other leagues?

Steve Njuguna
November 21, 2023 at 5:07 AM

Soccer, known as football in most parts of the world, has evolved into a global phenomenon, captivating the hearts of millions. This is no different in North America, as the MLS combines the United States and Canada to provide a high-quality league. This article looks at the rules involving substitutions in the MLS and how they differ from those in other leagues.

MLS Substitution Rules
The 2023 season MLS ball. Photo by MLS
Source: Getty Images

Major League Soccer, established in 1993, marked the United States' ambitious foray into professional soccer. Unlike many other football leagues worldwide, MLS operates on a single-entity structure, meaning the league owns all the teams, and player contracts are held by the league rather than individual clubs. The protocols and the way soccer substitutions are done in the MLS also have a few unique points.

How many substitutions are allowed in the MLS?

The rules governing in-game substitutions in the main MLS league for the 2023 season is similar to that of the EPL. During a game, teams can make a maximum of five normal substitutions strategically spaced across three opportunities. These substitutions can occur during halftime match delays and during intervals such as cooling and/or drink breaks.

The rules governing substitutions in the MLS
Valentin Castellanos (no.11) of New York City FC claps for fans as he is subbed out in a match against the Inter Miami CF on July 23, 2022. Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis
Source: Getty Images

Concussion substitutions in the MLS

MLS subscribes to IFAB's head injury protocol as a means to safeguard players. This measure permits teams to execute a maximum of two concussion substitutions in a match, enabling the replacement of players with confirmed or suspected concussions, irrespective of the number of regular substitutions already made.

The main place where it differs from the EPL and other top leagues is the provision where, should a team opt for a concussion substitution, the opposing team will be granted an extra substitution and corresponding opportunity. This is not practised in other parts of the world; the affected team just gets the chance to do concussion substitutions while the opponent does not.

What are the substitution rules in the MLS All-Star game?

The MLS All-Star Game sees the best players from the League face off against an invitational team. A 28-man roster is selected, and all the best players are incorporated. There are unlimited MLS player substitutions so that every player can get a chance to play. The 2023 All-Star game saw Arsenal play against the MLS All-Stars and win 5-0.

Ian Murphy
Ian Murphy (32) of FC Cincinnati controls the ball during the second half of a MLS soccer match against Atlanta United at TQL Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo by Jeff Dean
Source: Getty Images

What are the MLS Next substitution rules?

MLS Next is the junior version of MLS that incorporates various academies into a league consisting of age groups from 13 to 19 years of age. The subbing rules for the players in the U13 & U14 youth setups: each team has unlimited subs that can be executed over three moments in every half. The children can also be allowed to re-enter after having already been subbed. The protocol is similar with the U15-U19 age groups, though the players, once subbed, are not allowed back in.

What are the MLS Next Pro substitution rules?

MLS Next Pro is a feeder league affiliated with the MLS and is considered to be the third tier of men's soccer in the United States. Their subbing rules mirror those of the MLS, and the league also follows the IFAB concussion protocols.

MLS Next Pro
MLS Next Pro shirt logo during a game between Minnesota Utd 2 and St Louis City 2 at Robert R. Hermann Stadium on April 24, 2022, in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos
Source: Getty Images

What are the MLS Fantasy substitution rules?

As part of the weekly MLS Fantasy game, every player is entitled to a squad of 15 players, 11 starters and four players on the bench. The starters can be substituted at any time as long as the matchday has not begun. Every new week, there is a chance to refresh your fifteen-man squad with different players. Ultimately, the best fantasy football experts have the intuition to make the right substitutions in a timely manner.

What are the MLS yellow card suspension rules?

According to the current MLS rulebook, any player who gets three consecutive yellow cards will be rendered ineligible for their next MLS match. This differs from the EPL version of this rule, which penalises players after they accumulate five yellow cards.

Ted Unkel
MLS referee Ted Unkel brandishes a yellow card during a match in the 2023 season. Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI
Source: Getty Images

What are the MLS red card suspension rules?

For every MLS player or coach who gets a red card, they automatically get suspended for the next MLS match. The suspension may be longer depending on the severity of the offence.

With the recent addition of Lionel Messi to the League after he signed for Inter Miami, the MLS has seen more and more fans thronging to learn more about the teams and players. The rules are almost similar to those of other leagues, with some slight differences.

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Steve Njuguna
Sports Facts Writer
Lionel Messi