Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

April 5, 2021 — A major change in American soccer

This morning, it was announced that a number of soccer leagues in the United States, including the NWSL, MLS, the National Independent Soccer Association, and the United Soccer Leagues, will be participating in a pilot program to manage in-competition head injuries.

Under the rules, teams will still be allowed to substitute up to five players in three distinct windows. But the rules here in the U.S. will allow up to two concussion substitutions for players suspected of having received a concussion.

These two substitutes are can occur whenever a concussion occurs or is suspected, even after a player has been assessed and has returned to the field of play (similar to the James Rodriguez situation during the 2014 World Cup).

Under the regulations, whenever a concussion substitute is used by one team, the opposing team is allowed an additional substitute in addition to its original five.

Concussions have become a going concern in worldwide soccer because of not only some high-profile players having received them in World Cup tournaments, but also because of repeated head traumas by former players who have died from dementia brought on by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The players who have come out as having post-concussion syndrome, such as former England internationals Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, played soccer with a heavy leather ball and, until the mid-60s, no substitutes except for an injury to a goalkeeper.

Today’s game comes with a much lighter soccer ball, but one which goes faster. Too, the caliber of athlete contesting for header is a lot better, meaning that any collision between players is likely to be more injurious to the heads of the players. I have seen players running headlong into goalposts, players lowering their heads for a header only to be met by an opposing boot. and players jumping into each other for headers, all of which have led to some nasty injuries.

The new substitution rule is a great idea for pro teams to manage head injuries. Let’s see how quickly these become written into the universal Laws of the Game.

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