Saturday, November 7, 2015

Chp 23) Substitutions Needed

One of the biggest insults that FIFA and its brand of world soccer has imposed on fans is the limiting of how many players can play in a game.  The first official substitution didn't happen until the qualifying tournament for the 1954 World Cup.  A substitution didn't come to the regular club leagues until years later, starting in 1965.  Prior to the 1965 season, club games in the English Football Association had been played 90 minutes of scheduled time with the same 11 on 11 players from start to finish, excluding any expulsions.  It wasn't until the late 1980's that two substitutions were allowed to replace ailing players in a game.  FIFA finally relented on the maximum of two possible substitutions and raised it to three in the early 1990's, which it has stayed at since.

An MLS writer, Nate Sulat, spent some time on the issue of substitutions in his 2014 article, 'The Quirky Rules Sometimes Used in the American Game.'

FIFA’s Laws of the Game say explicitly that only three substitutes are allowed “in any match played in an official competition organized under the auspices of FIFA.” But in international friendlies, you’re allowed up to six. And in any non-FIFA match, the number of substitutes depends on whatever the teams agree to before the match.

None of this really explains why USL PRO, the official third division of professional soccer in the US, allows its teams five substitutions.

“Since the inception of the league and the forerunners of USL PRO dating back to 1993, the number of substitutes has been at five consistently,” USL president Tim Holt told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a topic that comes up for discussion on occasion, but there’s been no movement to make any adjustments to that rule at this stage.”
But five substitutions for an official, competitive match is still, technically, a breach of the Laws of the Game, bringing up the question of how the league got away with it.
“I made the rule,” Francisco Marcos, the USL’s founder and first president, told MLSsoccer.com. “FIFA looked the other way. FIFA will look the other way whenever it is convenient to look the other way.”
In fairness, there was good reason to do so: Marcos made the argument that soccer at the minor-league level could not grow in the US without more substitutions to offset the travel.
“The request was, ‘Let’s do what is reasonable,’” Marcos says. “Which is not as good as what some of the coaches wanted. They said, ‘We have 18 players. Let me use all seven, at least in the second game [of the road trip].’ I said, ‘Look, let’s not tempt the gods too much.’”
College soccer is notorious for using different rules than the professional game.
“College soccer has always permitted enhanced substitutions in addition to those limited substitution rules under the FIFA laws,” NCAA soccer secretary-rules editor Ken Andres told MLSsoccer.com. “The rationale is quite simple. The purpose of the rule is to permit enhanced participation by student athletes.
Andres said that the NCAA routinely surveys schools to see if they are interested in changing the rules of the college game, including substitutions and the game clock, but at the moment, the majority of college soccer programs are on board with how things are.
I started writing about the idea of 'subs' in 2009.  The topic intertwines with two other elements of soccer rules needing change, red cards and timeouts, both of which will be addressed in subsequent chapters.  My first foray into the topic was the sixth part of a series of articles, 'Americanizing Soccer for the U.S. Sports Fan, part 6.'

Pro Soccer’s greatest obstacle in the busy American sports calendar is figuring out how not to get lost in the shuffle. With the other pro team sports so entrenched in the American sports fan’s consciousness, pro soccer, even in the height of its season, receives little or no time being in the mainstream spotlight. Soccer must expand its schedule in order to gain a bigger presence with American sports fans. A greater amount of games will maintain a higher profile for soccer and keep the busy sports fan entertained with more soccer highlights.

The best way to give fans more matches in a season is to allow for unlimited substitutions throughout each match, including being able to re-enter a game as many times as needed. By providing for this caveat to the ‘beautiful game’, coaches will be able to manage the time each player spends on the field and project ahead to play a fuller schedule of games.

Coaches will have to use their players not just according to who should rest, but also for strategy purposes. Coaches will substitute to counter the efforts of their opponent.

A typical roster consists of 22-25 players. By allowing for substitutions, more players will get playing time and there will be fewer injuries due to players who end up staying on the field too long and over-extending themselves. As it is now with only 3 substitutions per game, a maximum of 14 players are allowed to play, leaving 8+ players on the bench with no hope of playing (Soccer is the only team sport that purposely disallows participation from all players).  Additionally, the players who do play are forced to play till their bodies are spent and playing another game two days later becomes a more difficult chore to bear.

The idea behind substitutions is to keep players as fresh as possible in order to provide for more matches. This puts pro Soccer on the sports radar more frequently, which leads to additional time on center stage in the U.S. sports world, where it belongs.

Of course, I was talking about Americanized soccer that could be on center stage more frequently. Soccer from all over the world is all over the cable channels, but, Americanized soccer is the best opportunity for soccer to hurdle the 'Big 3' as America's favorite spectator sport.

Often, purists argue that the game of soccer should stay the way it is because it is uninterrupted play. This style of uninterrupted play, they argue, gives it the quality of being distinct and different from the others (the 'Big 3'), baseball, American football and basketball.  These purists very much like to theorize about the game staying true to its roots, without acknowledging actual changes that have already occurred.  The whole act of substituting in soccer pauses the game each time. The purists, once again, are on the side of a losing argument.

There are plenty of reasons for why subbing is an important part of the game that should be allowed for at any time.  As it stands now, once a player is subbed for, that player is not allowed to come back into the game.  Under Americanizing rules, all players can be subbed for and are allowed to re-enter the game.

Why would fans want to watch exhausted players?  It makes no sense.  The way FIFA has structured soccer with its rules of only allowing for three substitutions, it has purposely limited coaching strategies and best potential play on the field.  These limitations only punish the fans.  Soccer, unfortunately, is innately limited in scope for what can be accomplished by one team versus another team on the field of play.

Sports fans all over the world would prefer to see coaches be able to use all the players on their bench, not just three.  With unlimited substituting, coaching would be let loose and the play on the field would thrive.  Throughout matches, fans don't have to see tired athletes, instead, they can see the strategies put in place by coaches that best serve the talent of their players.

Not only is the potential best play limited, but also the amount of games (matches) is curtailed by the substitution rules of FIFA.  The entire reason that soccer is generally a one match a week kind of sport (during a season, teams will play twice a week a few times), is due to the restriction for how many players can play in a game.

The whole idea of only subbing three players and players not allowed to go back in to play again is inane or insane, depending on which adjective you prefer.  There's just no common sense to it.  It's like a rule that's stuck from 100 years back and nobody ever decided to do anything about it, except to allow for two subs, that eventually became three subs.

While baseball has too many games in its regular season, a total of 162.  Soccer is the opposite.  It has too few games, averaging 36.  One of the biggest reasons soccer can't make inroads on the American casual sports fan scene is because the game kicks off so infrequently.  I think soccer should have a schedule of roughly 60 games or so.  While it's true the NFL only plays once a week, it's also true they allow for substitutions.  Can you imagine an NFL game that didn't allow for subs?

All three of the 'Big 3' allow teams to empty their benches as needed.  Only baseball does not allow for a player to come back into play.  But, the reasoning for this in baseball makes sense.  If players were allowed to come back into a game at any time, baseball managers would constantly try to match up right handed or left handed pitchers and batters against each other.  The game would be stalled-out constantly and strategy would be taken away from managers.

I think basketball is the best representative for a comparison of how unlimited and unimpeded re-entry for substitutions bring the most out of every contest.  The NBA play 82 regular season games and though there have been calls to scale back the season by a little, for the most part, the league has been successful with its schedule for years.  Coaches in basketball have every right to sub who they want and as often as they want to.

I know some people will want to argue that the NFL is the most popular sport and teams only play once a week, so soccer should keep to its format.  I disagree.  I think the sport's schedule with American sports fans will remain stifled in part for not allowing for more subs or for players not being allowed re-entry.  More games and a variety of more players getting the chance to play in those games would only mean more revenue and marketing potential with the casual sports fans.

Substituting players comes directly from rule #4 from the Americanizing rules for soccer, and it is stated in the following way:

IV. Substituting players is permissible; 
a. Players may be substituted for during any timeout or at the end of a half or overtime.
b. Players may render the game as many times as needed by their respective team.
c. A player that is injured on the field during game action and must receive care on the field must be substituted for immediately.
d. The only time an injured player is allowed to re-enter a game is if the injury happened in the first half;  The player re-enters only for the second half after the under 20-minute mark.
e. A player who receives a Red card must leave the game immediately and must be substituted for immediately.  The penalty for a player who receives a Red card will be issued by league administration after the game is completed.  League officials will determine the length of suspension depending on the severity of the foul.  Also, suspension will result in loss of pay for player.


Then, there's more common sense from the Slate's Cork Gaines, writing in 2014 'Scary World Cup Head Injuries Show Why Soccer Needs to Change.'
During the first half of Argentina's semifinals match, Javier Mascherano was wobbled and appeared to suffer a head injury when his head collided with a Dutch player while both attempted a header. Mascherano momentarily left the pitch but quickly returned.
A similar scene occurred during Uruguay's win over England at the World Cup as Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Pereira was injured when his head collided with the knee of an English player. Even though he appeared to be momentarily unconscious, Pereira remained in the game, in large part because FIFA's antiquated substitution rules do not allow teams enough time to properly evaluate players for concussions. This particular case is a perfect example. It was clear to anybody with access to a replay just moments after the collision that the contact with Pereira's head was not only severe but that he was clearly out of it as he laid on the pitch:
Pereira was able to get up and walk off the field, but he was clearly woozy and a person who appeared to be the team doctor immediately signaled to the sideline that a substitute was needed:
But once Pereira saw the signal for a substitute he immediately argued that he was staying in the game, saying no to both the doctor and to the coaches:
After the match, the team doctor signed a statement saying he had completed a full neurological examination before allowing Pereira to return.
And here is where soccer has its biggest problem when it comes to head injuries.
The team's manager must make a decision right now, and he has three choices.
  1. He can insert a substitute and lose one of his best players for the rest of the match. In soccer, once a player is replaced by a substitute he cannot re-enter the game.
  2. He can have the player evaluated for a concussion. But this forces a team to play with only 10 players until the evaluation is complete. According to the NFL, a proper concussion evaluation takes a minimum of eight minutes and includes a test where a player must recall a specific word five minutes later.
  3. He can just trust his player and put him back in the game at the next dead ball.
The Uruguayan manager opted for the third option, reinserting Pereira without a proper concussion evaluation. Most managers would make the same decision.
Former American national team member and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman was one who expressed his concern with how FIFA handles head injuries, saying "Any questions about Perriera being unconscious?! This has to stop FIFA."
While this particular injury was a freak accident, head injuries are not rare in soccer. Concussions are actually a huge problem because of headers in general and especially when two opposing players attempt to head the ball at the same time:
The simple solution is that FIFA is going to have to allow special temporary substitutions when a head injury is suspected, something already being tested in Rugby. Allow teams to enter a substitute while the injured player is tested along with a time limit on the return of the player (e.g. if the player is not cleared to return in 12 minutes, he cannot return).
To minimize abuse of the rule, these substitutions could count toward the allotted three substitutes. Another possibility is to give each team one such concussion substitution per match. Teams will still abuse the rule, but this is a risk FIFA must take for the safety of the players.
Like the NFL, a concussion crisis is coming to FIFA and the sport of soccer. Changes will have to be made that will affect the tradition of the sport. But those changes must be made.

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