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How SRFC is affected by USL's move to 3 substitutions

USL Sub: 5 OUT, 3 IN.

Indomitable City Soccer/Alex Leguizamo

USL confirmed on Saturday that they will be moving from allowing five substitutions per game, as they have done since before Republic FC joined the league, to the international standard of three substitutions per game.

The rule, which routinely confuses more seasoned soccer fans when they first dip their toes into the world of USL, is a product of the league’s history. In a press release, USL President Jake Edwards called it a “legacy rule that goes back for many years” when the league was much smaller than the 31 teams it has slated for 2017. The rule was designed to make things easier on teams that, because of the smaller league and shorter season, endured difficult schedules that often called for multi-game road trips or for teams to play multiple games in a just a few days, sometimes even two games in as many days.

Although the USL has changed significantly since the Republic first joined in 2014, the team did get a taste of unpleasant schedules in its inaugural year. The third and fourth games of the Republic’s 2014 season were back-to-back games, the first against Orange County Blues on April 12th and the second against LA Galaxy II on April 13th.

USL’s move to conform with the international standard of three subs per game is one that many fans have been looking forward to and expecting. It is undoubtedly a net positive for everyone. For those fans new to the league it is simply less confusing. For those more seasoned USL fans, it is one less thing to explain to those new fans that come around with every crop of expansion teams. Most importantly, the league benefits in the court of public perception by finally falling in line with the rest of the world and giving American clubs the same opportunities as the rest of the world not allowing nearly half of each team’s starting lineup to be subbed out.

Of course, this rule change does have a very real impact on both the managers and players in USL. But how would it change things for, for example, Paul Buckle and Sacramento Republic?

In the simplest terms, it gives Buckle less flexibility with his substitutions. Of course, the five substitutes rule was a global anomaly that gave Buckle an unusual flexibility with subs, but a return to normalcy after enjoying a surplus still generally feels like a loss.

And Buckle certainly was taking advantage of his surplus subs in 2016. In the 30 regular season games this season, he used four or more substitutes 20 times.

With the international standard three substitutions rule in effect in 2017, there will be much less room for error. If Buckle needs more of an attacking presence up top, he has fewer opportunities to make an effective change. If he sends in Mackenzie Pridham when what the game really needs is Harry Williams, the cost will be greater than it would otherwise have been. In 2015 and 2016, he could bring on Williams and still have enough subs to comfortably make changes as needs arose. Now if he would only have one left.

Of course, that example does not hold up if Buckle simply makes the best decision on substitutions. But even so, it doesn’t change the fact that he will have to make do with fewer chances to make personnel changes.

The rule change also means that there is less opportunity for the Republic players on the fringes to see the field. Wilson Kneeshaw, now well known and beloved among Republic fans for his speed, goalscoring ability, and karaoke excellence potential, started out as a late sub. For his first few appearances with the team, he came on when the Republic turned to the Throw-Things-at-the-Wall-and-See-What-Sticks Plan (trademark pending).

That being said, the move to three substitutions per game is absolutely a net positive for the Republic, the USL, and everyone else involved. Now if only we could get the 2017 season started, I’d be perfectly happy.

What do you think about the USL’s move to allow only three substitutions per game? How do you think it will affect the Republic? Sound off in the comments below!