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USL to allow two concussion subs, five regular substitutes in 2021 games

Changes coming to game changes as part of pilot program.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Several American professional soccer leagues, including the USL Championship, announced on Monday that they will try out a pilot program for the upcoming 2021 season, in which teams will be allowed to make up to two substitutions beyond the five regular substitutes, the additional two substitutions permitted in cases where it appears a player has suffered a concussion.

The USL Championship and League One join MLS, the NWSL and NISA in implementing this rule on a trial basis this year, pending FIFA and IFAB approval, which is expected.

“We are appreciative of U.S. Soccer’s efforts to continue prioritizing player safety,” said USL Executive Vice President Brett Luy in a USL statement. “The change will continue to advance efforts nationwide to protect our players and we are proud to be a part of the introduction of this program.”

So substitutes will work like this in 2021: The five regular subs can be used in a maximum of three windows during game play, like in 2020, so coaches can’t stop play five times to bring in a player to waste maximum time. Subs made at halftime or before or between extra time periods don’t count in that three game window rule.

Then, teams can make concussion substitutes up to two times per game, outside of the five regular subs, anytime they suspect a head injury warrants a player leave the game. Those subs can be made immediately when a player is injured, after receiving medical attention, or even after a player has returned to play but still looks affected by a head injury.

If one team makes a concussion substitute, the other team will be permitted an additional substitute in the game. So if one team makes a concussion sub, the other team will be given an additional substitute slot if they choose, and can sub in six players in total.

Obviously, let’s hope concussion substitutions are kept to a minimum, not because teams don’t take advantage of them but because players don’t suffer head injuries. That said, concussions are sadly a part of the game, and I think the rule, plus keeping the five-sub rule this year, are both good policies for the season ahead.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.