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The Impact Five Substitutions Could Have in MLS

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MLS may allow a game-changing two extra substitutions per match.

Burnley FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Germany’s Bundesliga returned to action this weekend, springing hope that other leagues might follow. One of the major changes in the game is the addition of two more substitutes per side in a match, increasing the number from three to five. While this has been done for safety reasons, it could also change the way in which the game is managed by head coaches.

Three lineup changes are a difficult thing to manage and an issue that’s unique to soccer. Every other team sport around the world offers several more changes. That means you can replace players that are tired or not playing well while still having the option of strategic changes later in the game. This move to five substitutes will likely be for just this year, but could have a major impact on how these games are managed.

The big question that will undoubtedly arise is how many substitutes are needed in a game. Are three substitutions enough to make the necessary changes? The reason why this is an issue is that situations within a game change. If a team is up one goal with 20 minutes left, the coach might start making changes to the on-field personnel.

For example, if the team is displaying a 4-4-3, it might take off two forwards and replace them with a midfielder and a defender. If the opposing team is able to score a goal, that puts the team that was leading in a dilemma. Essentially, it now has a 5-5-1 formation when it comes to personnel and probably only one scoring threat. That’s where the two additional substitutions come in.

If the head coach of a team can manage to only use three substitutions in the first 70 or 80 minutes, that changes things. If the team shifted into a defensive strategy and substituted accordingly, it is now able to bring on attacking players. If the team led for most of the game, it probably has at least one forward on the bench. It can now change back into a 4-4-3 and bring on a scoring threat late in the match.

What will be even more interesting is if a team needs points late in the season. In most games, teams won’t make dramatic changes. They might bring in one extra forward late in an attempt to score an equalizer or winning goal. However, if a team gets put into a situation where anything less than three points ends its chance at a playoff spot, it might make more dramatic changes.

This could include bringing on a third or fourth forward in an attempt to score that goal. In the past, this might have been impossible as the team probably had already made three changes. These two additional opportunities allow them to make offensive additions they never would have been able to before. With one team now throwing everything at another goal and having the right personnel to do so, it could make certain games even more exciting.

To be clear, I’m not saying that five substitutions is the way of the future. Three substitutions make it a more strategic game and the job of the head coach more difficult. It also allows fans to second guess coaching decisions and share their opinions on tactics. However, if teams are allowed these extra substitutions this year, it could be an interesting trial run.

Should MLS return this season, which it most likely will at some point, it might follow the Bundesliga’s lead and add two additional substitutions. This could change the way in which games are managed by coaches and have a significant impact on the excitement of each game.

What effect do you think five substitutions would have on MLS games? And what other changes do you think might be needed if the league returns? Let us know in the comments below.