Roster Size

There have been lots of conversations lately around roster size that it almost sounds like Goldilocks.  Too big?  Too small? Just right?

This year, especially for the older girls, it has been interesting to watch as the teams formed for the new season.  It seems that many girls are interested in playing ECNL and some of those rosters have exploded to 20 plus girls as the USSDA rosters seem to have gotten smaller. Just in case you don’t know, most leagues limit the number of players for any given game at 18.  Soooo, if you have a team with more than that, it means that someone (or several someones) is not playing or even sitting on the bench.  Yikes!

Disclaimer- If your player is a super stud, it doesn’t really matter how many players are on the team because he/she will always play!  No need to read any further 🙂


The older players get, the more things that are going on in their personal/school lives as well as an increased number of injuries.  So, it’s very likely, especially at the oldest age groups, that even with a large roster size teams could still be short on players.  There are SAT/ACT days, prom, homecoming, you name it! Therefore, a u18 roster with 22 players is could work out fine, whereas a u14/15/16 roster with 22 players could be setting kids up for some major disappointments.


In addition to the age, the league where the team plays is also a major factor.  USSDA teams are very limited on substitutions so really the first 16 players on the roster only have a chance of playing unless there are injuries.  (The youngest DA teams have more liberal substitution rules). ECNL, DPL, and other leagues have more liberal subbing rules, but it takes a special coach to give everyone on the team play time.  And, let’s be honest… how often does that really happen??!!

Coach Expectation

I think the most important factor for roster size is an honest and forthright coach.  (Don’t laugh!!) I’m sure it must be difficult but setting the expectations for parents and players is essential.  Then, the player and parents can make decisions based on fact rather than unrealistic expectations.  Maybe your player wants to join a team of 20, but it’s a big step up for him/her and they are happy just to have the opportunity to practice with the team and work hard to earn playtime.  But, kids really just want to play!  It can be very difficult when a kid isn’t getting playtime. Many leagues allow for players to get playtime with other teams. The USSDA teams do not allow for outside play but practice more which leads to more time for development.  Even with smaller rosters, many USSDA players and parents sometimes have to re-evaluate the definition of “acceptable playtime.”

Travel and the “Experience”

The most expensive part of club soccer can be the travel.  But, it can also be the most fun!  If your player is on a high-level team, but low on a very big roster, or injured it can be very frustrating to pay to travel and then have your kid not play.  Again, I think this is where the coach honesty comes in.  ASK the coach before it’s too late to cancel reservations.  If the coach communicates that your player will have very limited or no time, then you can decide as a family if making the trip is worth it.  If you decide to go, then treat it as a fun trip and a time for your player to bond with his/her team and possibly bring home some hardware!  You won’t be as freaked out and any time your player does get on the field will be exciting.

What’s the answer?

Well, that’s an easy one… there is no right answer!  Every player and every situation is different.  If your player is older, it’s something that you can discuss and talk about options.  For a younger player, I’d really suggest that he/she is on a team where they get to play and have fun.  Let’s face it, always sitting on the bench isn’t fun no matter how many tournaments you win.

If your player is debating joining a team with a very full roster, I’d recommend asking parents (or talking to disgruntled parents from previous seasons) about how the coach deals with substituting.  Some coaches are committed to developing every kid on the team.  Other coaches are in it to win it- regardless of the cost.  Many coaches are very different in league games vs playoff type games. If you’ve heard that the coach likes to only play 12 players in a game, don’t have your kid be the 20th player on the roster unless they really like playing “left bench.”

Has your player ever been on a team with an overflowing roster?  What happened?  How did she/he feel?