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MLS to Implement Concussion Substitutes Initiative

That could end up being a lot of subs in a game.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer today announced that the league will participate in FIFA’s concussion substitute pilot program.

A concussion task force comprised of sporting and medical leaders from MLS, NWSL, U.S. Soccer, the USL, and NISA, have worked collaboratively to implement the initiative and have been approved by The IFAB and FIFA to participate in the trial.

Starting this season, Major League Soccer teams will be allowed to make up to two concussion substitutes during a match to replace players suffering from a concussion or a suspected concussion, regardless of the number of substitutions already used. Providing clubs an additional two concussion substitutes allows teams to make substitutions in the interest of player health and safety, without being placed at a competitive disadvantage.

MLS teams will have the following three types of substitutions available each game:

  • Normal Substitutes: A continuation from 2020, each club has five normal substitutes available to make over three separate opportunities. throughout an MLS match. Any substitutions made during halftime, or between regulation and extra time, or between the two halves of extra time in the postseason will not count as one of the three opportunities.
  • Concussion Substitutes: Each team will be permitted to make up to two concussion substitutions only during instances of suspected concussions. A concussion substitution can be made immediately after a concussion occurs or is suspected, after an on-field assessment, and/or off-field assessment, or at any other time when a concussion occurs or is suspected. This includes when a player has previously been assessed and has returned to the field of play.
  • Additional Substitutes: If a team uses a concussion substitution, the opposing team will receive an additional substitution that will be available to use only after all five of its normal substitutions have been made. If a team makes a second concussion substitution, the opponent receives another additional substitution opportunity.

Each club’s technical staff will be responsible for designating the substitution type by providing the Fourth Official with the appropriate color substitution card: white for a normal substitution, pink for a concussion substitute, and blue for an additional substitute.

One interesting part of this new system is how officials will not be responsible for making calls here. While referees may stop play due to a suspected head injury, the match officials will not be a part of the decision-making process to determine whether a player should or should not be replaced, nor will they determine if a normal substitute or a concussion substitute should be used.

In all, you could see up to nine subs per game if both clubs were to need their two concussion subs in a match. Either way you spin it though, this is a good step forward for the game and MLS. These kinds of safety protocols have been needed for some time too.