DiCicco explains vision for substitution rule

Liviu Bird December 25, 2012 19

In a phone interview about Cindy Parlow Cone’s appointment as the Portland Thorns FC head coach, former U.S. women’s national team head coach Tony DiCicco also discussed one specific aspect of the National Women’s Soccer League: its substitution rules.

“I would like to see them do what we did in the WUSA, which was four plus one,” he said.

DiCicco coached the U.S. women from 1994 to 1999, leading them to their historic FIFA Women’s World Cup victory in 1999. He was the founding commissioner of WUSA, and he coached the Boston Breakers of WPS.

In WUSA, similar to the early days of Major League Soccer, teams were allowed four substitutions of field players and one goalkeeper substitution. The reason the rule went away in MLS — which used a three-plus-one restriction — was teams would use that goalkeeper sub to get a fourth field-player change.

MLS teams often had their goalkeeper switch positions with a field player momentarily, sub out the goalkeeper and then have the original goalkeeper swap positions with the sub. In WUSA, however, teams had to designate which player on the bench would be the substitute goalkeeper, and only that player could enter in goal.

“It’s all for player development,” DiCicco said. “We did it in WUSA; it worked out great. For whatever reason, we weren’t allowed to do in in the WPS.”

WPS had a three-player substitution rule, in accordance with FIFA bylaws. This is the standard substitution limit in professional leagues around the world.

DiCicco said his ideal substitution rule would allow coaches to get more players experience, and it would make it easier to deal with national team call-ups and injuries than if the league institutes the standard three substitutions per game rule.

“In the college game, you can get players minutes (and) kind of keep a bigger bench happy,” he said, specifically referring to Parlow Cone’s transition from coaching in the NCAA to NWSL.

By NCAA regulations, substitutions are unlimited, except players cannot re-enter the game in the first half; they may re-enter once in the second half and in overtime. No professional leagues in the United States have those same rules, but the NCAA way does allow for more players to get playing time and develop in a competitive atmosphere.

While certain details on NWSL player allocation have started coming to light, the league is still a little way off from announcing rules and regulations for the upcoming inaugural season.


  • Greg_G

    I feared this would happen. There was always going to be some tension between the idea of this league as a developmental league for the USWNT (and, now, the Canadian and Mexican National Teams) and this league as an entity all its own. I’m not sure we’ll get the best soccer possible if the rules are set up for this league to operated as a developmental league. Yes, a developmental league may help the USWNT, but it may hurt women’s professional soccer – and isn’t that the more important goal right now, to create a sustainable league the will one day allow female players to play year round and make a decent living off of?

  • Steglitz49

    The standard FIFA rules must be used by this league. Anything else would be asinine.

  • http://twitter.com/hercircumstance hercircumstance

    I don’t like the college system. I certainly don’t want the new pro league to be a special snowflake too. Follow FIFA and the rest of the world. No need to create an environment that doesn’t exist in the real sport. Then you’ll always be second class by design. MLS is still trying to shake that image in the world sport. I’m not even sure why this was brought up. No wonder people have “professionalism” questions still when this kind of downgrade is suggested.

  • Rob

    Stop trying to Americaize the sport. NWSL just lost me as a fan before they even played a single game because of this crap. What’s next, countdown clocks? Timeouts? Ugh. No thank you. Have fun watching this league fold as well. Either play football the way it was meant to, or go watch a boring baseball game.

    • http://twitter.com/JeffKassouf Jeff Kassouf

      Rob, it should be made clear that DiCicco in no way (to our knowledge) has any direct influence on this and his suggesting it certainly doesn’t mean it is even on the table. We shared this because Tony’s opinions are highly respected and valued, but I’d be surprised if it were anything at all serious on the league’s part.

      • Steglitz49

        An argument can always be made for experimenting to see if one can make the product (= the game) more attractive and thereby increase spectator interest and grow the business. Thus, NWSL could approach FIFA and discuss testing more substitutes for a season. Whether this would be wise in the very first season is a good question. After all you need a baseline to compare against.

        In short, provided experiments have the FIFA seal of approval and can be thus announced, more power to NWSL’s elbow, but please work together with the greater soccer community, not unilateral actions, because football is the world’s game.

  • http://twitter.com/livefierce laura taylor

    I’m with the other commenters: use FIFA rules. When you start tinkering just for the sake of tinkering, you devalue the league. This kind of stuff makes women’s soccer in the USA seem weak: ‘we have to make it different because it won’t be understandable/be attractive/can’t stand on its own/is too hard with the men’s rules.’ The only reason to change the rules is to make the league seem precious. And that’s exactly what you’ll do.

  • luke

    I’m not a fan of NCAA rules, but I can understand why they were introduced on collegial level. I understand the logic and reasoning and I agree altough I would keep changes at smaller number.
    In professional (or aspiring to be proffessional) league FIFA rules must be used.
    Or the changes of rules will follow like a snowball and this league will look sadly and ridiculed.

  • http://twitter.com/GerryMarrone Gerry Marrone

    This is an interesting point, and I remember the discussions we had in WPS around this topic. In the end the decision was made by the technical committee to go with the FIFA rules. As an aside I have spoken with several current players who also suggested making the field smaller to improve the quality of play. THIS IS NOT MY SUGGESTION – just want to be clear – it was a few current players. Interesting to consider, but the purists will hate it.

    • http://twitter.com/hercircumstance hercircumstance

      Didn’t MagicJack actually self-impose a smaller than regulation field which annoyed other teams coming in but worked to maximize their own offensive strategy? I could have sworn I read that somewhere recently, but to be honest I’m trying to forget that whole chapter of WoSo. Maybe we should just have a futsal league? Smaller field, unlimited subs, no pesky un-American rules like offsides to bother people with… :)

      • Greg_G

        I remember Borislow bragging about his small field, seemingly pleased with his supposed tactical acumen to no end. I guess when you want to play three across the back, the smaller the field the better. Interestingly, I don’t think (as a spectator) that the size of the fields in WPS were a detriment to the quality of play one bit; I was continually impressed with the skill and competitiveness on display. However, as seems to be common in women’s soccer, the refs let far too much rough play go, and that can certainly disrupt a quality match between skilled sides. A few yellows and the games will open up more. And maybe Wambach won’t find herself hitting the deck a couple dozen times a game.

        • Steglitz49

          In the Olympic final Wambach collected a yellow card for a foul while in the World Cup final Miyama collected a yellow card and Iwashimizu a red card also for fouls. The same referee (unusually) refereed both matches.

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  • TsovLoj

    Am I the only one who actually thinks this is a good idea for the NWSL?

    Let’s be real; the national teams are the real “pro league”. This is as much a training camp in the form of a league as anything. So why not add more subs to let more experimentation happen, make sure more players get some time out there where the NTs can see what they’ve got? This doesn’t operate like any existing league in many other ways, so I see little reason to hold back from minor tinkering here. In any case the level of anger here is a bit bewildering for what seems to me a minor change.

    • Steglitz49

      Verily, you seem to be.

      Anything that would make the game a more attractive product and thus sell more tickets ought to be encouraged as long as any experiment is done in conjunction with FIFA. FIFA has regularly experimented with various rule changes. They tried the golden goal but abandoned it while penalty shootouts are today as part of the game as substitutions became 40-odd years ago. During the Club World Cup in Japan FIFA tested two systems, Hawk-Eye (developed from tennis) and GoalRef, though I have not heard how it went.

      Your point, that the NWSL is not a league in the common definition of the word but rather a giant training camp for 3 countries for the WC-15 and Rio-16, is well taken. If this proves to be the case, on might expect that the FAs of other countries and regions might register objections to FIFA.

      Seeing that since Kumagai slammed in the final penalty in 2011, FIFA has bent over backwards to help USA restart a women’s league, the NWSL might want to avoid wearing FIFA’s patience too thin. The football world has already drawn a shroud over the festering carcass of the women’s Olympic tournament and moved on. The NWSL needs to play in the world football community and not its own private universe. Let’s hope that Rapinoe taking the Lyon €uro may help concentrate minds.

      • randomhookup

        I’m curious how FIFA has “bent over backwards”? I haven’t heard a peep from them on this topic, though I’m sure they are interested in the success of the league.

        • Steglitz49

          I will leave that one for our Japanese and Canadian friends who are better placed to elaborate.

  • luke

    First of all: if this league is going to be a soccer camp they can do whatever they want IMO – and it will die after 2016 with “natural” time-line death as soccer camps do.
    But if MWSL wanna last and become professional – it must follow FIFA rules and players who are/will be paid to play the best soccer they can should give their best and fight for a spot in first squad all the time, like everywhere in the world.

    That’s the nature of professional sport competition: to be better than opponent (first on your team, then on other team).