MLS’ concussion substitute trial puts player health and safety at the forefront 

MLS Soccer

April 5, 2021

Similar coverage in US Soccer and  SoccerAmerica

In a leading step to promote player health and safety, Major League Soccer announced Monday the league will take part in a pilot program to trial the implementation of concussion substitutes.

The pilot program was approved and allowed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and FIFA, which sets the rules for the global game.

It’s a program MLS wanted to be at the forefront of.

“We’ve always prioritized player health and safety,” Jeff Agoos, MLS Senior Vice President, Competition, Medical Administration, told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ve been trying to implement some version of this for a long period of time, it’s been about whether we could align with the governing bodies to implement this protocol. This year, IFAB and FIFA have allowed a trial opportunity for Major League Soccer to implement a concussion substitute program. we’re very excited and happy about this opportunity.”

The trial program will allow clubs up to two additional concussion substitutes. These substitutes fall outside of each side’s five available substitutes over three windows, meaning a concussion substitute wouldn’t count against either the normal changes nor one of the three windows.

Medical professionals at the game will follow protocols set forth by the league when assessing for a possible concussion. This includes the medical staff and the Venue Medical Director. Additionally, there will be health professionals monitoring the match broadcast as “spotters” who can provide video to the medical officials to help reach a conclusion.

If a team uses a concussion substitute, then the opposition will be permitted an extra substitute of their own.

“We believe it reduces competitive pressures, which forces the prioritization of the health and safety of the player above everything else,” Agoos said.

Early Adopters

Just as the league was among the first adapters of video replay in soccer, they hope to have the same impact on this front.

“The reason for the trial is to see where there are any issues will manifest through the year, but we’re hopeful that this will be a very successful trial,” Agoos said. “We have resources allocated and strong support from ownership, clubs, coaching staffs and player association to support this process. We really think that overall it’ll be a really important and hopefully successful initiative.”

One successful trial that is continuing in 2021 is the number of subs available to MLS teams. Just as in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, clubs will be allowed to make five substitutes over three windows.

“There are a number of reasons, mostly competitive but also medical-related,” Agoos said. “COVID-related and injury-related. It’s not about the number of subs, it’s about the substitute opportunities. … That doesn’t change. Teams will still have three substitution opportunities. Based on travel, based on COVID, based on injury rates, we believed the allowance of five substitutes created more benefit for our coaches, players and clubs.”

MLS will wait for the governing bodies to decide if extra substitutes are something worth continuing in the future and will continue to have conversations about.

“We have ongoing discussions at the end of every year, but it’s really about what IFAB and FIFA allow,” Agoos said. “This was a trial which became part of the laws this year, but if they eliminate, we’d have to adhere to those policies. But if they were to keep the same protocols, we’d have conversations in the offseason if we wanted to keep this procedure. What I’d say is, it’s widely supported by our clubs, both competitively and medically. We’ve had great feedback from the ability to move above and beyond the normal three substitutions.”

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