Can A Soccer Team Play Without A Goalie? (Rules Explained)

A professional soccer team consists of eleven players: ten outfield players and one goalkeeper. Teams are permitted to position their players wherever they like. But what about the goalie? Do teams have to play one player in goal?

Professional soccer teams are required to have one goalkeeper on the field at all times. It is impossible for a team to choose to play without a goalkeeper. If a team has no goalie available, they must instead play an outfield player in the goalkeeper position.

You now know that a soccer team must include one player as a goalie, but what happens if all the goalkeepers are injured? And what are the rules regarding outfield players playing in goal? I will answer all these questions and more in this article.

Can a Soccer Team Choose to Play Without a Goalkeeper?

Let's say there's a minute left in the game and the losing team is desperate for a goal. The coach might decide that it's a good idea to put every player high up on the field.

They may even decide to sacrifice their goalie as a last resort. But would this be allowed?

Officially speaking, the rules set out by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) state that a team must have a goalkeeper on the field at all times.

But can a goalkeeper leave their penalty area?

With the rules stating there must always be a goalie on the field, you may be wondering if there are any rules that actually prevent the goalie from leaving their penalty area to go and help the attackers.

A goalkeeper is permitted to leave their penalty area at any time during open play. However, once outside the area, they are no longer allowed to handle the ball with their hands.

This means a coach could sacrifice their goalie to help the attack. However, they would still be wearing their goalkeeper jersey and officially be seen as that team's goalie.

This means there are technically no rules stopping a goalkeeper from scoring a goal.

So can a soccer team play without a goalkeeper?

Strictly speaking, a team is not permitted to play without a goalkeeper. There must always be one player in the team who is classed as a goalie. However, a goalkeeper can leave their penalty area and travel further up the field if they wish to.

Why is it not allowed for a team to be without a goalie?

The rule to always have one goalie per team exists simply because it is common sense.

A team choosing not to play with a goalie would not only be illogical and disastrous but also against the spirit of the game.

What if All Goalkeepers Are Injured?

You may have noticed that an average soccer team usually only has two goalkeepers listed in their squad on match day—one goalkeeper in the starting eleven and one on the substitute bench.

Let's say the starting goalkeeper has had to leave the field due to injury and has been replaced by the substitute goalie.

Now let's say the substitute goalie also gets injured. What happens, then?

In this situation, assuming there are no other goalies on the bench, the coach would have to pick an outfield player to go and play as the goalkeeper.

Is a Fieldplayer Allowed to Play in Goal?

Yes, if all other goalkeepers are injured or sent off, then an outfield player must play as a goalkeeper.

In this situation, the outfield player will be given time to get changed into a goalkeeper's jersey and find a pair of goalkeeping gloves to wear.

So what happens when a goalkeeper is sent off?

Suppose a goalie is shown a red card. In that case, the coach will have an opportunity to substitute one of his outfield players with his backup goalie. If the coach has no subs left to use, he must select an outfield player to play as the goalkeeper.

There have been many examples of this happening at the top level of soccer.

Below is a list of famous players who had to play as goalkeepers when there was no other choice:

  • Chaker Alhadhur – Cameroon (2022):

In the 2022 African Cup of Nations. Cameroon found themselves without a goalkeeper. This was due to one being injured and the other two backup goalies having COVID-19.

This meant Cameroon's left-back, Chaker Alhadhur, had to step up and play as the goalkeeper.

He famously used tape to stick his usual squad number '3' over the goalkeeper jersey he borrowed from his teammate.

  • Harry Kane - Tottenham Hotspur (2014):

Harry Kane is famous for being one of the best strikers in the world. In 2014, though, he had to play in goal after Tottenham's goalie was sent off, and his team had no more subs to use.

Needless to say, Harry Kane is a much better striker than he is a goalkeeper. He let the ball slip underneath his body with the very first shot he faced.

  • John Terry - Chelsea (2006):

In a game that famously saw Chelsea goalie Petr Cech suffer one of the worst goalkeeping injuries of all time, it's easy to forget that the substitute goalkeeper also got injured in the same game.

This meant that defender and captain, John Terry, was required to step in goal for Chelsea. He would go on to keep a clean sheet.

  • Rio Ferdinand - Manchester United (2008):

During an FA Cup game against Portsmouth, Manchester United managed to lose one goalie through injury and a second from a red card.

Having used all their available goalies, Manchester United had no choice but to turn to Rio Ferdinand. Unfortunately, Rio Ferdinand was not able to save the penalty kick, which led to his team losing 1-0.

Can a Goalkeeper Play Outfield?

As you can see, there have been many outfield players who have had to play in goal. But what about the other way around?

Yes, a goalkeeper can play as an outfield player. However, another goalkeeper must be on the field, and the outfield goalie must be wearing an outfield jersey.

Basically, the goalie would become a regular outfield player.

In the 2004/2005 season, Manchester City famously brought on their substitute goalie David James to play as a striker.

David James would go on to have no shots on goal and never played outfield again. So although this is allowed, it rarely ever works out.

Can a Team Play With Two Goalkeepers?

No, a team is not allowed to play with more than one goalkeeper. Only one of the eleven starting players is allowed to be a goalkeeper.

A team is allowed to have an extra goalkeeper on the substitute bench. In fact, they can have as many goalies on the bench as they like. But only one can be on the field at any time.

Substitute goalies can be brought on as outfield players but would have to follow the rules of an outfield player.

Can a Competitive Youth Soccer Team Play Without a Goalkeeper?

Generally speaking, youth soccer follows the same rules as professional adult soccer.

This means that a youth soccer team is also required to play with a goalkeeper at all times.

Just like with the adult game, the goalkeeper is allowed to leave their penalty area to join the attacking players. Though they are still officially classed as a goalie.


The rules set out by IFAB state that a team must always have one goalkeeper on the field at all times.

The goalkeeper is allowed to leave their penalty area to join the attacking players as long as they do not handle the ball with their hands.

Suppose both the starting goalkeeper and the substitute goalkeeper gets injured or red carded. In that case, an outfield player must take up the role of goalkeeper.

November 23, 2022
Published: November 23, 2022