In collegiate soccer, there are almost no limitations when it comes to making substitutions during a match. Coaches can replace any of the players on the field as many times as they see fit, and can even sub a player out and sub them back in the second half. Although this grants a good deal of leeway as to who gets on the field, most coaches tend to adhere to the standard of giving the starters the bulk of the playing time.
Maryland women’s soccer head coach Ray Leone has completely gone against that standard in 2018.
Through four games, Leone has turned to an average of eight substitutes per contest. Of the 27 players on the active roster, 26 have seen the field in 2018, with only two players exceeding 300 minutes played (through 380 minutes). For him, it’s all about keeping his players fresh.
“It’s so huge for us, because we just have not been able to do that for the past two years,” Leone said. “We’ve run out of gas [at the end of the previous two seasons], so we’re really trying to concentrate on that. It also is telling them they have to work hard while they’re in there because it’s not going to be 90 minutes for most of them.”
As for the players, some have taken to it while others are still trying to adjust to the new strategy. One of the more well-adjusted players thus far has been forward Jarena Harmon, who sees the value in making substitutions.
“Subbing in the game of soccer is the part of the game that makes it a chess game,” Harmon said. “I think it’s great. As a team we probably need to get more used to it, and understanding why it’s there, but overall I think we’re doing well adjusting.”
Whether they’re adjusted yet or not, Leone wants his players to know that being labeled a “starter” doesn’t mean as much as it has before.
“If you’re a starter most of the time and you don’t get selected to start in a game, get over it,” he said. “So that was something we kind of put in everybody’s head, and our whole team I think is learning that. It’s very difficult to just throw out the same 11 every game, and we’ve learned that the last two years because we’ve just run out of gas the last third of the season.”
Going forward, no players are going to be put in a position where they’re exhausting themselves by getting significant playing time. Instead, Leone keeps a close eye on his players, noting fatigue and making substitutions based on that.
“We’re just trying to pay attention to who’s feeling strong, fit and ready, and if there’s any kind of question mark on fatigue, where last year we would [keep in] the same players, this year we’re putting new players in,” he said.
Just how well this strategy plays out for Leone remains to be fully seen. However, his team is a respectable 2-1-1 so far on the season, and with the collapse that occured at the end of last season—when the Terps lost went 0-7-2 in their last nine games and were shut out in their last six—a step towards keeping the players rested for that portion of the schedule could make a big difference.