Pulling the Goalie in Soccer: Can It Be Done and Should It?

Can you pull the goalie in soccer?

Pulling the goalie is a tactic used in various sports to boost the amount of attacking players on a team near the end of a game.

In a game of soccer, there are often times when it would be helpful for a team to have more attacking players on the field to increase a team’s chances of scoring a goal.

But is it ok in a game of soccer to pull the goalie and replace them with an outfield player?

In a soccer game, a team cannot pull the goalie. The rules of soccer clearly state that a team must have a goalie on the field at all times. The referee would not allow this to happen and would stop the game until each team had a designated goalie on the field.

Although there is no doubt that it is a requirement to always have a goalie on the field, there are a few ways around this rule that can lead to a similar effect for the team as if they had pulled the goalie.

After describing what pulling the goalie means and explaining what the rules of soccer say about this tactic, we’ll go on to look at how a soccer team can achieve a similar effect in a game whilst staying within the rules.

Check out why goalie is the best position for a tall player here.

What the Rules of Soccer Say About Pulling the Goalie

We’ve probably all seen or played in a situation like this:

A soccer game is drawing to a close, and one team needs another goal to either win the game or draw level with the opposition. They are giving all they have and want to do all they can to increase their chances of scoring and not end up on the losing side.

In these last few minutes of the game, they are willing to try anything, and one option that the coach may consider is if they should pull the goalie.

Unfortunately, any coach who knows the rules of soccer well enough would have to stop considering this option at this point.

The fact is that the rules of soccer do not allow a soccer team or coach to pull the goalie.

The reason that a team cannot pull the goalie is that the rules of soccer state clearly that a team must have a goalie on the field at all times.

Let’s look at what the Laws of the game of soccer say about a goalie:

“A match(game) is played by two teams, each with a maximum of eleven players; one must be the goalkeeper.”

Law of the Game: Law 3

This seemingly simple statement that one player on the team “must be a goalkeeper” is all that is needed to prevent a team from pulling the goalie.

Without a goalie present, the game cannot carry on being played.

In fact, if a team tried this, then the referee would have no other option than to stop the game until the offending team sent a goalie back onto the field or designated a current player as the goalie. When the team has done this, then the game could continue.

What It Means to Pull the Goalie

definition of pulling the goalie

At this point, it may be worth backing up for a second and explaining what is meant by “pulling the goalie.”

Pulling the goalie is a phrase used in various sports that means a team will remove the goalie from the game and replace them with an attacking player. Pulling the goalie leaves the team weaker in defense due to being without a goalie but stronger in the offense due to the extra forward.

The team will then no longer have a goalie playing but will have an extra attacking player playing instead.

The idea of this is to increase a team’s chances of scoring a goal by putting more attacking players in a position where they could potentially score.

The logic behind it is fairly straightforward (though possibly a little long-winded!)

Let me walk you through it:

  • The more bodies a team has by the opposition’s goal, the higher the chances are that one of their team will receive possession of the ball by the opposition’s goal.
  • The more often a team’s player has the ball by the opposition’s goal, the more opportunities they will have to take a shot on goal.
  • And the more shots a team takes on goal the higher their chances are of scoring a goal.
  • And the reason to make this extra player an attacking player rather than a goalie is that an attacking player has much more training in the area of scoring goals than a goalie and is, therefore, more likely to score given the opportunity to do so.

Hopefully, that makes sense!

Hockey is the sport most famous for using this tactic. As you’re probably aware, it is not uncommon to see a hockey team pull the goalie in the final few minutes of a game to hopefully increase their chances of scoring.

The fact that this happens so regularly in hockey leads most people to ask the question of whether it can happen in soccer also.

How You Can Achieve a Similar Effect to Pulling the Goalie in Soccer

As we’ve established, it is not possible to pull the goalie during a soccer game.

But is there anything a team can do to create a similar effect near the end of a game?

I want to suggest there are two options a team has if pulling the goalie is a tactic they want to use. The first option is far more commonly used than the second.

  1. Firstly, a team can send the goalie up the field to play in the position of an attacking player
  2. Alternatively, a team can substitute the goalie for an attacking player and then designate the weakest attacking player left on the field as the goalie for the rest of the game.

Send the Goalie Into Attack

I’ve played in multiple games where the team I was on was trailing with only a few minutes left.

In those moments, if the opportunity came up to start an attack on the opposition’s goal the goalie would rush up into the opposition penalty area and play as an extra attacking player for the team.

This would most often happen at a set-piece such as a free kick or corner kick. This way the goalie had time to get up to the opposite end of the field while the ball was out of play and reduce the risk of the other team scoring.

This video below shows goalies scoring after coming up the field to join the attack…

Occasionally a goalie may run up during open play if their own team is in possession of the ball, but this is a far more risky move as possession can be lost in a moment and the opposition can counter attack.

Unlike at a free kick or corner kick, it is far less guaranteed that the ball will be in a position for a clear goal-scoring opportunity, either.

Sending the goalie up the field at a corner kick or free kick is one way a soccer team can use a similar tactic to pulling the goalie.

Designate Another Player as the Goalie

The second option a soccer team has if they wish to do something similar to pulling the goalie is to remove the current goalie and replace them with an attacking player.

The second part of this tactic though is key. The team then has to designate another player as the goalie.

If it doesn’t seem obvious what the advantage of this would be let me explain:

The thinking behind this move would be that by replacing the goalie with an attacking player the team is increasing their level of attacking skill on the field(in the same way if they had pulled the goalie in the traditional sense).

But at the same time, by then designating a remaining player on the field as the goalie, the team is not breaking the rules.

The choice of the player who is then designated as the goalie is important in this scenario too.

Ideally, the team would designate their least effective attacking player as the replacement goalie because they are still most likely to be furthest away from the opposition’s goal.

Because the idea is to provide the team with better attacking options this tactic would also only be worthwhile if the original goalie was the least effective attacking player on the field when they were removed.

Otherwise, a team is better off simply substituting the current least effective attacking player with an attacking player and leaving the goalie on the field.

Although it is theoretically possible for a team to use this tactic, I have to say that I have not been able to find any evidence of a top-level, professional team doing it!

If you know of any examples of this, please contact me and let me know!

Should You Pull the Goalie in Soccer?

should you pull the goalie in soccer image

After discussing the ways a team could simulate the effect of pulling the goalie, it needs to be asked if a team should pull the goalie.

As we have already established, a goalie cannot be removed from a soccer game without being replaced with another goalie.

And the most common method used in a soccer game to simulate pulling a goalie is to send the goalie up to the attacking end of the field, almost exclusively at a set-piece such as a corner kick.

This workaround is what we will look at in this section.

Using this tactic obviously comes with a high degree of risk.

Once you remove the goalie from the goal area they are there to defend then you open up your goal to an increased possibility of the opposition scoring against you. This applies to any sport, not just soccer.

This is the reason why it is still so rare to see a team send their goalie up. In the mind of many coaches, the risk outweighs the reward.

The Data Suggests the Reward May Outweigh the Risk

However, a soccer analyst, Jared Young would disagree. In his article, he shows that the risk of the opposition scoring against you after a corner kick is actually surprisingly small.

After analyzing years of data from MLS soccer games he showed that:

Opponents score just 0.24% of the time directly following an opponent’s corner kick since 2015, which is roughly one fifth as often as a team typically scores on any possession.

Meaning that in the 30 seconds following a corner kick it’s far more likely that a team would be able to stop a counter-attack against them than it is likely that they will concede a goal before the goalie is back in position.

Knowing that the data shows an incredibly small chance of a team scoring on the counter-attack following a corner kick may give coaches more confidence to send up their goalie when given the opportunity.

A team, and the coach, should also remember that in most scenario’s they have nothing to lose.

Soccer only allocates points to a team if they end the game with the scores tied or they are the winning team. The losing team receives 0 points whether they lose by 1 goal or 100!

When a team is trailing by 1 goal with only a few minutes of the game left sending up the goalie to provide an extra person in an attack

In fact, the same article we mentioned earlier shows that this one action can increase a teams chances of scoring by:

something slightly north of 10%

Jared Young

Compared to the potential risk we mentioned above, that seems like the potential reward far outweighs the risk.

Maybe in the future, we’ll see more teams assessing the data and employing the soccer version of pulling the goalie and enjoying the potential reward.

For more information about what it takes to be a goalkeeper, I recommend you check out my article – Soccer Goalies: Role, Responsibilities, and How to Play.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, it is clear that a team cannot pull the goalie in the traditional sense of the phrase, but there are workarounds that a team can use to achieve a similar effect if they wish.

For more info on pulling the goalie, I recommend listening to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell – Revisionist History: Season 3 – Episode 7. He talks in-depth about how more teams should be using the tactic of pulling the goalie (although from the perspective of Ice Hockey). Follow the link above or find it through most podcast apps.

Also, if you looking for recommendations for soccer equipment then head over to my Recommended Equipment Page. There you’ll find my top recommendations for all soccer-related products.

If you’re a goalie looking for some of the best goalie gloves available, these ones (click here to go to the website) on Amazon are well worth looking at. They are not only comfortable to wear, but they provide incredible grip and flexibility to aid you in being the best goalie you can be every time you step onto the field.

Lastly, if learning about this rule for goalies has stirred an interest in you to find out more, then click here to go to my Easy to Understand Guide to the Rules of Soccer. Or for a goalie-specific option click this link to go to my article – 8 Rules for Soccer Goalies: Everything you need to know.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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