United Soccer League released the 2018 on-and-off field rule changes Wednesday morning and while no change will ever be as big as last year’s shift away from 5 substitutes, the 2018 rule updates have the potential to affect the season for several clubs.

The rule changes can be found in the following media release:

The first change, shifting the time a match is considered official, is important but hard to find controversial.

The other four new rules in the release are where the real interest lies.

First is one that wont have any effects until the end of the season when the USL Cup Playoffs kick off, where a 4th substitute will be allowed in extra time. This rule may have impacted San Antonio FC’s final match in 2017 which saw the Alamo City club fall on penalty kicks to OKC Energy FC. Both San Antonio FC and OKC only used two substitutes each in that match.

If another substitute slot was available, would the clubs have chosen to deploy a third fresh player? Would that have changed the dynamics of the match, possibly ending in extra time instead of penalties? We’ll never know, but it is something to watch for in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs.

The next rule change is one that deals with something many fans might not even know existed, but USL teams will now be permitted to sell or trade international roster slots for the duration of the season. All international roster slots will reset at the beginning of the next season. With the ability to sign more players with international designations, teams like SAFC could work with squads less likely to use international slots for players and bring more non-U.S. talent into the club. For 2018, six of SAFC’s seven international spots are currently occupied by Pecka, Mark O’Ojong, Cesar Elizondo, Omar Gordon, Jose Escalante, and Rafa Castillo. [note: As of the time of this article being published, we couldn’t confirm if Alex Bruce counts against the international player count]

Image: Kyle Mahnke, Two Ten Soccer

The next rule isn’t one likely to affect San Antonio FC who generally don’t utilize a maximum roster size, but the creation of an Injured Reserve roster spot seems to be a player-friendly step in a league without many player protections. Current and former San Antonio FC players Matt Cardone, Victor Araujo, and Miggy Salazar have all suffered season ending injuries in previous seasons. For Cardone and Araujo, a recovery and contract for the following season was possible. Salazar was cut from the roster, but remained in an unofficial capacity to rehab his injury before moving on from the club. While San Antonio FC seems to “take care of their own,” clubs with fewer resources or who need to run a maximum-sized roster are now able to set aside a player who is medically unable to play for the remainder of a season without it counting against their roster size. The cynical view is that a team doctor could incorrectly medically disqualify a player, inhibiting his ability to move to another USL club in that season. However until maliciousness occurs, this appears to be a player and club friendly rule change.

The final rule on the list is one that benefits blowhards like us who are trying to project starting XI’s for matches, but also seems to be a response to one specific 2017 match. Cutting the submitted list from 27 to 23 helps narrow down who may actually play, helpful for figuring out what a starting XI may look like. But the last part of the rule, that a team’s 18 man roster may only include 5 academy-contract players, seems to be a direct response to a 9-0 Reno 1868 routing of Los Dos on July 3rd of last year. In that match, LA fielded a team made up of multiple academy players including two 16-year-old players. The shift was due in part to injuries to the MLS side, forcing multiple USL-regulars to play at the top division.

The 9-0 destruction of the LA boys added to Reno 1868’s already powerful goal differential. While it didn’t end up mattering as SAFC took care of business to finish three points clear and Swope Park fell one point short of Reno, that padded goal differential could have been a deciding factor in playoff positioning as a tie-breaker.

The full 2018 USL Media Guide has not been released, but when it is we should be able to provide a full picture of how the 2018 season will be governed.

What do you think of the rule changes? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TwoTenSoccer

Posted by Kyle Mahnke

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