It’s no secret that every athlete wants to maximize the time they are able to play the sport they love. And what is the best way to maximize time on the pitch? Starting the game and controlling your level of play. After all, who wants to spend time on the bench, especially in the context of professional soccer where there are strict rules relating to substitutions? Teams are only permitted three substitutions per game, and once a player is on the bench, they are not permitted to return . This can be a very stressful constriction, as players not wanting to be prohibited from returning to the game often play through an assortment of injuries. Many are calling for a reform in the substitution rules to incentivize players to pay attention to their injuries . Nevertheless, coaches must use their substitutions very carefully, saving them for either injuries or strategic infusions of energy.
As my youth coaches coined it, adding a “fresh pair of legs” toward the end of the game can be the difference between a win and a loss. Many games in major tournaments have been decided by the goal of a player coming off the bench. Let’s appreciate some of the most important goals scored by substitutes in recent years.
Goal #1: 2014 World Cup Final
Germany versus Argentina
Goal Scored by: Mario Götze
Götze scored in the 113th minute of the 2014 World Cup Final in order to give Germany the 1-0 lead . Interestingly enough, the assist for the goal also went to a fellow substitute, André Schürrle, who entered in the 33rd minute for Christoph Kramer. Götze’s goal showed immense skill, as he used his chest to trap the ball and proceeded to volley the ball past the keeper into the opposite side netting. Götze replaced Klose (one of my personal favorite German players) in the 88th minute, giving the German side an extra burst of speed for overtime. From a television perspective, the fact that this goal was scored almost immediately after Schweinsteiger had to exit the field due to a bleeding cut on his face is comical, as they barely had time to return to the live feed before the goal was scored.
Goal #2: 2014 World Cup Round of 16
Belgium versus USA
Goal Scored by: Romelu Lukaku
Although this goal was not the go-ahead goal for Belgium, it did prove to be the one that ensured Belgium’s victory when the US answered with a goal of their own in the waning minutes of extra time. Belgium’s substitutes proved to be the difference in many of their World Cup tournament games, with three Belgian substitutes scoring in group play alone . Belgian head coach Marc Wilmots changed the starting lineup for almost every game. Lukaku started most of the prior games in the tournament, but he did replace Origi in the middle of this game, proving how it can be an advantage to have someone of Lukaku’s speed and skill coming off the bench. Lukaku challenged Tim Howard many times throughout the course of extra time apart from the time he scored. His pass to Kevin De Bruyne set up De Bruyne’s goal in the 93rd minute (although admittedly De Bruyne did turn the corner on his own.) Lukaku’s fresh bursts of speed as the game was ending really made a difference, as he did not have to deal with the same level of fatigue as the other players who had already been playing for 90 minutes
Honorable Mention Goal
Goal Scored by: Julian Green
Julian Green came off the bench in extra time, scoring almost immediately after he came in. This goal, although it did not lead to a US victory, led to a flurry of US shots and chances that made this game the single most stressful I have watched in my entire life. By limiting the USA’s goal deficit to one, Julian Green gave the United States a second shot at winning this game. 
Goal #3: 2011 Women’s World Cup Semifinal
USA versus France
Goal Scored by: Alex Morgan
Again, this goal did not put the US decisively ahead of France (Abby Wambach’s goal did that) but this is the goal that put Alex Morgan on the map. Many argued after her performance in this game that she deserved a starting spot; however, Morgan herself said “It’s been working with me coming off the bench, rather than being unsure if I’m going to play.”  For Morgan, it was not about her starting position, but instead about being prepared to play the game. As we now know, Alex Morgan has now become an integral part of the US Women’s team, and this was her first World Cup goal.
Substitutes are not just players marked for “in case of an emergency;” they are an integral part of the team and can have drastic effects on the outcome of the game. Especially in the waning minutes of extra time, substitutes’ added energy can be the entire difference in a game. Substitution rules are tough; you need to make every single one worth it. But when a substitute unexpectedly pulls through for the game winning shot, there is nothing better in soccer. Everyone loves the underdog, which is what substitutes are often perceived to be. It’s safe to say, however, that you can never count an player out, as you never know what kind of trick they’ll pull out of their sleeve, or hat as the case may be.
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 “Götze Goal Wins Germany the World Cup.” Uefa.com. UEFA, 13 July 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
 “FIFA World Cup 2014 – Belgium vs. USA (Highlights) – BBC.” YouTube. BBC, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
 “2014 FIFA World Cup™ – Matches – FIFA.com.” FIFA.com. N.p., 01 July 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
 Ubha, Ravi. “Alex Morgan Relishing Role of Super Sub.” ESPN. N.p., 14 July 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.