Why Soccer Numbers Matter

I first wrote this piece back in January of 2009, re-wrote it in 2013, and again in 2017 as part of 3rd Degree’s 20th birthday celebration. So this 2019 version is the 4th pass at this list of why numbers matter. Since 3rd Degree has moved a couple of times this post keeps getting lost in the void. Over the years it’s been by far the most asked for, requested, and clicked things I’ve ever written.

Every time I re-do this post, I’ve learned more and read more stories that I try and include.  Hopefully each time this piece gets better. I do update and freshen the lists of players with current players while still keeping old famous examples.

I happen to take numbers very seriously, to me they have meaning. I have strong ideas about what should be worn and by whom. I think they are important.

Except they’re not. Wear what you want.

But if you’re trying to pick a number for yourself, or trying to understand why a pro wears what he does, then maybe this will help you by learning some history and meaning for the numbers.

A Brief History of Numbers

When our modern sports formed ages ago jerseys didn’t have numbers on them. Or names for that matter. Over time numbers were added to jerseys so fans and media could tell who players were from high in the stands.

The earliest soccer numbers were handed out based on the lineup. The starting eleven players wore numbers 1 to 11, starting with the keeper as the #1 and moving from the back to the front and right to left.

To make a long story short, the most common formation when numbering was beginning to be used was the 2-3-5. Yes, that’s two defenders (#2, #3), three midfielders (#4, #5, #6), and five strikers (#7, #8, #9, #10, #11).  Although some countries didn’t use numbers until the W-M was in vogue, which makes some small differences.

Every sport has a history with numbers. In the early days of baseball, the batting order wore numbers 1 to 9 based on the place they hit in the order. Babe Ruth wore 3 and Lou Gehrig 4 because they hit 3rd and 4th in the Yankee order.  In college basketball – less so in the pros – numbers are mostly combinations of 0 to 5 like 11, 23, 32, 41, etc.  In American football, numbers indicate what position you play. Linebackers are 40s/50s, receivers used to be just 80s but now are also 1 to 19, running backs and DBs are 20s/30s/40s, etc.

In soccer as the shape of formations changed and evolved over the years the numbers moved in certain patterns depending on the country in which the evolution was taking place. Numbers took on a positional meaning that could slowly change over the decades and might have different meanings depending in which country you are asking.

When substitutes were allowed in soccer (originally there was no subbing) the subs would wear numbers starting at 12 and going up to 17 or so, depending on how many bench players were allowed.

People have written entire books on the evolution of tactics and you can spend a lifetime studying it. I’m going to try and explain it in a couple of paragraphs and won’t be doing it real justice.

I personally recommend The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner for a far greater dissertation on the evolution of tactics.

In the modern era with the advent of television, the marketing of players, and the sales of jerseys, teams began to assign specific numbers to players for an entire season. Numbers began to become synonymous with players and names started appearing on the back of kits.  Amazingly, a few leagues didn’t adopt the one number per player as a rule until the mid-90s.

In general terms, 1 to 11 remain the most coveted numbers. They are the pure, classic numbers of superstars and the soccer gods. In modern times the numbers in the teens and low 20s have become sought after due to 23 man world cup rosters. 

Only in the last ten to fifteen years with the advent of the massive squads of large teams have we begun to see numbers in the 30s and 40s come into play. As an example, Spain by rule uses numbers 1 to 25 and France 1 to 30.

With the more recent aberrations of media hype and marketing strangeness, we see numbers like 66 and 99 in countries without number rules.

Let’s run through them.

1 to 11

The old school starting numbers, the most coveted and sought after numbers from the history of the game.

1 – Keeper

Probably the most pristinely ubiquitous number in soccer is the #1 for the keeper. You just don’t see a field player wear this number. Ever. The 1 is the keeper, period. This rule should never, ever be broken*.

In fact, in some countries, the #1 kit is a keeper jersey by rule.

*Side Note: Yet this rule was broken and worn in the field. In the 70s a few countries wore jerseys numbers based on their alphabetical roster, notably Argentina and the Netherlands, so you saw field players with the 1 in the World Cup. I shudder to think of it.

World: Peter Schmeichel, Lev Yashin, José Luis Chilavert, Oliver Kahn, Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, David de Gea, Manuel Neuer.

USA: Brad Friedel, Tim Howard

FCD: Mark Dodd, Matt Jordan, Kevin Hartman, Jesse Gonzalez.

31 July 2011: FC Dallas goalie Kevin Hartman (#1) yells out instructions during the game between FC Dallas and Chivas USA at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. FC Dallas won the game 1-0. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

Usage that makes my head hurt: Any field player wearing #1. That’s just wrong.

FCD Side Story: When Dario Sala joined FC Dallas he and Jeff Cassar both asked for the #1 jersey after Scott Garlick retired. Colin Clark decided that rather than picking someone for the #1 he would let neither have it until one of them won the job outright. Sala stayed with his higher 48 and then 44 even when Cassar was gone.

2 – Right Back

Almost always a defender, and usually a right back. The #2 has been the right-sided defender since numbers were added to the game and never moved. Although it does pop up in the middle of the defense on rare occasions.

World: Dani Alves (w/ Brazil), Dani Carvajal, Cafu, Gary Neville, Ivan Cordoba

USA: Frankie Hejduk, DeAndre Yedlin

MLS: Tony Beltran, Jonathan Spector

FCD: Eric Dade, Cory Gibbs, Reggie Cannon

Usage that makes my head hurt: Clint Dempsey’s adoption of the “duce” moniker and the no. 2 jersey. He wore it as a kid and at Furman then carried it over to MLS. With the US, Dempsey wore the proper 8.

Cory Gibbs (#2) of the Dallas Burn defends against Jamie Moreno of DC United. (Rags Gardner, RII)

3 – The Defender’s Defender

The purest pure defender, usually a center back and has been so since the earliest days when along with the mo. 2 it was the first pair of defender numbers. 

Although Brits seem to think the 3 is a left back because for them the 5 and/or 6 dropped into the backline between the 2 and 3.  Rather than the 3 staying in the middle of the defense with the 4 – or the 6 in South America – dropping wide left.  I know, brits are funny.

World: Pablo Maldini, Jaap Stam, Pique, Giorgio Chiellini, Ashley Cole, Lucio

USA: Gregg Berhalter, Carlos Bocanegra, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Miazga

MLS: Drew Moor, Ike Opara, Michael Parkhurst

FCD: Ryan Suarez, Carey Talley, Greg Vanney, Ugo Ihemelu, Reto Ziegler

Usage that makes my head hurt: Ex-MLSer Calen Carr was a striker who wore the #3.

Carey Talley (#3) and FC Dallas huddle up prior to facing Colorado Rapids 5/18/05. (Rags Gardner, RII)

4 – The Shifter

This number is usually a defender or wingback and occasionally a midfielder depending on the country or culture. 4 started on the right side of midfield so it is often thought of as a flank player, but can also be seen as a center back in many places… or as a holding mid if your British.

As it was frequently one of the original three midfield numbers (4, 5, 6) that was shifted into the backline it’s quite often a defender’s number.

FCD Side Note: For FC Dallas #4 has been a left-sided player more often than not.

World: Javier Zanetti, Sergio Ramos, Pep Guardiola, Patrick Vieira, Ivan Rakitic, Jurgen Kohler, Claude Makelele, Frank de Boer, Frank Rijkaard

USA: Michael Bradley, Tyler Adams

MLS: Tyler Adams, Marvell Wynne, Greg Garza.

FCD: Chris Gbandi, Paul Broome, Diego Sonora, Andrew Jacobson, Bressan

Usage that makes my head hurt: Cesc Fabregas wears #4. According to wikipedia, Fabregas idolized Barcelona’s captain #4 Pep Guardiola, who would later give Fàbregas his shirt as consolation when Fàbregas’ parents divorced.

5 – Center Half

The #5 started as the central half in the 2-3-5 and in most places has stayed there. In the US a “center half” remains a midfielder, in England, a “center half” is a central defender, in both places, the #5 is still a center half. In South American, the 5 often stayed in the midfield as well.

So cultural background can dictate a lot in how this number is perceived midfield versus defense… but it’s almost universally central.

World: Rio Ferdinand, Fabio Cannavaro, Carlos Puyol, Franz Beckenbauer, Sergio Busquets, Zinedine Zidane (w/ Madrid)

USA: Thomas Dooley, John O’Brien, Oguchi Onyewu, Matt Besler

MLS: Kyle Beckerman, Matt Besler

FCD: Lubos Kubik, Steve Jolley, Marcelo Saragosa, Tenywa Bonseu

Usage that makes my head hurt: Jair Benitez wore #5 for FCD as a left back.

6 – Mr. Versatility

Perhaps more than any other number the 6 can pop up in multiple locations all over the field depending on your culture.  Like the 5, the 6 started out as a midfielder and in many locations it stayed there. Mostly a central player’s number, not typically a flank player.

In the US, for example, this number is so completely ingrained as the holding-mid that we call the position “the 6.” We define a normal 4-3-3 midfield these days a combo of 6-8-10.

In England, the 6 mostly migrated to center back dropping between the 2 and 3. In South American, notably Brazil, it migrated to left back or wingback.

Defense

World: Franco Baresi, Roberto Carlos, Marcelo (w/ Brazil), Bobby Moore, Tony Adams

USA: Steve Cherundolo, John Brooks.

MLS: Jay Heaps, Kofi Opare, Alexander Callens.

FCD: Steve Morrow, Tom Soehn.

Midfield

World: Cristiano Zanetti, Xavi, Paul Pogba, Ronald de Boer, Matthias Sammer

USA: Brandi Chastain, Maurice Edu, Darlington Nagbe

MLS: Osvaldo Alonso, Darlington Nagbe, Shea Salinas

FCD: Ronnie O’Brien, Pablo Ricchetti, Jackson

Usage that makes my head hurt: Anibal Chala being assigned the #6 for FC Dallas for an entire season without actually being here.

Ronnie O’Brien of FC Dallas. (Jason Gulledge, 3rd Degree)

7 – Right Wing

The #7 is known worldwide as an attacking number worn by a player with flare usually playing out wide, in particular on the right wing.  7 started as the right wing and pretty much stayed there. It can occasionally be left, but it feels better to me on the right.

Side Note: The history of the #7 at Manchester United alone is staggering: Jimmy Delaney, George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Michael Owen, and Christian Ronaldo… to name a few. Reinforcing why you don’t retire numbers in soccer.

World: Luis Figo, David Villa, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul, Kenny Dalglish, Eric Cantona, Johann Neeskens, Andriy Shevchenko 

USA: Demarcus Beasley, Eddie Lewis, Bobby Convey

MLS: Cristian Roldan, David Villa, Josef Martinez

FCD: Mark Santel, Dave ven den Bergh

Usages that makes my head hurt: Carlos Gruezo while at FC Dallas. 7 isn’t a holding mid number.

8 – Heart of Midfield

Eight is the classic two-way possession (or linking) central midfielder. Short of the #10 the most dominant player in the spine of the team, creative and tough at the same time. A pure midfielder’s midfielder. The position of the linking mid is these days called an 8.

FC Dallas side note: The eight is one of the more important numbers in FCD history, as it is in many places, because of Oscar Pareja.

World: Philipe Cocu, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrés Iniesta, Socrates, Dunga, Giuseppe Meazza, Hristo Stoitchkov, Toni Kroos

USA: Earnie Stewart, Clint Dempsey, Weston McKennie

MLS: Jonathan dos Santos, Graham Zusi, Diego Valeri

FCD: Oscar Pareja, Juan Toja, Richard Mulrooney, Victor Ulloa, Bryan Acosta

Juan Toja of FC Dallas. (Jason Gulledge, 3rd Degree)

9 – High Striker

This is the pure goal scorer, forever the center forward. The #9 is always the high target striker. It started in the center of the 5-man front line and never left. One of the two most significant numbers in football.

World: Ronaldo, Alan Shearer, Robert Lewandowski, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Batistuta, Alfredo Di Stefano, Hugo Sanchez, Marco van Basten, Bobby Charlton, Filippo Inzaghi, Patrick Kluivert, George Weah, and many, many more…

USA: Joe-Max Moore, Herculez Gomez, Mia Hamm, Gyasi Zardes

MLS: Juan Pablo Angel, Jamie Moreno, Ante Razov, Zlatan

FCD: Hugo Sanchez, Jason Kreis, Roberto Mina, Jeff Cunningham

Usage that makes my head hurt: That time Ramon Nunez wore it for Dallas

#9 Jeff Cunningham
9 Jeff Cunningham of FC Dallas in 2008 (Rags Gardner, RII)

10 – The Man

This is the Big Cheese, the Big Kahuna, El Jefe, the Boss. Wearing the #10 is saying “this is my team.” Wearing the #10 means you will carry the load and the burden both on and off the field. The names on this jersey are the all-time greats of the game. Forward, attacking mid, central mid, playmaker, sweeper even.

Positionally, these days, “the 10” is what we call the attacking-mid or off-striker behind the #9, the playmaker.

World: Pele, Maradona, Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane (w/ France), Lothar Matthaus, Ronaldinho, Denis Law, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Zico, Dennis Bergkamp, Rivaldo, Ferenc Puskas…

USA: Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, Christian Pulisic

MLS: Marco Etcheverry, Carlos Valderrama, Blanco, Landon Donovan, Giovani dos Santos, Sebastian Giovinco, Kaka

FCD: David Ferreira, Dante Washington, Joselito Vaca, Mauro Diaz

Usage that makes my head hurt: Ricardo Iribarren once wore number 10 for the Dallas Burn as a marking back and cursed the franchise for years.

Landon Donovan doesn’t like FC Dallas. (Jason Gulledge, 3rd Degree)

11 – The Slasher

The other forward, perhaps a wing or wide midfielder with an attacking bent. Started as the left winger and has stayed a winger/slashing kind of player. More left-sided.

World: Ryan Giggs, Didier Drogba, Robin Van Persie, Romario, Ángel Di María, Francisco Gento, Edgar Davids, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Miroslav Klose, Michael Laudrup 

USA: Eric Wynalda, Brian Ching, Stuart Holden

MLS: Javier Morales, Alejandro Bedoya

FCD: Antonio Martinez, Damian Alvarez, Andre Rocha, Fabian Castillo, Santiago Mosquera

Usage that makes my head hurt: Clarence Goodson grew up a forward so switched to the #11 as a defender when it became available with FC Dallas.

09 May 2015 – FC Dallas forward Fabian Castillo (#11) and FC Dallas midfielder Mauro Diaz (#10) celebrate at the end of the game during the MLS regular-season game between FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

1-11 Formation

All of which leaves us with something like this for our original 11 as we see them today… give or take. Sorta…

The classic American soccer numbers system of 1 to 11 positioned in a 4-3-3.

12 to 23

In the current era of 23-man international squads the numbers 12 to 23 have become modern favorites and are sought after much more than they were, say 15 to 20 years ago. Positionally they tend to shift around a lot more than 1-11 as they don’t have a traditional tactical interpretation.

You could expand this section up to 25 or even 30 if you want as some leagues have number rules and squads that big.

La Liga in Spain, for example, requires senior professional players to wear numbers 1 to 25 with the keeper in 1, 13, or 25.  In France, the roster is 1 to 30 with 1, 16, and 30 reserved for goalkeepers.

12 – High Impact

Traditionally the 12 was the first sub listed, which often meant the keeper in ages past. Now the number twelve is a large contributor to the team, and in most recent years has begun to transform to an attacking style player, even if a defender, and is a frequent starter in large squads.

The 12 is often chosen as double 6 (holding mid?) or as 2+10 (right back).

World: Marcelo Vieira (w/ Madrid), Olivier Giroud, Julio Cesar, Alex Sandro, Giovanni van Bronckhorst

USA: Jay DeMerit, Jimmy Conrad, Brad Guzan

MLS: Fredy Montero, Romell Quioto

FCD: Brandon Pollard, Jordan Stone, Arturo Alvarez, Eric Avila, Ryan Hollingshead

Ryan Hollingshead of FC Dallas. (FC Dallas)

13 – Mr. Unlucky

A player with the mojo to wear the “unlucky 13″ and get away with it. A player that will throw their arrogance back in the face of fate and tell it to take a hike. Style, flash, brashness, guts, and attitude are hallmarks of the #13.

Often a midfielder and almost a second 10, if you will, except in Spain where the 13 is required by rule to be a keeper.

World: Michael Ballack, Alessandro Nesta, Maicon (w/ Inter), Eusebio (1966 World Cup), Thomas Muller, Gerd Muller, Rafinha

USA: Cobi Jones, Clint Mathis, Ricardo Clark, Jordan Morris.

FCD: Brian Haynes, Dax McCarty, Tesho Akindele, Zdenek Ondrasek

14 – The Brains

The fourteen is a class player, most often in the midfield and usually one that gets by with brains rather than brawn. This number became famous because of Johan Cruyff, the embodiment of total football. He switched to it in 1970, previously he had been #9.

FC Dallas side note: For FCD these players have a lot of grit and heart added in. It’s arguably the most influential number in club history.

World: Johan Cruyff, Jose Maria Guti, Thierry Henry (club), Xabi Alonso, Bobby Moffat

MLS: Chris Armas, Ben Olsen, Steve Ralston, Chad Marshall, Alex.

FCD: Leonel Alvarez, Ted Eck, Drew Moor, George John, Atiba Harris

FCD Side Story: This is the number FCD wanted to give to Simo Valakari when he joined the club because of the history of the number. Unfortunately, the soon to be cut Gavin Glinton was wearing #14 and FCD hadn’t reached an injury settlement to clear Glinton off the roster by the time Valakari was added. So instead FCD gave Valakari #17.

George John of FC Dallas celebrates with fans. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

15 – Mr. Personality

For some reason 15 is often a player with a big personality, whether it is ego, toughness, or just general hubris. Not specifically linked to a position on the field although the #15 doesn’t seem too often a striker.

World: Olivier Dacourt, Nemanja Vidić, Lilian Thuram, Mats Hummels, Daniel Sturridge

MLS: John Wolyniec, Jessee Marsch, Roy Lassiter, Thomas McNamara.

FCD: Chad Deering, Mark Wilson, Adrian Serioux, Jacori Hayes

16 & 17 – The Ten + Whatever

Nothing particularly sets these numbers apart except that they are often relatively desired numbers in the modern 23 man squad. Often chosen as ten + whatever number the player really wanted or simply as “any number under 20.”

These two numbers kick off a string of frequent striker numbers up to 20, but they can be used in other places. In general terms, I feel like 16 tends slightly toward midfield as 6+10 and 17 tends toward attack as 7+10. 

Contrary to that, for FC Dallas the 17 has been defensive.

In France, the 16 is reserved for a keeper.

16 – Sixteen

World: Roy Keane, Daniele de Rossi

USA: Benny Feilhaber

MLS: Josh Wolff, David Estrada

FCD: Alexy Korol, David Wagenfuhr, Bobby Warshaw, Ricardo Pepi

17 – Seventeen

World: David Trézéguet, Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, Kevin De Bruyne, Marek Hamsik, Jerome Boateng, Emmanuel Petit

USA: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore

MLS: Chris Rolfe, Chris Wingert, Will Bruin

FCD: Zarco Rodriguez, Simo Valakari, Aaron Pitchkolan, Zach Loyd

Zach Loyd of FC Dallas. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

18 – The Double-9

#18 is sometimes a striker or forward number, most often chosen as 9+9. Ivan Zamorano when he was with Inter used to put a little “+” between the 1 and the 8 to make 9. It’s also occasionally chosen as 10+8 for a creative or linking midfielder.

And in the USA it’s sometimes a keeper number. Perhaps because when rosters were at 18 it was the highest number? Or is it all because of Kasey Keller?

Field Players

World: Jurgen Klinsmann, Paul Scholes, Shaun Wright-Phillips (England), Lionel Messi (early days Argentina), Ivan Zamorano, Jordi Alba, Ashley Young

USA: Chris Wondolowski, CJ Sapong

MLS: Dom Dwyer

FCD: Richard Farrer, Richard Mulrooney, Toni Nhleko, Brandon Servania

Keepers

USA: Kasey Keller

MLS: Pat Onstad, Nick Rimando, Jon Busch, Matt Pickens.

19 – Ten + Nine

Similar to the 18, the 19 is often chosen as 10+9. Clinton Morrison while at Crystal Palace also put a little + between the 1 and the 9 on his jersey.

World: Lionel Messi (early days at Barcelona), Esteban Cambiasso, Mario Götze, Dwight Yorke, Leroy Sane

MLS: Chad Barrett, Dane Richards, Juninho

FCD: Bobby Rhine, Paxton Pomykal

Bobby Rhine. #19. (Rags Gardner, RII)

FCD Side Note: #19 is now a Homegrown only number to honor Bobby, currently worn by Paxton Pomykal.

20 – The Other 9

Rather than being thought of as 10×2, #20 is frequently worn by someone who is a prototypical 9.

No. 20 was made popular as a striker number in 1982 by Paolo Rossi when he led Italy to the World Cup title as he scored six goals to win the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball. Italy handed out numbers from 1 to 22 in order from defender to striker for that tournament. All the forwards in the Italy squad wore 15 and up that year.

World: Deco, Paolo Rossi, Gonzalo Higuain (w/ Juve), Vava, Dele Alli, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Oliver Bierhoff

USA: Brian McBride

MLS: Brian McBride, Taylor Twellman, Jack McInerney.

FCD: Carlos Ruiz, Brek Shea, Ronald Cerritos, Arial Graziani, Mickey Trotman.

Carlos Ruiz rejoins LA Galaxy and is introduced by club president Alexi Lalas. (LA Galaxy, MLS)

21 – BlackJack

The odd duck of the first 23 numbers. If you see someone wearing 21 they were usually assigned #21 and then just don’t bother to change. Donovan, for example, only wore it in the US squad until 10 opened up.

World: David Silva, Philipp Lahm, Andre Pirlo, Zinedine Zidane (w Juve)

USA: Landon Donovan (early days), Paul Arriola

MLS: Dema Kovalenko, Shalrie Joseph

FCD: Michael Barrios, Alex Yi, Greg Vanney

Greg Vanney of FC Dallas strikes the ball in the Pizza Hut Park opener vs New York Red Bulls 8/6/05. (Rags Gardner, RII)

22 – The Lalas

The double 2, so more often a defender. Partially made famous in the states by Alexi Lalas. It’s also often a keeper jersey, particularly for FC Dallas

Note: Christian Pulisic is bringing a new era of notoriety to the 22. In a few more years we may be calling this The Pulisic if he sticks with it with his pro team. Although I’m quite sure he’ll be after the 10 jersey as his career progresses.

World: Kaka (AC Milan), Dani Alvez, Willian, Isco, Christian Pulisic

USA: Alexi Lalas

MLS: William Conde, Davy Arnaud, Ramiro Corrales, Marvell Wynne

FCD: Matt Jordan, Chris Snitko, DJ Countess, Josh Lambo

23 – The Beckham, a.k.a Michael Jordan

The last World Cup squad number these days. #23 was famously chosen by David Beckham when he went to Real Madrid to “honor Michael Jordan.” In reality, #7 at Real was taken by Mr. Madrid himself, Raul. So Beckham had to pick something else and 23 was available. Because of Beckham and Jordan, this is now a very popular number.

Traditionally in the 23 man international squads where it was the “extra” player added beyond 22 – i.e. two complete sets of 11 – this number was frequently the 3rd keeper.

World: David Beckham (Madrid), Marco Materazzi, Jamie Carragher, Carlo Cudicini, Massimo Oddo, Massimo Ambrosini, Sol Campbell, Arturo Vidal

USA: Eddie Pope

MLS: David Beckham, Colin Clark, Ezra Hendrickson, Kei Kamara.

FCD: Blake Wagner, Sergi Daniv, Kellyn Acosta, Thomas Roberts

Kellyn Acosta wore the #23 while playing for FC Dallas. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

Usage that makes my head hurt: Stop wearing #23 for Beckham, wear the #7 and honor the world game. Beckham wore 23 after he “sold out” to the money and glamour of Madrid and then American hype. When he was a soccer player first, at Man U and with England, he wore 7. You want to bend it like Beckham? Then wear 7. 

And get off my lawn.

24 to 30 – The Large Squad

There is nothing in and of itself “wrong” with these numbers, they are a byproduct of larger squads over 23 players. In MLS these are primarily developmental squad numbers as the MLS “senior rosters” hold up to 20 players.

Oten these numbers are just handed out as what’s available, they certainly are with FC Dallas where young players don’t get to pick low numbers.

As squads around the world are bigger, and as players move more frequently, these higher numbers are being used more and more. Some of them have become famous both in MLS and around the world. Here are a few.

24Matt Hedges, Tim Howard at Everton.

Matt Hedges (#24) rises for a header in the 2019 MLS All-Star game. (MLS)

25 – Brian Ching, Antonio Valencia, Gianfranco Zola, Walker Zimmerman. Required by rule to be a keeper in Spain.

Walker Zimmerman celebrates his goal against Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semi-finals on November 8th, 2015. (Craig Marcho, 3rd Degree)

26 – John Terry.  He chose it because it meant he got to sit next to #25 Gianfranco Zola in the lockerroom. Yes, seriously.

30 – Kyle Zobeck, Ray Burse. 30 is required by rule to be a goalkeeper in France.

Ray Burse with FC Dallas in 2009. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

31 and Up – Oddities

There are the numbers that really stretch the upper limits of rosters. In massive clubs, they are needed, often for youth players or U21s who are called up.  In MLS, they aren’t needed so much but we still see them.

In very recent times I’ve come to believe some players are sometimes picking these numbers just to be odd.  Anything above here pretty much makes my head hurt. I’m too old school, I hate numbers that are silly, goofy, funny, odd, or a joke… which describes pretty much anything above this.

31 – George Weah at Chelsea.

32 – David Beckham at AC Milan. The reverse of 23 obviously.

33 – Kenny Cooper.

This is the NFL number that you see more on kids than professionals. Cooper wore it because the 9 was taken, then his second choice 3 was taken… Cooper said he had previously worn 3 for a large part of his career to pay homage to a friend of his father.

Kenny Cooper celebrates with Jackson and his fellow teammates. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

37 – Maxi Urruti.  He has worn this number all but one year of his career.

Maxi Urruti’s #37 (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

41 – Ted Eck. He swapped to #41 when Leonel Alvarez briefly returned to the Dallas Burn.

42 – Yaya Torre. The reverse of his number at Barcelona (24).  Also the ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything.

45 – Mario Balotelli.  Inter youth players wore between 36 and 50, he took 45 as 4+5 = 9… then he scored in all four games in which he wore the number… so he kept it for good luck.

44 & 48 – Dario Sala. Dario said he wore #48 to honor his wife’s father who wore it in college. He later switched to the #44 to honor someone else.

48 Dario Sala

66 – Alain Sutter. Alain Sutter when he played for the Burn wore 66 as an homage to America and Route 66.

69 – Bixente Lizarazu 

76 – Andriy Shevchenko at AC Milan. A “birth year” number that’s going to become very uncommon as we all get older.

77 – Andy Williams. When #7 is taken you double down.  Lots of versions of this these days.  66, 88.

99 – The Gretzky. 

Made famous by NHL legend Wayne Gretzky who chose it when he was a kid because he wanted the #9 to honor Gordie Howe and on his youth team someone already had the 9. Like Gretzky, most people who wear 99 actually want 9. See Bradley Wright-Phillips or Ronaldo at AC Milan.

0 & 00 – Another Keeper

A keeper number, particularly in the US college system but occasionally even in MLS. These two numbers are very American as it’s a very non-traditional world number.

Jeff Cassar wore 00 with FCD. Englishman Alex Stepney wore 0 with the Dallas Tornado in ’79 and ’80. Steve Zerhusen wore 00 with Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1979 and ’80.

Jeff Cassar wearing the 00 with FC Dallas. (John Rivera, Captured View)