Soccer (football) is a tradition-rich, history-filled, and prideful game. One way to highlight the best of the best players is with a soccer cap. A soccer cap, or international cap, is a tally of the number of international games a player played in during their career.
So why is it called a cap, and what games can qualify to earn a cap? Do you get a physical hat to wear during the game, and how do you achieve this recognition? Here is the complete breakdown of what a cap is in soccer.
A Brief History of the Cap in Soccer
A cap, or international cap, goes back to an international soccer game between Scotland and England in 1872. During that soccer game, Scotland had its players wear cowls, and the English wore caps to tell who was on what side. As the years went by, England began awarding a white cap with a rose on it to their players during international play to stand out on the pitch.
Today, players don’t receive an actual cap for playing at the international level. Instead, they get a number added to their career stats page that illustrates the number of international games they were a part of. However, like the 100th cap, some milestones might receive a special award recognizing the achievement.
What Games can a Soccer Player Earn a Cap?
- Olympic soccer matches
- Olympic qualifying matches
- International friendly matches
- Games to qualify for the World Cup
- FIFA World Cup matches
- Continental competitions
How Does a Soccer Player Earn an International Cap?
A soccer play earns a cap during an international match when they appear during the game. For example, your national team (England) is playing against (Scotland), and you get a cap when you make an international appearance in the game.
However, if you don’t enter the international game, you don’t get a cap even if you travel to the game. For example, you can play for Arsenal or Manchester United and be selected to play for England, but you don’t get a cap if you don’t appear in the international soccer match.
Can Players Who Enter the Game as a Substitute Earn a Cap?
Yes, a player who comes off the bench to play via a substitution during the international soccer game receives a cap. It doesn’t matter if they don’t even touch the soccer ball during the game. They get a cap as long as they are on the field during the match.
Why are Caps Important?
Caps are important because they represent their national team’s best players playing on the biggest stage in soccer. The cap helps distinguish the players on the field during the international match vs. those on the bench. Playing soccer on the biggest stage receives special recognition, which is why they get this marketing on their stats page.
Outside of soccer, cricket still awards physical caps during their games. Like soccer, cricket also recognizes players playing on their national team on the biggest stage.
Can Players Earn Caps for Different Teams over their Career?
Yes, soccer allows international players to receive caps for different teams. With the rule change in 2020, players can move to different international teams and thus earn caps from numerous organizations. You can read more about the rule changes from Sports Illustrated and Section 5.2 for the Federation of Football Association.
Do Players Get an Actual Cap in Soccer?
Today, soccer players don’t get physical caps for international games unless they hit a milestone. For example, some players will get a commemorative cap for their 50th or 100th caps in their career, but otherwise, there is no physical cap anymore. There was a physical cap in the 1800s because that was how to tell players apart.
Can Soccer Players Wear a Hat During a Game?
Soccer rules state that a player can wear a hat as long as it meets the Laws of the Game criteria. The criteria are that the referee needs to confirm that the headgear won’t endanger anyone on the pitch. As long as the referee approves the headgear before the game, the soccer player can wear it during the match.
Typically, the players who wear a hat are goalkeepers, and they wear protective headgear to reduce any injuries that can occur. Petr Čech was a goaltender in his career, and after receiving a head injury during a match, he came back wearing protective headgear.
What Does First Cap Mean in Soccer?
The first cap means that the soccer player is making their first international appearance during a soccer game.
Who Has the Most Caps for Men’s Soccer?
Soh Chin Ann has the most caps in men’s soccer at 219. Bader Al Mutawa is second place, and third place is currently a tie. The tie in the third place is between Ahmed Hassan and Cristiano Ronaldo. Check out the most up-to-date list of caps since some of the players on the list might still be actively playing.
Who Has the Most Caps for Women’s Soccer?
Kristine Lilly holds the most caps for soccer at 354 as of January 2022. In second place is Carli Lloyd at 316, and in third place is Christie Pearce at 311. Check out the complete list of cap leaders in women’s soccer, as some of the names on the list are still playing today.
Conclusion: What is a Cap in Soccer?
In summary, a cap in soccer represents the number of times a player made an appearance during an international match. What began to separate Scotland and England players in 1872 has turned into something much more significant over the years. Getting a cap is an officially recognized achievement for any player on the world stage.
Representing your country in soccer is truly an honor and being on the field during a match requires special recognition. That special recognition is a player’s cap total and helps separate the best players in the game.