In this Sept. 6, 2022, file photo, Katahdin's Cole Chickering and Southern Aroostook's Danial Kuindersma chase after the ball during a boys soccer game in Dyer Brook. Katahdin won 4-0. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Starting next fall, Maine high schools struggling to field a soccer team may have the opportunity to play a smaller version of the sport.

Maine Principals’ Association Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson said that based on coach survey data, the organization will give teams the choice to compete in a class of soccer that plays eight players on the field on each team instead of 11. Schools have until July to make the final decision.

The new class needs approval of the interscholastic management committee and then the membership will vote on it in April, according to Bisson.

Maine is believed to be the first state in the country to consider adding eight-player soccer to its high school ranks and is the latest sign of the state’s declining school enrollment numbers. Eight-player soccer comes four years after the MPA introduced eight-player football, as more sports seem headed to smaller-scaled versions of their traditional formats.

In 2019, eight-player football began with 10 teams in the inaugural season. This past fall, 27 teams played eight-player football.

The addition of eight-player soccer will allow schools struggling with low participation numbers in soccer to continue offering the sport to its student athletes. Several schools have been considering the move to eight-player soccer even before the new class was officially announced.

“Our boys the last few years, we’ve struggled,” Southern Aroostook Athletic Director Cliff Urquhart said. “Our numbers the last couple years have been a max of 12 or 13 guys. That’s before injuries, cards, moose hunts, all the stuff that happens during the course of the season.”

Urquhart said last month that he’s been in talks to move the boys soccer team to eight-side soccer, but he hopes that it is a temporary change.

“What we want to do is maybe do it for a year or two just to get us over the hunt and get more kids to do 11-man,” Urquhart said. “That’s the goal and I think that should be the goal for a lot of schools. Play eight so you can build your program up.”

There will be north and south regions in the new class.

The minimum players that can be on a soccer team is seven, according to the National Federation of State High School Athletics. Playing eight on eight gives teams breathing room if they lose one player to a red card or injury before having to forfeit.

In this new class, each team can play four games against 11-player teams. The two teams will be able to negotiate a number of players to play on each team, but if no agreement is reached, then it will be 11 players against eight.

At Woodland, athletic director John Rogers said the school’s girls team is considering the change.

“Girls are looking at it more than the boys because we have 22 boys,” Rogers said. “The girls, we played all year with nine or 10.”

This fall Van Buren created co-op teams with Wisdom High School. Matt Rossignol, the Van Buren athletic director, said the teams are considering moving to eight-player instead.

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Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.