What Is A Clean Sheet In Soccer?

There are plenty of confusing terms and phrases in the sport of soccer. If you’re new to the game, you can easily be confused by it all. We’ll look at one of the odd terms in this article: ‘Clean sheet’.

Like most of the strange phrases in soccer, a clean sheet is nothing like how it sounds!

A clean sheet is when a team doesn’t concede any goals in a game.

It is a statistic that is commonly used to judge goalkeepers and defenders but is also a generally impressive achievement for every player on the team.

Why Is It Called A Clean Sheet?

The origins of the term, ‘clean sheet’, date back to times when technology was primitive and there were no computers to keep track of the score. Instead, goals would be written on a sheet of paper, along with all the other stats like shots, penalties, and corners.

Therefore, if one team didn’t concede any goals during a match, no mark was written next to their name on the scoresheet and their sheet was ‘clean’.

As you can imagine, it was pretty difficult to keep track of all the stats in a game on a sheet of paper! These days, electronic scoreboards and computers are used to keep track of the score and all other stats in a game.

However, at the amateur levels of soccer, you will still find that the only scorekeeping method is the referee writing it in a notebook, so the term, ‘clean sheet’, does still have some literal relevance today.

How Hard Is It To Keep A Clean Sheet?

Maintaining a clean sheet means keeping the ball out of your own team’s goal for the entire match. It’s definitely not something that happens easily and the opposition team will do everything they can to make sure you fail.

The likelihood of a clean sheet changes somewhat as you move up the divisions and age groups in soccer. For example, in the youngest age groups, goalkeepers are not as well established and will often just be outfield players that volunteer to go in goal. Therefore, clean sheets tend to happen a lot less often.

Once you move up to older age groups and higher ability levels, goalkeepers are often better trained and more well established in the team. In these cases, clean sheets happen more often because the goalkeepers are simply better.

Clean sheets are most common at the professional, senior level of soccer. At this stage in a player’s development, defending is just as important as attacking and the back line will all be trained very well to keep the ball out of their goal.

Goalie diving save - What is a clean sheet in soccer

How Does A Player Get A Clean Sheet?

A clean sheet is an achievement that the whole team takes part in, regardless of their position. Despite this, you’ll often hear people talking about how many clean sheets an individual player has. Why is this the case?

When people discuss an individual player’s number of clean sheets, it is likely because that player is a goalkeeper or defender. Even though the whole team participates in achieving the clean sheet, these are the most important positions, so it is often attributed to them.

In the same way that attacking players are judged based on their number of goals and assists, defending players are judged by their clean sheets. 

Who Has The Most Clean Sheets In Soccer?

As we mentioned earlier, clean sheets are often attributed to the defensive players on a team, particularly the goalkeeper. Let’s take a look at which goalkeepers have kept the most clean sheets in their careers:

Major League Soccer – Nick Rimando (167)

Nick Rimando is one of the United States’ best goalkeepers ever, though he rarely made many appearances for his national team because of competition from Tim Howard.

However, Rimando does hold a record that Howard could never beat: most MLS clean sheets.

Rimando kept a clean sheet 167 times out of the 552 matches he played in Major League Soccer. From 2000 to 2019, Rimando played for Miami Fusion, D.C. United, and Real Salt Lake.

Premier League – Petr Cech (202)

Petr Cech was a goalkeeper from the Czech Republic who spent most of his career playing in the English Premier League.

He was widely regarded as one of the best keepers in the world at his peak and his clean sheet stats certainly back up that claim. Cech kept a total of 202 clean sheets in the Premier League, playing for Chelsea and Arsenal.

To give a clearer idea of how impressive this is, the second-place goalkeeper only kept 169 clean sheets in his career!

International – Iker Casillas (102)

Spain’s Iker Casillas dominated the international game, thanks to his incredible goalkeeping ability and the impenetrable defense in front of him. While playing for Spain, Casillas won the European Championship and World Cup, he even captained his national side.

In his glittering international career, Casillas kept 102 clean sheets in only 168 games. This remarkable feat also puts him near the top of the list in terms of clean sheet percentage with an incredible 61%.

All-Time Greatest – Ray Clemence (460)

The title of ‘most clean sheets in history’ belongs to the English goalkeeper, Ray Clemence. He spent most of his career playing for Liverpool in the English top division, though also played for Scunthorpe and Tottenham Hotspurs, as well as the England national team.

Over the course of his entire professional career, Clemence kept a total of 460 clean sheets in 1070 games! Incredibly, he also ranks at number 6 in the world for the most professional matches played.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about clean sheets in soccer. As you can tell by now, this achievement happens pretty regularly, with most goalkeepers earning at least one per season. This somewhat depends on the defense and team in front of the goalie too.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive and it still takes a lot of hard work to achieve it.

Next time you’re watching a soccer game on TV, keep an eye on the goalkeeper and see how hard they’re working to keep a clean sheet!

Check out the crazy video below where the goalie receives a red card and a field player has to play in goal. And he actually keeps a clean sheet!

Picture of Bryan Coe

Bryan Coe

Bryan is the founder of The Soccer Handbook. He has been playing soccer since he was 8 years old, continues to play, and has also done his share of volunteer coaching over the years. Bryan’s mission is to help coaches coach better and help people enjoy the beautiful game throughout their lives.


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