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 By Kenneth Tan

S.League cuts import players, freezes Singapore League Cup for 2018

Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson discuss the new rule that will make S.League sides more youthful and examine the future of the national team.

Only two import players per club will be allowed, and the Singapore League Cup will be put on hold, as part of sweeping changes for the S.League in 2018

Some of the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) plans on a more youth-oriented S.League were revealed during a meeting between FAS deputy president Bernard Tan and club chairmen on Tuesday night.

The six local clubs -- Balestier Khalsa, Geylang International, Home United, Hougang United, Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC -- will be required to have at least six players under the age of 23 in their squad, with at least three included in the starting eleven for every game.

This comes the Singapore national team failed to win a single game in 2017, while Japan's Albirex Niigata (S) won another quadruple of domestic trophies.

"This will bode well for the future as there will be more people playing at a higher level at an earlier stage," Tan told The Straits Times. "There have been questions asked... what if all the [U23] players get injured... do they have to start?

New FAS president Lim Kia Tong speaks exclusively to ESPN FC following his election as the new FAS president.

"We have told the clubs that we will be liberal and allow mid-season registration of U23 players if for some reason their U23 players are unable to play."

The quota of foreign players seems a reduction of three to two, with one mandatory to be under the age of 21.

The 2018 S.League season will run from late March until the end of October to allow the national team ample time to prepare for November's AFF Suzuki Cup.

All nine current clubs will continue to participate in 2018, with Garena Young Lions being kept together for at least another two seasons to prepare for the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Due to a tight schedule, the League Cup -- typically held mid-year -- will be frozen for at least one campaign.

S.League matches will be played at 5.30 p.m. on weekends, with plans to engage schools and communities on match days.

In addition, the Yo-yo Test -- a multi-stage shuttle run that gauges anaerobic fitness -- will replace the 2.4 kilometre run as the criteria to test players' physical readiness.

Meanwhile, promotion and relegation between the professional S.League and the two amateur National Football League (NFL) divisions will not happen just yet, but will continue to be explored by the FAS.

The full list of changes to the 2018 S.League season, including funding, is expected to be announced by Friday.

Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT

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