BackgroundThe ability to recover in the shortest possible time plays an important role especially in intermittent sports such as soccer. Evidence suggests that a well-developed endurance performance has positive effects on the repeated-sprint ability and thus also on the short-term recovery. However, it has not been clarified whether these relationships still exist in a soccer-specific situation. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the ability of semi-professional soccer players to recover during standardized small-sided games (SSGs) as an endurance performance indicator.MethodsEighteen male semi-professional soccer players (age, 23.5 ± 3.7 years) performed an incremental treadmill test (ITT) to determine their running velocity and heart rate at a fixed lactate threshold of 4 mmol L−1 (v4). Two days later, the players carried out six bouts of 4 vs. 4 SSGs (duration, 90 s; load to rest ratio, 1:1). A GPS-based tracking system was used to determine distances covered at four fixed speed zones (i.e., < 7.2 km/h, 7.2–14.4 km/h, 14.4–19.8 km/h, > 19.8 km/h) and total distance covered during the SSGs. Furthermore, the frequency of occurrence of accelerations (> 1.54 m s−2) was calculated. SSGs’ internal load was quantified by average heart rate and blood lactate concentration after the SSGs. Their recovery ability was evaluated using heart rate recovery (HRR) after the last bout of the SSGs.ResultsA very large correlation (r = − .91) with an explained variance of 84% was found between HRR and v4. Further, a better performance in the ITT was also related with a higher number of accelerations executed during SSGs (r = .60). The total distance and distances in predefined speed zones did not show any association to v4.ConclusionsThis study showed a strong relationship between HRR after standardized 4 vs. 4 SSGs and the soccer players’ endurance performance in a laboratory setting. Thus, besides being associated with endurance capacity, v4 seems sufficient to evaluate the sport-specific ability to recover in soccer players.