Thursday, November 6, 2008

What do you think about making Away Goals count more?

As most of you probably know, in most leagues around the world that play two-leg series, away goals are the first tie-breaker. This really does completely change the complexion of first-leg games. Now to be perfectly honest, I have always opposed implementing this rule in MLS games. But after reading this excellent, excellent column from Pat Walsh at, I have changed my tune.

(And I am not just homering this because it would benefit Dynamo. The truth is we got hurt by away goals earlier this season by "losing" the mythical cannon (biggest open secret around here, it does not exist) to fc frisco due to away goals after all three games ended in ties.)

Check out this great column:

Walsh’s Word: MLS Needs The "Away Goals" Rule

By Pat Walsh

What a bland weekend of MLS soccer last week was. Four playoff games, three of which were nationally televised -- and just five goals.

In the past five years, the first legs of MLS’s Conference Semifinals series have never provided more than two goals per game. This is due in large part to the away teams playing defensively, looking to win at home in the second leg.

Of course, that’s their prerogative. Steve Nicol has been a master at this tactic over the years. As a result, New England has advanced to five straight conference finals, every single one since the current MLS playoff structure was implemented. Only once in that time did the Revolution play their first leg at home.

While the Midnight Riders can celebrate that success, it doesn’t mean the casual fans of the league are enjoying the ride. The rest of us around the country are subjected time and again to first legs in which each team seemingly would be just as happy to have the coin flip determine whether the game results in a draw or a one-goal win for the home team. Then each can go about preparing for the more important second leg accordingly.

But, unlike NBA playoff games, the first halves of these series can matter.

The remedy to this scenario is simple: the away goals rule. The widely spread reason for not using this tiebreaker is that the casual American fan will not understand the concept of the away goal rule. I don’t buy it.

This is a land in which NASCAR has grown dramatically in the past decade, roughly the same time as MLS has been in existence. Casual fans of the driving-in-a-circle sport have quickly grasped the complex system of bonus points for the sprint to the cup, or whatever it’s called these days. Is the away goals rule more complicated than that?

Here’s the real danger. After an amazing season that provided a great playoff race, the postseason is not building on that success and positive energy.

The playoffs are the time that the major leagues draw in the casual fans. Case in point, the aforementioned NASCAR amended its rules in 2004 to provide its fans with a playoff system. Even the PGA has jumped on board, instituting the playoff-ish FedEx Cup last year.

But in MLS, the playoffs -- especially the first legs of these conference semifinals -- are the worst of times, not the best of times.

In five years under the current format, only once have all four first-leg matches averaged two goals. Last year hit rock bottom as only three goals were scored on the first weekend.

This year wasn’t much better with just five goals over the four games. Of course, Yura Movsisyan’s cheeky backheeled goal will be remembered. And Steven Lenhart’s last-second tally provided a great finish in Kansas City. But those moments were too far and in between.

Let’s compare those numbers to the UEFA Champions League, which goes to two-legged series from the round of 16 through the semifinals. The past three years, the first leg has been the higher scoring leg, averaging well over two goals per game. That’s not to say there’s a flip flop and no goals are scored on the return leg as even those games averaged at least two goals per game. But it shows that if the team that plays away in the first leg has more incentive to score, they will look to get into the attack and the games will wind up with more goals.

This isn’t to say goals will lead to better games. But goals are good for the casual fan. More importantly, goals and the initiative to create more goals gives the games the kind action that draws in casual fans, like Javier Morales’s playmaking and vision in setting up Movsisyan’s goal. Then again, Real was at home, meaning they had the pressure to score, which helps explain their constant attacking mindset, especially compared with Chivas USA’s seeming reluctance to cross the midfield stripe.

Of the other away teams, Columbus and Houston went forward the most and were rewarded with the only two road goals, both after the 85th minute. Chicago rarely tested New England’s Matt Reis in their 0-0 draw, confident they would finish off the Revs this Thursday at Toyota Park.

Had Columbus, Houston, Chicago, and Chivas known that an away goal mattered even more, there is a good chance they would have pressed from the beginning. Instead, we didn’t see the best out of the some of MLS’s best teams because the risk was more than the reward was worth.

And it is the casual fan that loses the most.

Pat Walsh writes about Major League Soccer for


Jose Miguel Burgos said...

I like the idea. That is the way they do it in most countries anyway!

Good luck and keep up the good work!

"MLS en espanol-Blog No Oficial"

mister3d said...

argghh, a champions league/mls comparison...please don't do that.

Despite my limited knowledge of mls history, I remember October 22, 2006 a first leg semifinal with 3 goals.

Chivas USA 2 Houston Dynamo 1

Goals should be goals. Some teams will do the bunker-hope-to-counter tactic no matter what rule is applied.

Sure way to make the playoffs better--kidnap steve nicol in fall and keep his team and its sad supporters off of national TV forever.

Make the semifinals a one game contest and the higher seed gets the win if tied (that will engineer a stop to nicol's play for the penalty kicks gambit). Or just have the no penalty kicks/higher seed advances rule for the existing 2 game semifinal system. No idea if that would even help.

Away goals are fine but in no way can they guarantee spectacular soccer by themselves. Ugly defensive soccer has enjoyed a long and successful history. The dark element to the light of the beautiful game.

Martek said...

mister3d, as always, you bring up a good point. On one level, I agree that goals are goals are goals, still, the away goals thing DOES introduce an additional strategic element that is quite fun.

I also prefer it to PKs in settling ties if for no other reason than it is something that is produced in the run of the game on the field, rather than a made-up post-game skills contest like PKs.

I'm fine without away goals, but think it might be a fun addition to the MLS playoffs.