Tuesday, 5 July 2011

OPINION: Don't let the goal addiction spoil the MLS.

How do you end a goal drought?

For football managers, this is a question that can really keep you awake at night.

Unless you've got heaps of cash to throw at the next up-and-coming goal machine, it can be a real bamboozler. Teams like Liverpool and Chelsea had that luxury this January, spending big on the likes of Luis Suarez (left) and Fernando Torres (with varying levels of success).

But what about when the drought isn't affecting a team - but an entire league?

In Jack Bell's article for The New York Times today, he expresses his worry that teams in the Major League might be erring on the side of caution a little too much.

Bell' argument is well-supported. The statistics he quotes really are alarming:

"With the M.L.S. season not yet at the midway point, the 18 teams have combined for 20 scoreless draws, already a league record.

There have been 64 draws in 158 league games (41 percent of all games) in 2011."

Even the most loyal MLS advocate would wince at those figures. In the Prem, just 29 percent of our games last season were draws, while La Liga boasts 21 percent as a continent low.

Nobody likes a nil-nil. I remember shaking with excitement in the anticipation of this year's first Manchester derby (even as a neutral!). Packing into a bouncing Leeds pub with my friends, we joined a mass of singing United and City fans, mad with anticipation. The goal-less draw we were subjected to was the worst match I've seen in recent years.

But as the statistics show, it isn't a problem for the English game.

Still - I'm not so sure it's that big an issue for the MLS either. When staying with my family in California this spring, my uncle told me he didn't like soccer due to the "boring scorelines". "It's all 1-0, 1-1, 0-0, 2-1... We want to see more points scored so we can get more involved."

My uncle is, of course, clearly insane when it comes to sport. A big score does not a good game make (although it often helps, if we're being honest). However, he believed that was one of the main reasons soccer hadn't taken off big-time in the States.

In Jack Bell's article, he speculates on a 'remedy' for the lack of goals.

"The point system in the North American Soccer League might provide a framework for M.L.S. to tweak the current points system. To encourage offense, the N.A.S.L. awarded 6 points for a win, 0 for a loss (there were no ties because of the league’s novel shootout scheme). It got interesting with bonus points: 1 additional point for each goal scored, up to a maximum of three. So winning a game with three goals scored yielded 9 points."

This is where I would disagree with Jack. The MLS has to stick to FIFA rules for its points and shoot-out formats: or else risk its reputation taking a battering. At this stage in its infancy, it can't afford to do that. The video below shows just how ridiculous things can get when you start changing the classic rules to 'please' the fans:

Some of the statistics above do make for grim reading. However, attendance figures for the MLS have been even fantastic.

MLS grounds are currently filling at an average of 73 percent of their gates for the 2011 season. For a league so young, spread across such a vast country, that is some achievement. And its growing.

Although the league format, with its confusing play-offs system, could do with a bit of tweaking, the MLS is definitely on the right track - goals or no goals. It isn't broken - so there's no need to fix it.

Philip Wright-Lewis

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