What do the following events have in common: 1) the Home Run Derby, 2) the Punt, Pass and Kick Competition, 3) The Knights of Columbus Free Throw Shooting Championship and 4) the Closest to the Pin contest in golf? Answer: They are all sporting challenges done by people from kids to pros that involve skills used in popular sports, but the contests themselves are not an actual part of the sport when played.
So, what do you think the fans of baseball, football, basketball and golf would think if the commissioner of one of these sports decided a competition like the ones above will be used to decide ties in their respective sports? That person would be ridiculed and probably thrown out of their position of power! But, that is EXACTLY what some soccer journalists and commentators in the US are suggesting in their call to bring back the NASL-style shootout to break ties. Some are even suggesting that overtime be reinstated as well, all because these so-called experts are saying that American fans need a winner in every sporting contest and ties cannot happen.
Well, to these naysayers, I say this, “Been there, done that! It’s time to stop making rule changes that make the US and Canada laughingstocks in the soccer world!” And, I’ll even go one step further…the shootout is and always has been a JOKE! The shootout has absolutely nothing to do with the run of play in a soccer match, despite those who say that it mimics a breakaway. If a player goes through on a goalie from 35 yards out in a match, does the referee pull out a stopwatch and count down from 5 seconds? If the player’s shot is saved, does the play end there without a rebound? Face it, the shootout is more comparable with the competitions I listed above than anything that happens in a real match and has no place in today’s game.
A great example of the uselessness of the shootout is the USL match from June 8th, 2008 where the Rochester Rhinos and host Carolina Railhawks played to an exciting and hard fought 2-2 draw. The teams left it all on the field and both sides deserved equal points as a result of the tie. So, I want these “shootout supporters” to think about these 2 questions, “Would having a shootout after the match have drawn any additional fans to Carolina's next home match?” and “Will any fans not come back to the next RailHawks match because there was no shootout?” If you think about it honestly, the answer to both questions is “NO”!
As most everyone knows, the NHL has adopted the "shootout" and awards an additional point to the team winning the shootout after each team earns one for a tie. By the way, the NHL shootout at least uses a play that is part of hockey, the penalty shot. So, the “shootout supporters” are now suggesting a similar scoring system for soccer, to give an extra point for winning a shootout. There are two problems with this suggestion. First, would you rather have your team working on set pieces, developing their fitness and playing together as a unit to be successful during matches or taking time to practice the shootout? I truly believe having an exciting product on the field is most important to fans than breaking ties with a 30 year old experiment from a defunct league. The NASL was wildly popular in its time because of the legendary talent on the teams, not because of the shootout!
Even more importantly, how would you feel as a fan if your team missed out on the playoffs simply because of a poor record in shootouts? Should one team be considered better than another solely due to their proficiency in a competition that has nothing to do with the run of play? I still remember the 1979 Rochester Lancers, who lost out on a playoff spot to Toronto, even though they had a better record than the Blizzard, because they had too few bonus points (another ridiculous experiment to allegedly satisfy the US soccer fan who needs high scoring contests). The very same thing would likely happen if teams are rewarded for winning shootouts. The teams that qualify for the postseason, along with each match in the season, should be decided by the results during the 90 minutes, not by a gimmicked way to break ties.
If you still aren’t convinced and absolutely think that ties are equated with the end of fans coming to soccer matches in the US, here is my suggestion to significantly lower the number of tie matches…teams that play to a tie earn ZERO points in the standings for the contest. Let wins and wins alone decide who the best team is over a season. So, if a match is tied with 10 minutes left, you can be sure that both sides will be pressing forward to score so they will not go home empty handed, which will make for much more excitement for the fans than a shootout.
As for overtime, do the fans really want to see the players lumbering around the pitch playing sub-par soccer during overtime after 90 hard fought minutes? The USL already has the ridiculous scheduling of back-to-back matches, which would be made that much worse by playing 100, 110 or even 120 minutes. It not only is unfair to the players who are spent after a full match, but also significantly lowers the level of play, which contributes more to the fans’ frustration and sends them back to watching the EPL or Serie A on TV. I truly believe MLS and the USL both made the right decision a few years back when they dumped overtime and the shootout and decided to play the sport as the rest of the world does. Let’s leave overtime and a last resort tiebreaker for the playoffs and the Cup matches where there has to be a winner that night.
So, does this mean that I support the penalty kick tiebreaker to decide playoff and Cup contests? You might be surprised that I say NO to penalties as well! In my next column, I’ll talk about the dreaded PK “shootout”, which is the one place where soccer regularly takes a beating from the US media. What else can we do to guarantee a winner in such matches? Be sure to come back soon for my next column where I will address this topic!
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Joe Sirianni, Dick Howard or WYSL 1040-AM Radio. Feel free to send any questions or comments firstname.lastname@example.org.