Real Salt Lake operator-investor Dave Checketts isn't happy that so many MLS games this year are ending in ties, but he, like the rest of us, is powerless to do much about it.
MLS terminated the shootout after its first four seasons and also abandoned its 10-minute sudden-death overtime when FIFA reverted back to a full 30-minute overtime. This season, the incidence of MLS ties is much higher than in past seasons.
As of a few weeks ago, the number of ties and wins by the home team were virtually the same, quite unlike the statistics for top European leagues, in which home wins occur almost twice as often as a tie.
By beating Chivas USA, 1-0, at home Wednesday, Houston increased the number of home wins this season to 39, and the percentage to 41.9, which is still much lower than the 50.4 percent figure recorded last year. Ties (35) account for 37.6 percent of results in the 93 games played to date, which leaves 20.4 percent for wins by away teams, which have won three of nine games this month. That's a small statistical sample, and in the course of a 225-game season, so is the number of games played so far.
In too many recent cases, home teams have only themselves to blame. Last week, Toronto lost at home to Los Angeles, 2-1, and got its only goal on a clearly offside situation when a rebound came off goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to Danny Dichio, who was a yard beyond the last defender when teammate Marco Velez directed a shot on goal. TFC received another break when Rohan Rickettstripped Eddie Lewis in the penalty area but referee Alex Prus allowed play to continue. Still, despite getting two favorable decisions as home teams are wont to do, TFC conceded the winning goal 13 minutes after Dichio's equalizer.
Kansas City lost at home to Columbus, 2-0, after handing the Crew its first goal in classic Keystone Kops fashion. Defenders Aaron Holbein and Jimmy Conrad ran into each other chasing a bouncing ball and as they fell one of them inadvertently tripped goalie Kevin Hartman as he came out to collect it. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, no doubt astonished at his good fortunate, evaded the three prone bodies to tap into an empty net.
Visiting teams, not the home boys, are supposed to get rattled on the road and cough up bad goals. The Kansas City-Columbus game is an extreme case, for the Wizards also conceded an unlucky penalty when defender Matt Besler, about to hoof the ball out of his penalty area, clipped Schelotto, who had snuck up on him from behind. Yet the pressure to win at home can cut both ways, and at Toronto's BMO Field, the home team heard some whistles and catcalls after it went into the locker room at halftime trailing, 1-0.
The highest incidence of ties among the top five European leagues in the recently completed season occurred in France, where 29.4 percent of games ended even and home teams won only 43.4 percent of the time. Those are the statistics closest to those currently being cranked out by MLS. Home teams were most successful in Serie A (50.5 percent), where 25 percent of the games ended tied. English Premier League home teams won 45.6 percent of the games, and 25.3 percent finished in a draw.
MLS bylaws prohibit from teams from instituting their own bonus schedules, otherwise, Checketts and his partners could offer nice payoffs for home wins. Regardless, incentive will increase as the playoffs draw nearer and struggling teams, especially at home, will be desperate to win. The moderate, relatively quiet crowds at many MLS games tend to lessen whatever homefield advantage may exist.
Since it dropped the shootout after the 1999 season, MLS ties have ranged from a low of 22.9 percent (2005) to 30.1 percent the season before. A higher percentage of ties so far this season in a league rife with parity doesn't really indicate anything.
And methinks if RSL (3-6-3 heading into this weekend) reels off a few wins at Rio Tinto Stadium and improves on its 0-5-1 record away from home, there won't be such concern about ties at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.