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MLS conks head against goalpost on tiebreaker
by Ridge Mahoney, August 13th, 2012 6:24PM

TAGS:  mls


To its credit, MLS has taken strides to adhere, eventually, to generally accepted soccer canons.

After slogging through all manner of playoff formats -- here we set aside the subject of playoffs, per se, they are here to stay so just go with the flow -- it has adopted the two-games, total-goals system. It experimented with a 10-minute overtime, then dropped it when FIFA grumbled its displeasure at such heresy. The 35-yardline shootout, thankfully, hasn't been seen in more than a decade and love 'em or hate 'em, we got ties.

But there's a time to abandon custom and resort to logic instead, yet sadly, in revamping its tiebreaker procedures to determine standing places between teams tied on points, MLS has conked its head against the goalpost.

In previous seasons, tied teams were un-tied by a series of criteria, starting with head-to-head records and descending into a morass of other comparisons. By adopting an unbalanced schedule, MLS has rendered that system impractical; though it juggled all manner of formulas in search of a fair system to compare teams that had played three times, since one of them would have the edge of playing twice at home, it found no solution.

Its decision to use goals scored as the first tiebreaker, though laudable in the sense of rewarding teams for scoring, has been roundly ridiculed. But seldom if ever has been mentioned the most sensible criteria, that good old standby, victories. Yes, Ws, plain and simple.

For some reason, the sport has shied away from rewarding teams that win more games, preferring to use obtuse methods such as goal average (goals scored divided by goals allowed, once used in England -- look it up) to separate tied teams.

This makes no sense to me. And at the risk of mentioning another sport rife with ties, the first tiebreaker used by the National Hockey League is victories.

Imagine that! After wins is used head-to-head results, and then goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed).

As to objection No. 1, that teams tied on points would probably also have identical records, the truth is otherwise. The last two playoff spots in the 2010 season were claimed by Colorado and San Jose, which both accumulated 46 points. But the Quakes lost the head-to-head tiebreaker and thus were seeded sixth in the conference and eighth overall despite winning more games.

Their 13-10-7 record would have trumped Colorado's 12-8-10, and how different the world might be, etc. That same season, both Columbus (14-8-8) and FC Dallas (12-4-14) finished with 50 points but different records.

Manchester United and Manchester City finished tied atop the Premier League standings last May with records of 28-5-5. It happens. Fair enough. City won the title on goal difference. Fine. My solution would be a playoff hosted by the superior team determined head-to-head, then goal difference. (FYI, Serie A uses a playoff game in such a scenario.)

Now, one could argue the other side, that a team that lost fewer games deserved the higher placing, but in my mind a team that wins more games has earned the reward. In any case, MLS forgot about the forest while combing through the trees on this one, and fluffed a great chance to stake out new ground.

  1. bgix
    commented on: August 14, 2012 at 5:15 p.m.
    While I would have no terrible objection to using wins as one of the early tie breakers, I think you bashed yourself on the head, Mr Mahoney, when you suggest head-to-head as the 2nd. You of course know that this is an unbalanced schedule. What happens when you need to break the tie of two teams that have met only once? It makes for a significant home field advantage. <conk> Instead of being so quick to point out whatever outrageous flaws you imagine are being inflicted upon MLS, take a breath and consider the wisdom of your own suggestions.
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: August 15, 2012 at 3 p.m.
    Mr Mahoney you are part right. To not start with most wins is just dumb. Then go to goal difference. Then goals. The "Supporters Shield" is almost meaningless now -- they just made it more so.

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