MLS = Mostly Low Scoring. That's a Problem.

By Mike Woitalla

The American fan has an extensive menu of soccer available this and every weekend, as U.S. TV coverage includes games from England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain -- and, of course, our MLS.

Of all those leagues, MLS is currently the lowest scoring, with a measly goals-per-game average through Week 7 of 2.17. That means you can expect a goal only every 41 minutes. At the current rate, expect a scoreless tie every seven games.

It wasn’t always like this in MLS. In fact, after its 1996 launch, the league averaged more than three goals per game in five of its first six seasons. But it hasn’t broken the 3.0 mark since 2002. It’s all-time low came with a 2.46 average in 2010. Last season, it hit its highest mark since 2008 with a 2.86 average, but this season’s start is making 2014 look like an aberration. Only eight of 20 MLS teams have been scoring more than one goal per game on average.

In the worst-case scenario, cautious soccer leading to low-scoring games is becoming an MLS trait -- as was the case years ago in Italy, where in the 1970s and '80s scoring often averaged less than two goals per game. Catenaccio finally waned. Over the last five seasons, Serie A’s average has been 2.60.

The Bundesliga has long been known as a high-scoring league and averaged 3.05 last season. The EPL averaged 2.77 last season and is currently at 2.57. Spain's La Liga year after year comes near the 2.80 mark.

Alarm bells should be ringing at the MLS offices. The league is, after all, in the entertainment business – a highly competitive one as American fans have so many choices of what soccer to watch. Being the world’s lowest-scoring league can’t be good for business.

And the one area where MLS bosses can have an influence is on how the rules, which in so many facets favor the defense, are enforced.

We have heard, over the years, foreign players coming to MLS and explaining how they’ve had to adjust to a more physical league with more lenient refereeing.

The latest comes from Philadelphia Union striker Fernando Aristeguieta, who arrived from French Ligue 1 Nantes.

"The most difficult thing has been the contact that referees allow,” he told the CBS Philly. "It's hard, because in Venezuela and France the same contact wins you a foul.”

Whether it’s the refereeing or coaching, MLS should be concerned. No matter how fancy their new stadiums or how big the selection of craft beer, the owners who have invested millions in the league can’t afford to deliver boring soccer.

17 comments about "MLS = Mostly Low Scoring. That's a Problem. ".
  1. William Wang, April 24, 2015 at 3:26 p.m.

    Although I don't watch a lot of soccer--MLS and German Cup matches, I think the article is correct from my limited perspective. In a recent MLS game, a player received the ball with his back to a defender near midfield. The defender used both arms to shove the attacker back several yards. This, would have been a foul (I believe) in the Bundesliga. Another issue that may affect scoring is that the MLS teams seem to have more trouble keeping the ball in play. There seem to be a lot more throw-ins. This may just be a skills issue. Are stats kept on throw-ins? Every one slows down play.

  2. Bob Ashpole, April 24, 2015 at 4:39 p.m.

    When I watched a pre-season match earlier this year involving two of last years playoff teams, my impression was that both teams played an extremely conservative and dull game. Over the years I have watched many exciting 0-0 ties. This was not one of them.

  3. Raymond Weigand, April 24, 2015 at 4:40 p.m.

    Watch the latest Galaxy / Sounders game ... this was a home game for the Galaxy - and yet - Alan Gordon was continuously molested and for the entirety of the game, which, is no easy task - AG is 6'2" and 185 - of course, the refs did help a little bit ... keeping an eye out to make sure that no one was caught.

  4. Ric Fonseca, April 24, 2015 at 4:43 p.m.

    So, who is really to blame? The coaches and their tactics, or the players who don't shoot from outside the box - on instructions from their coaches? Or os it really the officiating? This is really the realm for PG, who utterly dislikes any UK-style of officiating, to wit PRO's head honcho - who happens to be a Brit. As for throw-ins, this is part of the play, and have been in the LoTG and as administered by the IB on their annual interpretation of the LOG. Face it, the difference in the scoring stats shown above from La Liga, Bundesliga, EPL, and the MSL aren't really that wide, so what if the MLS is in the "entertainment" business, and face it, it is what it is, so PLAY ON I say!!!

  5. Mike Jacome, April 25, 2015 at 4:32 a.m.

    "La Liga year after year comes near the 2.80 mark.'' Of course what you expect in a league with such disparity where Real Madrid beats Levante 6-1 and Barcelona beats Granada 5-0? Here MLS demanded parity and are we complaining for the lack of scoring?...''It wasn’t always like this in MLS. In fact, after its 1996 launch, the league averaged more than three goals per game in five of its first six seasons.'' Oh yes, and 35% of those scores wasn't because of the quality of strikers but for the naivety and lack of quality of defenders. We have improved a lot defensively, prove of that is Montreal Impact being able to successfully stop the slaughter of Azteca last Wednesday, or was just that Club America wasn't the monster many expected to be...?

  6. Gus Keri, April 25, 2015 at 7:08 a.m.

    It's the American macho mentality which is responsible for this physical style and the refereeing is encouraging it. In US history, soccer was abandoned over 100 years ago in favor of the more physical rugby that was transformed into American football because American saw soccer as a week and "sissy" sport. The amount of physicality that is allowed in MLS is astonishing. And commentators, like Lalas, are encouraging this style. We need a complete change in the way we think soccer.

  7. Andrew Kear, April 25, 2015 at 11:40 a.m.

    As the league increases in size there is going to be a dilution in talent. I believe the talent has been stretched a bit and there is simply not enough scoring talent to fill the demand. The positive side to this is it may force the country to develop more goal scorers. Still as the MLS approaches the size of the Premiere league there will probably be a further diminishing of talent. Quite frankly there are few players that simply should not be playing in the MLS due to lack of talent.

    The simple fact is the league has grown beyond its talent pool. I think the best thing for US soccer and the MLS is to wait until the talent level matches the leagues ever increasing size. This all could just be growing pains in order for the MLS to develop into a top flight league.

    The same thing happened with the development of Cable television. With more channels offered there were certainly more programming, but at the same time this programming talent was stretched thin. That may explain the advent of so many awful reality shows. Only now is the trashy programming being replaced by decent shows from networks like HBO and showtime. The vast size of the cable television initially presented television programmers with the challenge finding talent to fill new programs. The MLS now has a similar challenge of finding talent to expand the increasing size of the league. Baseball, basketball, and football have no problem finding talent even during expansion. However, the MLS does not yet have the robust talent pool to choose from that the other sport leagues in America enjoy. Only over time will things improve for the MLS.

  8. FRANCISCO VILLA, April 25, 2015 at 1:13 p.m.

    Mike, so you believe that lack of scoring is due to great defense in our league? Wrong. It is due to our refs allowing defenders get away with so many fouls going umpunished as they should. You believe that high scores are due to disparity because a couple of Spanish teams kill the other teams in la Liga?? If you take away Real Madrid and Barcelona would you say that the rest fo the Liga teams are even?? We should see lower scores amongst them correct?? We dont. Bundesliga and EPL are more even level and average more goals than la Liga. How is this possible under your theory? Now look at world class offensive talent amongst all leagues and how refs call the game when those top offensive players are concerned. Now you have your answer. If MLS keeps this reffing the same we will have no true American stars and therefore will never be amongst the best leagues in the world. Impossible. Scoring and world class offensive players is what brings the most fans in.

  9. beautiful game, April 25, 2015 at 3:52 p.m.

    When counting the amount of turnovers in the MLS, and inability of players to execute when the moment is right, makes scoring difficult. When seeing how often MLS players boot the 40 yard pass downfield with more hope than purpose or move into pressure, does not sit well with scoring.

  10. Mike Jacome, April 25, 2015 at 4:13 p.m.

    @FRANCISCO " If you take away Real Madrid and Barcelona would you say that the rest fo the Liga teams are even?? We should see lower scores amongst them correct?? We dont." Would you want to bet your money on that??? OK LA LIGA STATISTICS: Most home goals Real Madrid 9 Granada 1, most away goals Deportivo La Coruna 2 Real Madrid 8... Goal Scorerers Cristiano Ronaldo 39!!! Lionel Messi 36!!! yes disparity! Lets take away Real Madrid and Barcelona and leave only 18 teams and calculate the average Shall we? Real Madrid Average Goal Per game is 3.84 FC BARCELONA is 3.33 The league as a whole is 2.58...If we remove Barza and Real from the league the average drops to 2.47, so I am NOT wrong....So you think highest average scoring per games translate to higher quality on the pitch??? Think again... La liga is not even the top Goal Per Game league in the world, not even the second or the only the.... 218th in the world according to the 10 top GPG leagues in the world are Australia, Andorra, Norway, Hong Kong, and new Zealand, and those not even first divisions but third, fourth tiers, and youth leagues..Their average goes from 5.5 to 4.44 GPG... My point is...low GPG doesn't mean the product is bad...You see only what you want to see, MLS haters will cling to whatever to demerit and bash on the league, the fact is that one of the reasons we went from 3 or more GPG to something closest to what top leagues in the world exhibit today is increasing maturity and competence on the defenders. Leagues around the world with 4 or more GPG are NOT worth to watch their product is so watered down that the excessive amount of goals mean only poor product, particularly on defense.

  11. R2 Dad, April 25, 2015 at 8:20 p.m.

    Francisco and Mike, you're not really disagreeing with each other. Francisco's unhappy with the permissive refereeing and Mike thinks the improving defenses are keeping the scoring down. I think you're both right, and MLS needs better offenses through better refereeing to get to the next level in quality. I do think, however, that as a country we can provide enough top level players for the expanded table. The USA is huge and we're only now starting to develop quantities of youth players who can operate at the highest levels. Not 20 or 50 like in the past but 200 to 500, based on the improved coaching the academies are providing. Not all academies, of course--lots of them are a sham. But the numbers are getting better, but we won't see it for another 5 years or so.

  12. Rick Estupinan, April 26, 2015 at 6:02 p.m.

    In my opinion,MLS is going to have fewer and fewer viewers to it's games,because of their greedy ways to make money.I can watch great games from the Premier League for free,but to watch MLS games you have to subscribe to their Tv channel.I would like to watch The Seattle Sounders against Portland today,but I can't because I live in Las Vegas NV.Also this coming Wednesday will be a very exiting game in Montreal Canada (we hope it will be),between The Montreal Impact and Club America from Mexico.I hear they have already sold 65000 tickets for this game

  13. FRANCISCO VILLA, April 26, 2015 at 11:36 p.m.

    Mike, you are right we see what we want to see. I hate watching skill get mugged constantly. I choose not to see that. You think there is a possability that less goals is more due to brute defending and bad reffing than it is for better defending? ANd what exactly is better defending to you? I think most people enjoy the skill displayed in La Liga and Bundesliga over MLS.

  14. FRANCISCO VILLA, April 26, 2015 at 11:39 p.m.

    R2, I dont think we will see better players as you say. I see the same to worst reffing in USSDA play in the MIdwest. It's a complete joke. I ahve watched now enough of those games to assure you that skill is being mugged every game and refs are useless to modify the game into a developmentally useful game that will help mold our most skilled players. Again the big strong thugs are the ones chosen over the skill because of how games are reffed at our elite youth ages. I cant believe no one has mentioned something about this trend yet.

  15. Zoe Willet, April 27, 2015 at 1:48 a.m.

    First, soccer isn't just scoring goals, no more than baseball is just scoring runs. Then, look at the Premier League this week-end- half of the teams tied, and nobody scored a lot of goals. So lay off the MLS for a change!

  16. Rick Estupinan, April 27, 2015 at 2:23 a.m.

    You are absolutely right Z Willet.After 90 minutes and even 120,a tie game of Football(Soccer),can be very exiting.It all depends in some superb defense against a incisive, persistent attack by talented forwards.It needs a lot of analyzing a game that end with a high scoring like the one yesterday between DC United and Sporting Kansas City.(4-4),all I can say is it was a good and surprising game.

  17. Allan Lindh, April 27, 2015 at 7:46 p.m.

    Red card the thugs out of the league, and scoring will increase. Studs up tackles, a yellow maybe. Persistent hard intentional fouls on skill players, two, three four "warnings." I usually watch one EPL, one Spanish match each week, maybe 1 or 2 MLS. MLS reffing is a joke. Tell the refs to card the reckless and dirty fouls, and call all the grabbing, shoving, battering, and who know, a beautiful game might break out. In the meantime the league is a joke, and painful to watch.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications