Using home goals as tiebreaker is worth a try

By Ridge Mahoney

Here's a bizarre thought: flip the script on the tiebreaker used in a two-leg series.

The away goals rule is supposed to encourage the road team to attack but instead, it often forces the home team to play conservatively so as not to concede a precious away goal.

When the home teams praise themselves for not conceding an away goal even if they eke out a 1-0 win, something is amiss.
MLS could scrap the away-goals tiebreaker, of course, or it could take an unprecedented step: make HOME goals the tiebreaker. Therefore, the home team in the first leg will do what it's supposed to do at home, pile up as many goals as possible (thanks Seattle!) and not worry so much about defending.

The objective will still be to get at least a tie on the road after winning at home in the first leg and thus advancing no matter what the aggregate. Yet knowing the more home goals scored, the better, drastically alters the mindset for home teams in the first leg.

The danger is that a first-game blowout would also give the first-leg home team the tiebreaker edge as well, but it's still the job of the higher seeded team to hang tough in the first leg, right? In the conference semis, no higher-seeded team was able to get a tie or score a goal, yet only Seattle and Toronto FC scored more than one at home and TFC only got its second in stoppage time.

In the current format a 4-1 home win for Dallas (which trails, 3-0, after the first leg) would tie the aggregate 4-4 but Seattle would advance on away goals. However, in a home-goals tiebreaker, FCD would win 4-3. Love it!

Without the away goals rule, the aggregate is 4-4 and the teams go to extra time. MLS could revert to that but doesn’t seem to have given any thought to upping the ante for the home teams, probably because as far as I know it’s not been done, anywhere, in any competition.

The rationale used to be, "Well, of course the home team is going to attack, because it’s at home.” Not anymore. The “precious” away goal has thrown the balance all out of whack. If the “precious” away goal wasn’t so precious, i.e., the tiebreaker, home teams could attack with more abandon and games, theoretically, would be more entertaining.

Every playoff format has its advantages and drawbacks. MLS took a lot of criticism for not using the away-goals rule when it adopted two-leg playoffs and it’s taking a lot of criticism now because it does use away goals. But a format that seems to be inhibiting home teams in both legs needs re-examining.
Here are the other current scenarios and how home goals could shape the second legs if used as the tiebreaker:

First Leg
Second Leg (projected)
Away goals
Home goals
MTL 1-0 NYRB 2-1 2-2 MTL 1-0 NY 2-1
LA 1-0 COL 3-2 3-3 LA 2-0 COL 3-1
TFC 2-0 NYCFC 3-1 3-3 TFC 1-0 NYCFC 3-2

The Red Bulls take the field knowing they are down only 1-0 on aggregate but can’t win any away-goals tiebreaker and so will be cautious about conceding one, since they didn’t score any in the first leg. Colorado is in the same boat, needing to win, ideally without conceding a goal. Better that, both teams go out intent on scoring at least two goals and winning by at least one.

In these cases ANY one-goal victory other than 1-0 is enough to advance. Hooray!

TFC is in a better spot holding a two-goal lead as well as the opportunity to score on the road. However, in a home-goals tiebreaker, NYCFC can advance by scoring three as long as it doesn’t concede two, and play accordingly. If it wins, 2-0, the aggregate is tied and extra time ensues anyway. If it doesn’t win by two it’s eliminated regardless.

Fans of the away-goals rule -- and those of the Galaxy -- would decry the elimination of a team that scored twice on the road. However, said team is being punished by scoring only one at home against an opponent that hit three. That’s a trade-off I would welcome.

If a team that scrapes out a 1-0 win at home gets a tie on the road in the second leg it advances anyway. But it can’t gain an added edge simply by scoring an away goal though of course said goal does count in the aggregate, which is the prime objective, or at least should be: to score more goals than the other team over two legs.

Unfortunately, the game has changed so drastically since the away-goals format was introduced its effect has been reversed. Home teams are playing not to concede far too much of the time and frankly, that stinks.

Take the curse off away goals and see what happens. Home teams going for goals is the way, the truth, and the light.    
17 comments about "Using home goals as tiebreaker is worth a try".
  1. Kent James, November 1, 2016 at 2:11 p.m.

    Worth a try!

  2. beautiful game, November 1, 2016 at 2:29 p.m.

    Makes no difference in the cited scenario. The better team on the day usually wins due to league parity. Away goals should always be a tie-breaker.

  3. Ridge Mahoney replied, November 5, 2016 at 3:14 a.m.

    How can it make no difference if the aggregate is tied but there is a different winner with home goals as the tiebreaker?

  4. Donald Davis, November 1, 2016 at 2:34 p.m.

    I do like it better. But away teams will now park the bus. But I always thought under the away goal rule the who's home first was wrong or contributing factor and this address that as well giving the higher ranked team an advantage as the tie breaker (home goals) is still something that can be effected in the second game by the higher ranked team.

    Under present system the higher ranked team can't increase its away goals in the second game at home. Under away goal system the lower ranked team was the one who could increase the tie breaker in the second game thus had the advantage of knowing what they needed to do in that game. Under the home goal rule the higher ranked team would be the one knowing what needed to be done, giving the advantage to the higher ranked team.

  5. Ridge Mahoney replied, November 5, 2016 at 3:13 a.m.

    Which is all the more reason for the home team in the first leg to score as many goals as possible and put pressure on the higher seeded team for the second leg, if home goals are the tiebreaker.

  6. John Soares, November 1, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    It won't change...much. Regardless of the system, the higher ranking team "should" always have the advantage. However and as we have often seen. The best team "on paper" does not always win on the field. We have had several lower ranking teams win the cup, but seldom has the Shield winners gone all the way. Maintaining parity is important... No "obvious" winners. Suspense until the last moment.

  7. David Mont, November 1, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

    How about, instead of away or home goals, using regular season standings as the tiebreaker? For example, if it's 2-1 and 0-1 in a two-leg contest, forget away or home goals, and let the team that had more points during the regular season advance. This eliminates the need for any stupid tie-breaks and rewards better performance over the course of the entire season.

  8. James Madison, November 1, 2016 at 5:18 p.m.

    There is no perfect system. However, your illustrations show the value of the existing system. That the three home teams listed did not pile up goals makes them vulnerable to the home teams in the return matches doing so. The only first match winner who can go away and defend like mad with any degree of confidence in ultimately prevailing is Seattle with its 3-0 margin. And even Seattle must remember San Jose v. Los Angelese in, when was it, 2001?

  9. Dale Greenley replied, November 1, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.

    Interestingly, LA didn't even go into that second match defending since it was 2-0 after the first leg, and they were leading 2-0 in the second leg (if I recall) before losing 5-4.

  10. Brian Kraft, November 1, 2016 at 6:04 p.m.

    No goal-less games, two multi-goal victories, avg. score 1.75 - 0. You have a potential solution for a problem that does not exist.

  11. Ridge Mahoney replied, November 5, 2016 at 3:09 a.m.

    conference semis, first legs averaged 1.75 goals per game, more than a goal per game less than regular season.
    956 goals scored in 340 games = 2.81 goals per game.
    Second legs normally feature more scoring. Let's hope so!

  12. Normand Conquest, November 1, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

    Why not have the tiebreaker be that the team with the higher seed wins in the case of a tie. This will require the lower seed team to score more goals then the higher seed. It also places more value on the regular season than is currently exemplified in the present road goals tiebreaker.

  13. Ridge Mahoney replied, November 5, 2016 at 3:11 a.m.

    In its playoffs Liga MX uses this wrinkle, which eliminates penalty-kick tiebreakers (except for the final).

  14. Normand Conquest, November 1, 2016 at 11:08 p.m.

    Dale, the way that the current process is setup the Galaxy would have won the series because of the two Road goals and it would not have gone to overtime.

  15. Kevin Sims, November 2, 2016 at 8:15 a.m.

    Have favored this concept for a looooong time, seemingly joined by my coaching brothers all the while ... why not try? ... also wish to put an end to PK's ... love Golden Goal ... how about 9 v 9 in first OT? then on to 7 v 7? ... team soccer solution rather than individual skill crapshoot

  16. aaron dutch, November 3, 2016 at 10:46 a.m.

    Why do we always try to be different then what works everywhere else. Lets just adopt UEFA and make the game easier not more difficult to follow.

  17. Fire Paul Gardner Now, November 3, 2016 at 1:45 p.m.

    What about using regular season record as a tie-breaker? That would at least give a tangible advantage to the team that performed better all year and increase the importance of the regular season.

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