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