Out of nowhere and for no real explained reason, and on a random afternoon during the second week of August, Major League Soccer introduced a new set of standings tiebreakers. These changes will be implemented starting immediately, something that all MLS clubs (apparently) knew about many months ago. From reading the reactions of fans posting online, it seems that plenty of us in the MLS community have the same thought:
Why weren't we told sooner?
According to Wednesday's announcement, "most total goals" scored will now be the number one tiebreaker whenever teams are tied in the league standings. This change was made, according to the post found on the league website, "in part to encourage attacking play." Greatest goal differential is the second tiebreaker, and fewest disciplinary points the third. All eight tiebreakers can be found in order on the league website.
This decision separates MLS from leagues located around the world when it comes to determining tiebreakers. The English Premier League, for example, utilizes, in order, goal difference and goals scored as the league's top two tiebreakers. Head-to-head record was the main tiebreaker for MLS before the change that was announced on Wednesday was made.
Looking at the current standings, the two teams that most benefit from the change as of August 8 are San Jose Earthquakes and New York Red Bulls. San Jose, currently atop the overall MLS standings and on 44 points, have scored a league high 45 goals. The Red Bulls have scored 38 goals. RBNY trail both Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC in the Eastern Conference standings by just two points. LA Galaxy, currently fifth in the Western Conference standings and on 33 points, have scored 39 goals thus far.
Several fans posting in the comments section of the MLSSoccer.com article revealed that they were not pleased with the league's decision. "This is stupid, goal difference is the only fair way. Completely undervalues the concept of defence," wrote one individual. "MLS Mission Accomplished: To be the laughing stock of the soccer world," said another. While I certainly don't love the new order of tiebreakers, I found myself more confused than angry upon learning about this news.
This was, according to the MLS Board of Governors, a decision that was made earlier in 2012. Waiting until after the MLS All-Star Game to announce these changes just screams "a bunch of us in the MLS headquarters were bored, so we decided to mix things up a bit." If this different set of tiebreakers truly wasn't agreed upon by all MLS clubs until more recently, however, there's no reason the league couldn't have waited until 2013 to make the switch.
Going on the assumption that all 19 MLS clubs signed off on this change months ago, I'm still left with one question: Haven't we been down the "let's make changes to make MLS 'more exciting/understandable' than Euro football" road before? I can't be the only one to remember the countdown clock and the golden goal periods. It's also worth noting that I have never once heard any fan ask for this change to be made. If anything, MLS supporters who also watch other leagues would prefer having goal differential be the top tiebreaker.
Putting such an emphasis on total goals scored brings back visions of this magical world where 4-3 thrillers will turn the United States into a "soccer nation," a world that doesn't and likely never will exist. Earlier this season, the Red Bulls began what was a five-match win streak with three consecutive 1-0 victories. Never during that time did I think to myself that I just couldn't get into the team because they weren't finding the back of the net enough. Soccer fans in this country are smart people, people who can appreciate both good attacking AND solid defending.
I wish everybody could realize that fact.
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- Major League Soccer