When it comes to sports I’m a gimmick guy, so usually when a rule innovation comes along, I’ll be the first to embrace it.
The American Football League introduced the two-point conversion to the pro game, which is one of the reasons (there were many) I liked it better than the NFL.
The American Basketball Association had the three-point shot and red, white and blue basketballs, so to me it was superior to the NBA.
The World Hockey Association instituted sudden death overtime and (briefly) used blue pucks, thus it got more of my attention than the NHL.
So if I could work my will on soccer, I’d offer up some radical changes, right?
Nope. If anything, I’d make it even less modern because when it comes to the Beautiful Game, I’ve become an old fuddy-duddy. (Only someone old would even use the term “fuddy-duddy,” so you know I’m serious about this).
The subject came up when a friend of mine and I were discussing different ways sports have tweaked their rules over the years. We praised the seven-point touchdowns of the World Football League, spoke glowingly of the pandemic-inspired runner-on-second rule in Major League Baseball extra-inning games, and pledged our complete support for the four-point shot in the BIG3 league.
Knowing that association football is my passion, my buddy asked me how I’d reshape it if I could be its puppet master. Frankly, even I was surprised at how I’ve embraced soccer minimalism over the years.
For starters, I’d do away with penalty kicks to settle draws. To me, PKs should be reserved for fouls that occur during the course of a game and not used to determine the winner of that game. Having a match end in penalty kicks is akin to a field goal contest deciding a football game or a home run derby taking the place of free baseball after nine innings.
So does this mean overtime play should be used to break ties?
No if it’s a regular game on the season schedule. Remember what I said about settling draws? In my humble opinion, not all draws should be settled. If clubs play 90 minutes plus injury time and share the same score, then a tie seems to be a fair outcome for both.
The answer, however, is yes if the game is part of a tournament. If draws aren’t an option – say, in a knockout competition that requires advancement following each round – then extra time should be played until one side scores a goal. In 1975 the New York Apollos and Worcester Astros were declared co-champions of the American Soccer League when they played 67 and half minutes of overtime in their title game showdown but couldn’t change a 1-1 scoreline. That, however, is a worst-case scenario.
And besides, that wouldn’t be a scenario at all if I ran things because there would be no title game showdown. In most soccer systems outside the United States, a league title is determined by which club has the most points at the end of a season. I think champions should be judged by their entire body of work, and a team that secures the best record through the course of a 30-plus match round-robin grind has earned the hardware.
Plus, there are plenty of cup competitions outside of a league season for those who enjoy win or go home tournaments.
The only playoffs I care to see in soccer are to decide promotion and relegation in an open pyramid, but I doubt I’ll live long enough to ever experience that in America.
So while I’m all for innovation when it comes to virtually every other sport on the planet, the older I get the more I prefer soccer that’s devoid of novelties. It’s a disconnect I can’t explain, especially since I grew up with the original North American Soccer League and once embraced its 35-yard shootout and fringe jerseys rocked by the Caribous of Colorado.
It’s not that I yearn for a return to cleated boots or an eight-panel ball with laces – I’m not that much of a fuddy-duddy. It’s just that for me, the simplicity of soccer is simply perfect.