Monday, May 9, 2011

Average Score Tallies for MLS are Offensive in the Wrong Kind of Way, Pt. 2

This past Saturday, May 7th, saw a disgraceful output of goals scored.  Eight goals for 7 games played, including 3 matches with double-bagels.  That is pitiful and not going to help convince sports fans of Soccer's brilliance.

MLS has been successful at pulling more fans to the Soccer parks, but has not been able to pull decent TV ratings.   Will this be pro club Soccer's Modus Operandi for the U.S.?  If so, this reputation may be on par with hockey's reputation as wonderful to see live, but awful to watch on television.

If people are not watching Soccer on television because there's not enough scoring, it's probably only so long before those attending live decide to stop going.  If you can't go to a game and see beautiful goals, than what's the point of going?  A 1-0 game can be wonderful to watch, but it shouldn't be the norm.

The Soccer supporter groups won't give up.  They'll be there rain or shine.  But, many in these groups are not there for the Soccer as much as they are there to feel a sense of belonging to something.  They probably shouldn't be counted on to provide accurate feedback for how a double-bagel game feels as a sports fan. 

There was one match that stood out on Saturday.  With the three most well-known players of MLS on the field at the same time, Henry, Donovan and Beckham, play was better than average.  There were plenty of runs from both squads and a few highlights worth seeing.  But still, only two goals were scored.
So far there has been 176 goals in 74 games played in the 2011 season of MLS.  Average scoring is 2.38 goals per game, quite a ways from even a 2-1 score.

The ideal average score that would surely engage more American sports fans would be 4-3.  This average would mean more highlights.  Of course, it means more goals.  Generally, though, it would also mean more shots, more saves and more hits on posts and crossbars.  Plainly put, you can expect more action and more comebacks.

0-0 games and 1-0 games can be thrillers, but too many of them can drain even the most ardent of Soccer supporters.  To guarantee maximum mainstream success with U.S. sports fans, low scoring and uneventful games have to become the exception, not the norm.


  1. Let's award free throws (ie. penalty kicks) for each foul, and have instant replay, and lots more substitutes, and three point shots and...nah that's stupid. Goals are hard to score, keep it that way.

  2. The inability for the strikers in MLS to score astounds me. I don't mean to sound cruel but shooting is NOT that incredibly difficult and when you watch a game with players shanking the ball left and right, it really loses it's appeal very quickly.

  3. "The ideal average score that would surely engage more American sports fans would be 4-3. This average would mean more highlights."

    Is this based upon empirical data, or is it simply speculation on your part, Mr. Alperin? According to your bio, you seem to be someone who would know definitively, yet you offer no statistics to support this idea.

    Based solely upon my conversations with a few MLS COOs, the target audience you are attempting to attract - the average sports fan -is the middle-aged man who has limited to zero interest in soccer. The idea that 4-3 soccer games would attract those fans is downright laughable.

    You offer no solutions to 1-0 and 0-0 games, yet I suspect that you favor some sort of artificial adjustment to the rules will have to be made. If so, this would spit right in the faces of the existing American soccer fanbase that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the sport as is.

    In short - you can't cater to the few while alienating the masses and hope to succeed.

  4. As for empirical data, I just checked google search quickly for 'research on goal scoring for sports consumption' and found some stuff backing idea on goal scoring improving fan experience.

  5. Please no 4-3 games with regularity. I love how hard it is to score in this sport, and that is one of the things that drew the sport to me. Of course 0-0 game after 0-0 game can be dull, but 2.38 goals per game works perfect for me.

    We need to stop focusing on the "average American" and stop turning off those who already soccer fans. It is sad how many soccer fans there are in America who ignore MLS. We need to get those fans into MLS before we start worrying about NFL/MLB/NBA/NHL fans.

    Re: "many in these (supporters) groups are not there for the Soccer as much as they are there to feel a sense of belonging to something." ... I absolutely disagree with this. I have gone on trips with ECS (Sounders) and been in their section at home games and there may be some there who are not there as much for the soccer, but those people are definitely in the minimum.

  6. I was at Rio Tinto on Saturday. It was anything but boring, constant attacks, frustration over near misses, elation and release with the 87th minute goal. Just hope the pit in my stomach over Javier Morales goes away sometime soon.

  7. I agree there needs to be more scoring to attract American fans. How to do that without changing the rules is the question.

  8. Hardcore soccer fans (like those reading this) will disagree with the need for increased scoring, but if you want soccer to compete with American football, baseball, and basketball, you need more scoring to attract the average fan.

  9. These kinds of articles offend me. A 14-7 NFL game is really 2-1. And really, if you watch American football or baseball you're not a sports fan, you are a commercial fan. If you don't understand what I mean, try doing push ups during the commercials and sit ups when your team isn't actually playing, like a timeout, or running the clock out, or when a manager is talking to a pitcher on the mound.

  10. No, there shouldn't be cheaper scoring. Stop being point whores and enjoy the sport. There is a difference between loving a sport and running stats off numbers.

  11. "As for empirical data, I just checked google search quickly for 'research on goal scoring for sports consumption' and found some stuff backing idea on goal scoring improving fan experience."

    A word of advice: Search engine research is fine, but when you fail to cite credible sources (or even mention one, for that matter), your argument is ripe for attack.

  12. @Brian; Another suggesstion would be to look at 'Soccer goal scoring and its effects on sports consumption' as a topic on SPORTSDiscus. I appreciate your advice. Some of the other posts I've written do reference academic research, but I didn't feel it was necessary for this article. I will try to infuse more research references in the future.

  13. 4-3 seems to high, I agree that scoring is too low if the average loser does not score. I think the real culprit across the world is that goalies have become more athletic and bigger and the rules haven't kept up.

    Instead of looking to the scorers, let's look to the defense. Change the 18 yard box to a 12 or 8 yard box. That will limit the impact of the one player that isn't really playing soccer.

    Moreover, adjusting rules to adjust to different sorts of players is done around the world, it shouldn't offend purists. European basketball entities had no problem changing the 3 pt. line, adding a trapezoid lane or changing the rules for goal tending. The NFL has made rule changes to adjust to larger, faster defensive players. We should have no qualms about adjusting to a new sort of goalie.

  14. Christopher, you're clueless...quality players produce goals, it has nothing to do with keepers, especially after the introduction of the 'knuckle ball'...
    There was nothing wrong with the NYRB v Galaxy game which produced two goals and yet had 'quality'. The problem that's an eyesore is the number of non-pressured turnovers by the majority of MLS teams which fizzles out the nature of the game...there is too much emphasis on physicality because the number of quality players is at a minimum and the latter are not protected by the refs. I watched three MLS games this past saturday and continue to be amazed by the unproductiveness of individual players when it comes to playing the ball in simple and effective fashion, not 'hope-balls' up the middle or the flank.

  15. Anonymous at 9:29:

    I understand what you are saying. In fact, I used to think the same way (aside from the dig about me being "clueless.") But I disagree. I think that the ability of goalies to break up fairly decent execution from 12 yards - 18 yards by using their hands is good for 1 goal a game. If goalies can't reduce scoring, why have them at all? Right? Since that is absurd, we can conclude that giving the goalies less power will positively impact scoring.

    I agree that there are plenty of games that are low-scoring that can be very exciting. I never said anything was wrong with theose games. In fact, I don't think a huge uptick in goals is necessary. Perhaps 2.5 to 1.5, instead of 1.5 to ).5. That's why a minor change to the rules that wouldn't change anything about how the game is played in the majority of the field is preferable to trying to change how offsides is called etc.

    I also agree that the physicality and lack of quality players also hurts the game, but, here's the odd thing: People all over the world complain about the same things! Unless we're importing players from Mars, we should work with what we have.

  16. Sorry.. but the basis for this article is naive. This is futbol.. not football. If you want scoring please watch the american version. When you want to watch artistry, team tactics, a beautiful game.. then learn to enjoy a 0-0 game.

  17. Soccer fans (of which I am one) should not be so thin-skinned. Suggesting that soccer would be more fun to watch if more goals were scored is not the same as saying soccer is boring, which seems to be how many fans take it (and for good reason; many soccer-haters do claim that it's boring). Soccer is the greatest sport in the world; in addition to the technical skills, teamwork, creativity, athleticism, speed, power and competitive nature, the rules are relatively simple, it does not cost much to play and can be played anywhere, and it really is the world's game, making international soccer an incredible thing. But as my father used to say, "even the best can improve."
    Yes, there are tremendous games that are 1-0 or 1-1 (and I think the LA-NY game was a very good one). But there are many such games that are not. I watched a game earlier this season in which neither team got a shot on goal in the first half (and I think one team didn't get a shot on goal all game; I think it ended 1:0, but it was so forgettable, I can't remember...). And how many people go to a game thinking "I hope nobody scores so it can be a tense, exciting game?"
    As a player/coach/referee, I appreciate the technical skills to elude challenges, the runs off the ball, the quick interplay in tight spaces, but like most people, I want to see shots on goal (shots force keeper saves, which can sometimes be better than a goal because you have 2 great plays instead of one). I also appreciate that you don't want to make goals routine (or too easy), and you don't lightly mess with the rules (see NASL shootout and offside line). But neither should we think soccer should never change, because it does whether we want it to or not. The system of cards was not implemented until the 1960s. Games used to have more goals. But players have become more athletic and fit in addition to being more technically skilled. This means goalkeepers can protect their goal much better today than they could years ago, saving many shots that would have scored in the 1950s or 60s. Tactically, ball-oriented zone defenses have conceded space where it doesn't matter (on the flanks) and congested the middle, so that players in goal-scoring areas often face 1 v 2 or 1 v 3 situations, so it is impressive when they can even hold on to the ball, much less score. Because players are more fit, they play more aggressive defense, and put much more pressure on the ball than was done in the past. My guess is that this has also made counter-attacking goals more significant. The benefits of these changes are that it lets us see how talented a player like Messi really is, and it also makes some games more competitive as a team being dominated can have success by packing in the defense and looking to score on the occasional counter-attack. But the downside is that you have more fouls (as players with the ball are forced to negotiate tight spaces filled with aggressive defenders), skillful teams can be frustrated by defensive ones, and you have fewer shots on goal.
    I think it's time to consider a change. Changing clubs' and coaches' mentalities about scoring is not realistic. Teams want to win, it is easier to defend than to attack, so prioritizing defense is more likely to bring results than is to forego defense and prioritize scoring goals. We've tried to get referees to encourage attacking play, but there is only so much they can do. Players like to score, but the current state of the game means that players (whose selection to the team depends on coaches) who focus on offense while neglecting defense won't be selected because they're too risky. (see next post for possible solution)

  18. (Continued) One possible solution is to make the goals bigger (I'd recommend increasing the size by 1' in height and 1 yard in width, so they're 9' x 9 yards, but maybe 10'x 10 yds, to keep it even and open it up more). I think this would allow teams to be more successful shooting from distance (essentially shooting over the stifling zone defense, as is done in basketball). Tactically this would mean that defending teams would have to defend farther away from goal (to prevent the now more successful long range shots), which would then open up the space in front of goal to allow more opportunities to take the ball closer and shoot (Barcelona's tight passing game would no longer run into a wall of defenders). I think then we'd see more passing sequences that end with shots on goal, which would make the game more exciting to watch. In order to remain the world's game, it should nor require that a fan be an expert to enjoy it. More 4-3 games would not be a bad thing (how many times is a 4-3 game not exciting?). I'd take 4-3 over 1-0 almost anytime. All right, I'll compromise; how about we agree that most 3-2 games are pretty good....

    PS: Sorry for the length...I didn't see the limit until I tried to post it.

  19. KJames hit on something else that make increased scoring a worthwhile goal: It rewards the better, more skillful, team. A mediocre team is much more likely to remain competitive with a great team in soccer through grit and defensive discipline. That fact diminshes teams' efforts to cultivate and teach real skill, which is difficult, in favor of finding less skilled players that are willing to run, run, run and "get stuck in" or whatever other silly phrase is appropriate.

    If teams knew they would usually have to score more than one goal to win we'd, hopefully, see less defensive tactics and ludicrous physicality.