The MLS new Tie Breaker Rules: the EPL, the Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A persepctive

COMMERCE CITY, CO - AUGUST 04: Ned Grabavoy #20 of Real Salt Lake contests Omar Cummings #14 of Colorado Rapids for control of the ball at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on August 4, 2012 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Real Salt Lake 2-0. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I am going to show you a list. Then I am going to explain why it's both well-intentioned but mildly stupid.


1) Most total goals scored
2) Greatest goal differential
3) Fewest disciplinary points
4) Most road goals scored
5) Greatest road goal differential
6) Most home goals scored
7) Greatest home goal differential
8) Coin toss (for 2 teams) or drawing of lots (3 or more teams)

This is the way to determine tie-breakers if we are looking at teams who are on equal footing with regards to points. Now, does this matter? Of course it does. Will we see its impact on the league immediately? No. Because this only relates to tie breakers, assuming the teams are equal on points. The biggest difference I think you will see immediately is that it seems rather flip-flopped from other leagues around the world.

I got this information from The Offside website, so go look there for even more leagues.

In the number 1 position is the Goal Differential. This is the "Gold Standard" of most important leagues around the world. Here is the Barclay's Premier League:

1. Goal difference,

2. Goals scored,

3. Playoff at neutral venue (if for title, relegation or Euro qualification, otherwise: teams share position)

Here is my personal favorite (what I feel is the best-run league in the world) the Bundesliga:

1. Goal difference

2. Goals scored

3. Head to head points

4. Head to head goal difference

5. Head to head away goals scored

6. Total away goals scored

7. Playoff at neutral venue

That is how I believe the MLS rule should look, but for more comparison let's look at two other popular leagues like the Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A.

La Liga:

1. Head to head points,

2. Head to head goal difference,

3. Head to head goals scored,

4. Goal difference,

5. Goals scored

Serie A

1. Head to head records,

2. Goal difference

Spain and Italy look a bit different from their Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon counterparts, in that they add the head-to-head counterpart, but you'll notice that none of the above mentioned big leagues count "total goals scored" as the number one criteria for a tie breaker.

Goals scored is important, it's regarded by both the EPL and the Bundesliga as a sensible second criteria for a tiebreaker if Goal Differential be equal. Why is that? Because Goal Differential already takes into account Goals Scored.

Let's go one further and talk about "attacking play" which is what our new rules are meant to encourage. What Garber and co. want to encourage is goals scored which they believe to be directly related to a style of play that is both attractive and attacking. In the end, I think that amounts to everybody playing like San Jose because no one has the patience for compelling and attractive possession oriented football if all you're doing is trying to score as many goals as possible as quickly as possible.

Goal Differential takes Goals Scored into account, and goes one further--it compares that to how many goals you allowed. This statistic helps give us a better picture of how the team is overall. That shows us how they do on both sides of the ball. If you've got a +17 goal differential, you probably score a lot of goals. Probably. You could have a series of 17 games in which you had 1-0 draws, but that's unlikely. If you have a high goal differential, you are most likely a better team with a low one even if that team has scored more goals than you.

Think about it. If you've got a team who has scored 17 goals but allowed 27 goals, and another team that has scored 16 goals but only allowed 8 goals, which team, do you think, is the better team and more deserving of a higher spot on the table? This is a no-brainer for most of us, but for some of us (i.e. football executives in the United States) this is a little confusing. But let's talk about leagues that get it right.

In the Bundesliga, we have a whopping 875 goals scored in 306 total matches . Or 2.85 goals per game (I didn't even have to crunch these numbers myself. The Germans did it for me. God, I love that league.) The Bundesliga did not have to change their rules. They still go by goal differential and yet they scored almost 100 more goals!

Let's look at another league, the Vaunted EPL, to see if that changes the tune. Surely, going by goal differential they must have few goals scored! We had 380 total matches played and in them an unreal 1066 goals where scored, or 2.81 per game.

It looks to me like the Bundesliga has slightly more goals per game. And those are guys who use simple Goal Difference as their 1st tie-breaker. What about leagues who use different criteria? Like Serie A with their head-to-head records. Does that make a difference?

In the Italian top division, 380 matches were played and 972 goals were scored, which resulted in a slightly lower 2.56 per game average. Could that lower tick in score be because the tie-breakers are based on head-to-head records? There's another league out there who does tie breakers in a similar way, which is Spain's La Liga, and so let's check what Head-to-Head tiebreaker rules do there.

In Spain's top division, there were 380 games played, and 1050 total goals scored, which results in a higher 2.76 goals per game average. It's a tick higher but not as high as those leagues who base their tie breaker top rule on goal differential.

It seems to me that no matter what the rule is for tie-breakers, it doesn't encourage play to go one way or the other. In Spain they like attacking more, in Italy a good defense is king, in Germany goals rain down like mana vom Himmel but in England the rain doesn't seem to fall as hard.

Now let's look at how MLS stacks up to those leagues, and see if we can't unravel the reasoning behind this really silly rule change.:

791 Total Goals scored in MLS in 2011 over 306 matches, so around 2.58 goals per game. Almost as low as Italy's Serie A average. I would show another league for comparison who does it the way that MLS does, but there is no other big league in the world who does tie-breakers based on total goals scored.

This seems like a desperation maneuver to somehow put MLS on the level of the Bundesliga (who plays as many games as we do but scores almost 100 more goals per season) in terms of goals scored. But if you want to be on the level of the Bundesliga, then it would seem sensible to me to do as the Germans do and adopt their set of rules. If you want to compete with the EPL, then adopt the English rules. What additionally shows me this is desperate is that this change was adopted in the middle of a ongoing season.

If you have ideas for how to change the league format, institute those changes at the beginning of a season so that clubs know what they're going for. Now, is this overall going to impact the season for these clubs? I'd argue probably not, because clubs are still going to fight to have the most total points at the end of the season. Attacking play or not, the most points determines table and thus playoff position; goals scored be damned.

Overall, this seems to me like a stupid "fix" to a problem that's not even really a problem. Teams aren't not scoring goals because of tiebreaker rules. And goal-scoring isn't necessarily the be-all end-all of soccer. A team that can execute good passes while winning the 2nd ball seems to be the winner of the day, and in the end, winning is still what matters regardless of whether it's 3-0 or 1-0. And if you don't want these tie-breaker rules to apply to you, make sure there's a lot of distance between you and the competition.

This is not going to fix anything. It's a placating rule change that makes MLS look different. While I think that some difference is good, I don't think this is the one that's really going to be the draw for people to choose the MLS product over big leagues in the world.

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