Sunday, September 23, 2007

When soccer isn't soccer

The way playoff soccer matches are settled in case of a tie after regulation and overtime is, in a word, absurd.

The absurdity was on full display tonight at Civic Stadium (aka “PGE Park”).

I left the stadium with a shrug. In my view, the Timbers didn’t lose the United Soccer League Division One semi-final game, nor obviously, did they win it.

No, the soccer game was a tie.

What the Timbers lost was some anemic contest remotely related to a soccer match.

The home team lost to the Atlanta Silverbacks in a penalty kick shoot-out.

The Timbers had clearly outplayed Atlanta during the game. Portland had 23 shots on goal to Atlanta’s 12 — and that’s just for starters.

The problem was that lads in green failed to put any of those shots in the net.

So what happened? The dread penalty-kick shoot-out got wheeled in to decide the "winner." The shoot-out tests just two mano e mano skills — the ability of a striker to score a teed up ball and the ability of a goalie to defend against it.

That’s a great little match-up, but it is hardly soccer with its passing, dribbling, trapping, tackling, heading, teamwork and — grace.

If this kind of resolution were used in American football, tied games would be settled by opposing place kickers exchanging free shots at the uprights from mid-field.

So here’s my suggestion: If a soccer game ends in a tie, the teams are reduced to a goalie, two defenders and five attackers. The five offensive players could only play at their offensive end, where they would be opposed by the other team’s outnumbered three-player defense, which would also be limited to half the pitch. Likewise the opposing team’s offense would have to stay at its offensive end and be opposed by the similarly restricted, three-player defense of the other team. The ball could pass freely from on side of the field to the other.

All the soccer skills still would be involved, but the teams would be reduced in size and limited so that there would likely be a decisive “golden goal,” sudden-death score in very short order.

We would then leave the stadium knowing that the better team had won — playing soccer.

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