MLS Worried About Ties: Would Zero Points For Scoreless Draws Solve Problem?

If MLS had been using zero-points-for-scoreless-draws rule during past three years there would have been at least one big change: Real Salt Lake would not have won the 2009 MLS Cup. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

If MLS had been using zero-points-for-scoreless-draws rule during past three years there would have been at least one big change: Real Salt Lake would not have won the 2009 MLS Cup.

You may have noticed that there have been an awful lot of ties this season in MLS. In fact, there have been 87 during the season's first 23 weeks. Put another way, 38 percent of all MLS games have ended in a tie. Even worse, at least from some perspectives, is that 25 of those ties have been of the scoreless variety.

Apparently, all of these deadlocks have gotten the attention of the league office. Now Commissioner Don Garber is on record as saying he wants to do something about it.

"We’re not going to eliminate ties from Major League Soccer, but we have way too many ties and way too many zero-zero ties," commissioner Don Garber told The Star-Ledger last month. "What could we do as a league to make it more valuable for a club to play to win every game as opposed to playing for just a point? We’re looking at what those initiatives could be. And that is a league initiative."

No actual suggestions for addressing the "problem" were put forth in the story, but supposedly there's no chance of going back to the dreaded "shootout" that MLS used to eliminate all ties from 1996-2001. One idea that has been swimming around on the Internet is the idea of no longer rewarding any points for 0-0 ties. On the surface, it seems like a semi-reasonable idea, at least from the perspective of providing an incentive for teams to go for the win.

It got me thinking about what kind of effect that might have had on the standings. I went through all the results of 2009-present and tallied up each of the scoreless ties in which every team was involved.

The results? Not that much changed. A couple teams would have moved up and down in the standings, but the Supporters' Shield and playoff qualification would have been mostly unaffected.

There was one glaring exception, though. If 0-0 ties had counted for zero points, Real Salt Lake would have missed the playoffs in 2009. They, of course, went on to win the MLS Cup. As you may remember, RSL only qualified on a tiebreaker that season. Losing those two points they earned from scoreless ties would have dropped them below the Colorado Rapids, who had just one scoreless tie

Other than that, nothing of consequence would have really changed over the last three seasons. The reason? For the most part 0-0 ties tend to cancel one another out. No team over the past three years has ended up with more than five and no more than three teams has gone all season without registering at least one.

This year, for instance, the Portland Timbers are currently the only MLS team without at least one scoreless tie. But they are low enough in the standings that the points they pick up on their opposition still leave them outside of the playoffs by three points.

At the top of the table, the Los Angeles Galaxy would still have a comfortable lead in the race for the Shield. Even without the three points they've picked up in scoreless draws, they would still have a five-point cushion on the Sounders.

For any of this to happen, MLS would presumably want to get the go-ahead from FIFA first. Assuming the world's soccer governing body approved, it might be an interesting pilot program. While the overall effects might be minimal, you'd have to imagine that coaches and players would have more incentive to gamble as there would be limited downside to losing 1-0 as compared to tying 0-0 (an exception being when one teams sees denying the other points as a preferable outcome).

I wonder if all of this might not be a case of a solution begging for a problem. Sure, there's something inherently unsatisfying about ties. And it is frustrating to see teams like the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire with draws in more than half their games. But for fans currently avoiding MLS, is this the kind of thing that is going to get their attention? That seems highly unlikely.

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