Soccer’s goal crisis
After watching yet another 0-0 draw, my excitement for the World Cup is more muted than when things kicked off a week ago. In part, it was dismal play by my home squad, England, but it’s deeper than that. Coming right off the Stanley Cup playoffs, even the drama of international competition can only somewhat backfill a gaping hole: this sport needs more goals.
Since I am a policy alternatives guy, I think I have a fix: Eliminate the offside rule.
Here’s the intuition: Going way back, different team sports have used different means of controlling the forward movement of the ball (or puck). In rugby, offensive players must always be behind the player carrying the ball; there are no forward passes. In the early days of hockey the same rule used to exist. But in hockey this led to greater emphasis on defence, and eventually the rule was changed to allow the forward pass. This swung play to the other extreme, like basketball, where there was too much offense, and eventually that led to the blue and red lines. But even just a few years ago, in search of more offence, the NHL dropped the rule that made two-line passes an offside. In other words, the sport has sought to find the right balance between offense and defence, and currently I’d say it is just about right.
In soccer, similar liberalization is needed to avert these horrible 0-0 and 1-0 games. The current rule is better than rugby; forward passes are allowed but only to the extent of the last defender, which means to offside line is in continual flux, even when play is down near the net. In my world (I’m hereby licensing FIFA to steal this idea), I would open things up by removing this rule. Doing so would not stop millionaire players from blasting the ball over the crossbar from close range (really, have you not been kicking a ball since you were 3 years old?), but it would spread out the defence, and make for a lot more attacks on the net, which means more goals. Too many goals and a blue-line type system could be implemented, but let’s hold that in reserve.
I know, I know. The fact that scoring is so rare makes each goal precious and more to celebrate. But in truth, I think fans really want to see dynamic games with big highlight reel goals. There could still be the odd no-scoring affair, just as there is in hockey, and fans would appreciate those more. But most of the time the increased action would make this game truly beautiful.