Since its inception, MLS has had the arduous task of appeasing the self-hating American soccer fan—loyal to a brand of European-style football—while simultaneously nurturing a league that embodies the fairness of the American sports culture.
The first installment of American soccer vs. European football centered around structure of the MLS playoffs.
The single-table format synonymous with traditional leagues is something MLS commissioner Don Garber has not been a proponent of and justifiably so.
Garber’s sole purpose has always been to increase the excitement of MLS, and it is irrefutable that a playoff system achieves that. There is no joy in watching a team celebrate a championship weeks before the season is over.
With the popularity of the league increasing, the latest installment of American soccer vs. European football is whether MLS should incorporate the away goals rule.
As it stands, away goals in two-leg fixtures of the MLS playoffs carry the same weight as home goals—something Europeans struggle to understand.
Used as the first tiebreaker in two-leg fixtures overseas, the rule increases the importance of protecting home soil. It is the perfect system for clubs that not only travel across different countries, it travels across different cultures.
I find it laughable that some think the New York Red Bulls face the same hassle traveling from New York to Houston as Real Madrid does traveling from Madrid to Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Limiting the amount of minutes played overseas is essential to preserve the beautiful game’s integrity.
The question is: Is the away goals rule necessary in MLS?
Proponents of the rule claim it would increase the excitement of the playoffs, something Commissioner Garber is apparently concerned with.
Tied at 1-1, and with a man advantage for the final 20 minutes, the New York Red Bulls would have surely mounted an aggressive attack versus DC United on Saturday night.
Instead, fans were subjected to two teams content with the result and were not given the opportunity to see a New York team desperately attempt to score another road goal.
With the rule in place, Victor Bernández’s controversial free-kick goal in the 94th minute of San Jose’s 1-0 victory over the Galaxy would have been devastating for LA’s chances.
The potential of seeing the ‘Quakes deliver such a crushing blow to its California rival would have been priceless. The goal would have dominated MLS headlines.
In keeping with the American sports culture, excluding the rule is the fairest solution. Each leg of a home-and-home series is nothing more than a 90-minute half.
It is not the responsibility of MLS to mirror the European approach. It has managed to survive and grow in an over-crowded sports environment by creating its own unique brand.
There is no denying the rule may add excitement to the playoffs, and if it is to be implemented, let it be for that reason alone. There is no need to change MLS simply because “that’s how it is done overseas.”
European competitions are tied to decades of tradition—MLS is not. The league is in the perfect position to create its own brand of soccer.
There is no need to imitate another brand simply to appease the self-hating American soccer fan.
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