Ten Ways To Make X Better: Soccer Comment Count

Brian May 31st, 2016 at 12:56 PM

An irregular series in which I fix all of a sport's problems. Previously: hockey.


[Paul Sherman]

10. Use goal line technology. The imposition on the flow of the game is minimal and there is no reason to not have it. Whether or not a goal is scored is kind of a big deal in a sport that sees 3 or 4 a game.

9. Offsides is reviewable on goals. Again, this disrupts the 90-minute-flow that soccer and only soccer has. But since the game is getting broken up anyway—at least slightly—a quick peek at whether an offsides was or was not accurate is worth it as long as they adopt the NFL's hard limit on time available to make a decision. If it's not obvious in 30 seconds the call is close enough.

8. Stop the clock when people are injured. Ideally soccer would dump the whole stoppage time concept and have a clock that actually reflects what time it is. Every other sport manages this. In lieu of a total overhaul which is not coming, soccer games should borrow a concept from college soccer and allow the ref to cease the inexorable march of time with an X symbol over his head.

The X is deployed when the game is stopped because a player is down. Right now the perception amongst players is that falling over when nursing a late lead helps you win, so it happens all the time. Erase that perception and second half time-wasting gets 50% more tolerable.

7. Yellow cards for being Pepe. In the Champions League Final, Real Madrid defender Pepe twice rolled around like he'd been shot after light taps to his face. These should be cardable events. I will also accept a firing squad.

6. Dump Financial Fair Play and replace it with… I don't know. FFP, if you don't know, is an attempt to prevent a rich owner buying a Chelsea or Manchester City and making them very good by spending a lot of money. Because teams are allowed to spend what they make it tends to set the current power structure in concrete, Leicester notwithstanding. Also it does not work for the same reasons that NCAA amateurism rules, and prohibition more generally, don't work. There is always someone smart enough to cheese the rules. Like… yep, Leicester.*

I have no idea what to do with it in its place. Ideally the euro soccer structure would change so that a Leicester City event was more of a one-in-ten-year event instead of one in a hundred, but I struggle to come up with something that would work. Even Germany—which has the most even revenue distribution and rules against club ownership by individuals—has seen Bayern win four straight titles and 12 since 1998.

The predictability of euro soccer is the main reason I can't be bothered to care about any of it. I have the choice of picking the Yankees or the Lions, and no thanks to either. But without radically reshaping it into a socialist American-style thing*, which isn't happening, there appears to be no solution other than buying a little defensive midfielder from Ligue 2.

*[The cheesing Leicester managed was not enough to get them anywhere near the giants in the EPL and should not color anyone's perceptions of the magnitude of their accomplishment. The fact that there's a Guardian expose on the fact that Man Who Owns Soccer Team Spends Money On It that includes the phrase "Leicester City’s dash to an unlikely Premier League title is billed as football’s most romantic story in a generation but" is so very NCAA and demonstrates why FFP is destined to fail.]

**[The irony here is vast, yes.]

5. Allow refs some discretion on PKs. Right now a lot of fouls in the box don't get called because the punishment for them is outlandishly severe. Also some harmless situations get punished in an outlandishly severe way. If a ref spots a foul in the box that doesn't disrupt an imminent scoring chance he should be allowed to call for a free kick at the spot.

4. Free kicks resulting from fouls that draw yellow cards should be more dangerous. Defenders should not be allowed to line up in the penalty box on the resulting free kick unless they are level with or behind the ball*. That's not as severe as a penalty kick, but it's a lot more severe than it currently is and would adequately punish teams that specialize in those canny fouls just outside of PK territory.

*[IE, they can still defend the opposition on FKs that are more or less corners.] 

3. No shootouts in finals. I don't care what you have to do to prevent them. Anything vaguely resembling the actual sport that's going on is far superior to the current system, in which all of a sudden a darts competition breaks out after 120 minutes. The only person who likes that is Steve Lorenz. I grudgingly accept that maybe you have to have shootouts for early stages in competitions because winning the equivalent of a triple OT hockey game is going to destroy your fitness for the next game. Finals should end with someone scoring a goal.

There are various ways to approach the problem but I think the simplest and best is to remove the goalies after 30 minutes of extra time and play sudden death. Is that 100% soccer? No. But it's at least 50% instead of 0%.

2. All throw ins must have a totally rad flip before them. I mean.

This one is obvious.

1. Teams have the option of putting a guy on field with skates. Offsides does not apply to him. Goals he scores count double. It works for any sport!



May 31st, 2016 at 2:32 PM ^

Allowing unlimited substitutions would allow teams to have a few "Big Bully Role" guys to come in, ugly and then exit the game after the few minutes that they could keep up...overall I think that weakens play and moves the emphasis away from being both skillful and in-shape  


May 31st, 2016 at 4:15 PM ^

Yep. Unlimited subs is the way to go in soccer - along with stopping time on substitutions, obviously. Soccer has already been moving in this direction over the last century. It needs to go all the way

One benefit of unlimited subs that is often overlooked: you could see your favorite older players extend their playing careers at elite clubs. As of now, it kind of bugs me how you've basically aged out of the sport at 30 (pretty much; except goalkeepers).


May 31st, 2016 at 11:18 PM ^

If we allow unlimimted subs, that means we can mandate that players who go down with an injury be replaced by a sub. Not only do we get fresher players with more action, we get less diving. Sign me up to watch those games.

Seriously, as much as Americans muck-up soccer, this is one thing youth soccer here gets right.


May 31st, 2016 at 1:17 PM ^

Regarding #7:  I've never understood why there can't be massive fines levied against one for embellishing injury/contact.  By rule, embellishing a foul IS ALREADY A YELLOW CARD.  It's rarely issued because it's so hard to objectively determine where legitimate injury ends and embellished injury begins.

Number 7

May 31st, 2016 at 2:20 PM ^

I think it would be feasible to award yellow for replay-apparent flops, and even red cards for the most egregious (and game-changing) embellishments. The consequence of these could include disqualificaiton from the next match (just like accumulated yellows and reds induce within most league and tournament settings).  It would also create more post-match scrutiny of flopping behavior, and bring a little shame to the worst offenders (assuming they have any).


May 31st, 2016 at 1:23 PM ^

Absolutely agree. Play advantage on offsides, review later. Seasons can hang on one goal, one goal can hang on a VERY subjective (and often wrong) call. Get the call right, let play continue if it's close, then check. Reviewing offsides will actually free the game up more, because they're already blowing play dead, when sometimes it should be allowed to continue. 

I also think any time a player goes to a ref waving an imaginary card they should get one, not for whatever foul was committed, but for waving a card.

Defending teams are absolutely getting away with murder in the penalty area during free kicks and corners. All out wrestling matches, sometimes, because the ref isn't going to give a penalty with no ball in the area, yet they'll blow the attempt dead at the slightest infraction against the team taking the kick. They should be able to award some intermediate infraction for that shy of a free goal attempt.

Going to penalties is the cheapest way to decide a championship. They might as well flip a coin or play rock paper scissors. Many many championships are getting decided by penalties, yet goals in extra time are almost unheard of. Extra time should be one longer period, instead of 2 really really short intervals, with additional subs, and playing 10-10 or even 9-9 to open the game up, and help actual goals in open play decide the match.

Lastly, if a player is rolling around on the ground in agony, and holds up play for 5 minutes, then he should'nt be allowed to run right back on the field as soon as he's done pretending to be hurt.  When a player goes down, check the watch, just like adding stoppage time at the end. If the player writhes for 4:36 then he can't come back on the pitch for 4:36 and his team plays a "man" down.  If he's really hurt then he shouldn't come back on at all.


May 31st, 2016 at 2:36 PM ^

For games where extra time is possible, I would like to see sudden death but with bigger rosters (30?) and unlimited substitutions (even of players who have already come off) every 15 minutes after the first 90. Fatigue would still be an issue, but much of it would fall on the backups who aren't likely to play a big role in subsequent games. I'd think that in the vast majority of games, someone would score within the first 90 minutes of OT. Also, removing the possibility of a shootout would discourage the weaker team from parking the bus and playing for a shootout.

I would also get rid of the rule that overtime has to go 30 minutes even if someone scores. As soon as someone scores in OT it should be game over. 


May 31st, 2016 at 1:48 PM ^

I don't think just allowing offsides and then going back to review it later works, because too often there's not going to be an immediate deadball opportunity after the offsides to do the review, and the game will get too far ahead of the infraction.

Example: Player 1 of Team A plays a through-ball to Player 2, who may or may not have been offside. Ref makes the "offside advantage" signal.  Player 2 receives the ball near the edge of the box and dribbles forward to get into shooting position, but his touches are sufficiently poor that a defender from Team B is able to get back to cut off his advance (and, unless Player 2 is Messi, this is going to be the outcome a high % of the time). Player 2 breaks off his run and passes it to either Player 3 at the top of the box or Player 4 on the wing, and Team A begins to run its normal last-third offense, which may or may not even result in a shot, let alone a goal.  

At what point does the ref blow his whistle to go review the offside? If he blows as soon as the immediate goalscoring opportunity is blown/passed up, he's ruining Team A's opportunity to run offense in the final third before Team B's defense gets dug in.  If he waits until Team A loses possession, he's ruining Team B's opportunity at a counterattack.  If he waits until a traditional deadball event (the ball goes out of bounds or someone is fouled), as he would do to give someone a yellow card after playing advantage, play might continue for 5 or 10 minutes before he gets the chance, and all that play might have to be erased if it turns out Player 2 was offside.  If it's just up to his discretion when to blow the whistle, the result will be arbitrary, invariably unfair to one side or another, and open more opporunities for corruption, which soccer has had a significant problem with.

I don't think officials are getting offsides calls wrong often enough to justify this kind of disruption.

I could be on board with a rule that offside is reviewable if the player receives the ball in shooting position and immediately scores a goal, because then the offsides error is directly to blame for a goal that shouldn't have been scored, and that's a big deal.  I could also be on board with an immediate review when offside is called, with the attacking team getting a free kick at the spot if the call is overturned (although that gets tricky for offsides called in the box). But I can't see playing "advantage" on potential offsides calls and then going back to see what should have happened after the action is over.  That way lies madness.


May 31st, 2016 at 1:51 PM ^

Don't wait till the next dead ball. Wait until the scoring opportunity is finished. If it's a minute or two, add it to stoppage time.

Refs already basically do this at the end of stoppage time--they wait to blow the whistle until after an active scoring chance has been resolved.


May 31st, 2016 at 3:09 PM ^

But the end of stoppage time is the end of the game; you're not prejudicing anyone by cutting things off at that point, because the game is over.  If you blow the whistle to go review an offside, however, you're invariably gonna hurt one of the teams: if the scoring opportunity ends because the attacking team loses possession, blowing the whistle kills the other team's chance chance for a counterattack; if the scoring opportunity ends because the attacking team slows down and tries to run offense, you're ruining their shot to do that before the defense can dig into position.


May 31st, 2016 at 2:09 PM ^

Most of the instances that I see are breakaway one on one situations. Maybe he was a milimeter offsides, but usualy the sideline judge is even slower to react than the defenders who're playing a high line. MOst of the blown dead chances would be promptly followed by a shot on goal.

The specific example i see are defenses playing the dangerous high line, and stikers jumping theoffsides trap. Happens about 10 times or so a game, on average. Watching with the announcers, 7 times out of 10 refs blow it dead and get it right, but at least once a game , sometimes o2 or 3,  I'm seeing the announcers (with replay) call the refs out for getting a call wrong, and denying a team one of the choicest goal scoring opportunites in in the game. 

Blue in Yarmouth

May 31st, 2016 at 3:02 PM ^

I agree that I don't believe the linesmen get the calls wrong too foten so I'm not sure anything is required personally, but if something like this did take place then I would suggest the remedy is simple:

The ref plays the advantage. If a goal is scored  before the advantage is ended then you go and review the play to see if it is offside. If it isn't scored immediately than the offside really had no bearing on the match and play would be allowed to continue. This would only apply to close calls and egregious offsides would be called right away.

The only thing you are worried about with offside is that it directly results in a goal. If that doesn't happen and the defense has time to set up but the other team still ends up scoring I would argue it wasn't the offside that caused the goal, but the other teams inability to defend. 

carolina blue

May 31st, 2016 at 1:20 PM ^

Did the rule change, or is obstruction not still an indirect free kick? Last I knew obstruction, even inside the box (as long as it's not inside the 6-yd box), is an indirect kick. Just call that more often.

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Amaizing Blue

May 31st, 2016 at 1:21 PM ^

10. Use goal line technology. The imposition on the flow of the game is minimal and there is no reason to not have it. Whether or not a goal is scored is kind of a big deal in a sport that sees 3 or 4 a game.

Change the last word to "season", and you've fixed it.  :)  


I DO find soccer boring and am not at all a fan.  But, I enjoy reading Brian's writing, so I read the post.  In my defense, I watch the US in the World Cup, men's and women's.  I've been to a couple games my nephew played in.  And, I occasionally drink too much beer.  So, baby steps on my road to soccer fandom. 

Brian Griese

May 31st, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

I've never understood, why a player, who is trying to take a long pass and runs into the box, clear down by the corner of the goaline and penalty line and is illegally tackled with no other offensive players around is awarded a PK, while a guy on a breakaway could be hauled down 6 inches outside of the box and not awarded one.  


May 31st, 2016 at 3:36 PM ^

I get why you would feel this way, but changing the rule to this only adds more controversy. Right now the box is a defined space where fouls = PK. Defenders in many cases now rarely make strong challenges in the box to avoid giving away a possible PK. If you change the rule to allow for more subjective decisions put in the refs hands as to was it really a goal scoring opportunity or not, you're asking for 10x more controversy than there is now. Currently the only controversial part of PKs for the most part is was it a foul or not, adding in was it a foul PLUS was it really a goal scoring opportunity solves nothing and makes it worse IMO


May 31st, 2016 at 3:36 PM ^

I get why you would feel this way, but changing the rule to this only adds more controversy. Right now the box is a defined space where fouls = PK. Defenders in many cases now rarely make strong challenges in the box to avoid giving away a possible PK. If you change the rule to allow for more subjective decisions put in the refs hands as to was it really a goal scoring opportunity or not, you're asking for 10x more controversy than there is now. Currently the only controversial part of PKs for the most part is was it a foul or not, adding in was it a foul PLUS was it really a goal scoring opportunity solves nothing and makes it worse IMO

I Bleed Maize N Blue

May 31st, 2016 at 1:25 PM ^

How about taps to the chest, and the guy goes down holding his face? He should get an actual punch to the face.

Also, nothing about FIFA? Put their execs on labor crews building stadiums in Qatar.

Yinka Double Dare

May 31st, 2016 at 1:33 PM ^

Eh, FIFA is a ridiculous corrupt organization but the regional and national associations are the ones that would implement a lot of things. The vanishing spray that is now ubiquitous came from Brazil, then was used by CONMEBOL in the 2011 Copa as the first major competition to use it. FIFA adopted it soon after because it was obviously a good idea that was helpful for refs in enforcing the rules.

Yinka Double Dare

May 31st, 2016 at 1:26 PM ^

The sideline officials and 4th official never seem to adequately get the ref to call those ridiculous simulations that should be yellow cards under the rules already in existence. Maybe a video official that can buzz the ref and communicate would help. Retroactive carding is a nice idea, but it wouldn't help for, say, the Champions League Final where any action wouldn't take effect until the next season.

I get the difficulty in gauging whether a guy was fouled and embellished and once in a great while you see an unjust yellow for it, but for things like the Pepe incidents, it would be quite easy for the officials to card him, especially if someone can quickly review on video. 


May 31st, 2016 at 1:26 PM ^

Once a dude comes off, he can't re-enter the match.  But to limit the amout of your bench you can use is idiotic.

This fixes the shootout problem as well--more fresh bodies means you can continue to play actual soccer.


May 31st, 2016 at 1:26 PM ^

The biggest change that I'd like to see is more officials on the field. A soccer field is essentially the same length as a football field but 20 yards wider. Football uses 7 officials, soccer has one main official and two that basically just call offsides and who gets the throw-in when the ball goes out of bounds.

So basically foul calls (regular fouls, yellow/red cards) and most other calls are made by one official. That just baffles me. Especially considering the BS dives, elbows, dirty tackles, etc. that can have such a large influence on a match. Also, the one official is just swarmed/bullied often by pissed off players. Why not throw two more officials out there?  I just don't get it.


May 31st, 2016 at 2:01 PM ^

Goal line technology seems like a no-brainer. I think reviewing offsides would be good, too. The "flow-of-the-game" concept is important in soccer, but too many games have turned on bad offsides calls in either direction. Encouraging players to finish a play with the flag up would help innoculate the game against losing scoring chances due to a bad call going against a team on attack, too. 

The traditional league structure is so ingrained and so wildly different from sports in the United States that I don't think there is a good way to make the sport properly competitive at all levels. Certainly not in a way that helps the Leicesters in any meaningful way. The only possible way to instill a real "salary cap" type system is to develop a static continental super league out of the best in Europe (you know, Real and Barca from Spain, Bayern from Germany, the two Milans and Juve from Italy, etc, leaving their domestic leagues entirely). This allows those teams to compete evenly with each other... at the expense of hundreds of lesser teams in each nation who are further cut out of the game. A team like Leicester in this scenario would go from having little chance for meaningful chance to having even less.

I thought and generally continue to think that the FFP concept, if poorly executed, is a good way to protect against "plaything" abuses and in fact helps vaguely restrain other teams from running up massive debts that could bankrupt them, as happened to Leeds a few years ago. Beyond this, though, I think things are just kind of stuck the way they are. 

The PK issue is tricky. It's a lousy way to end a game, but the nature of the sport with its limited, permanent substitutions and the vital role fatigue plays in 90 minute games does not allow for "unlimited overtimes." The "unlimited OT" concept really only comes into play in a small handful of NHL playoff games, and while they are magnificent those players are still able to rest on a regular basis and unless a series is clinched the teams are both affected equally for the next game, since they play 7-game series. It is glorious, but it is unworkable in many other sports, particularly soccer.

But all the other options highly distort the sport, as well. Soccer as a game has many positive attributes, and one can even appreciate the high likelihood of draws, but it does not fit well with a one game championship that television wants.

The World Cup DID try to deal with this in its history by awarding the Cup to the winner of a 4-team final group (this is also how the Miracle on Ice team actually won its gold, too, btw. The memorable World Cup moment here was Brazil's stunning home loss to Uruguay in 1950, which was actually simply the concluding and deciding game of a final group). This is, in a way, more fair--results are judged over more games, allowing more data points. It is, however, terrible television. 

So all of the other solutions are bad. I like the idea of removing the goalies, but that will turn the contest into a game that favors teams that have guys that can shoot from distance, a narrow skill level elsewhere. Other people have suggested alternating corner kicks instead of penalties, and while that idea is also a bit narrow it is at least a part of the game. 

So I tend to favor corner kicks.

As it is, the coin flip nature of penalties means that just getting to them in certain circumstances is considered a good result for a team. A team that is on its heels most of a game is thought to be happy to "earn" penalties, while a team that had a lead has failed to some extent to be forced to them. Makes for interesting plotlines, even if the result itself is random.

EDIT: Ok, so this was far longer than merited by my actual content. So...

tl;dr The nature of soccer as an international institution and as a game makes it hard to make big changes, and apart from video and goal-line tech I think that there aren't great options.


May 31st, 2016 at 1:30 PM ^

the diving in soccer is absurd and really hurts the sport's credibility.  


I also totally agree on the injury time stoppage thing.  Makes zero sense. 


May 31st, 2016 at 1:32 PM ^

Been saying this for years.  Offsides should go away once the ball is in the 18 yard box.  Will increase scoring slightly, and make the game a little more exciting.  I think there are also valid goals that are called off because someone is found offside while the ball basically bounce around in the box.  I don't think that was the intent of the rule, and honestly, if the offense gets in those positions to score, they deserve the goal anyway...

Blue Balls Afire

June 1st, 2016 at 12:40 AM ^

I say get rid of offsides altogether. The rule takes away the fast break, which is one of the most exciting things in sports. The defense can still choose to pack the defensive zone if it wants to, but let the offense have a fast break if the defense chooses not to pack it in or cheats on offense.

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June 1st, 2016 at 10:31 AM ^

It's not like fast breaks are absent in soccer. Rapid counterattacks became the main weapon against ball dominant teams like Barca. Counterattacking fast break goals were essentially what allowed Leicester City to win the premier league this year. 

Without offside, you'd just have teams parking 1 or 2 forwards in each penalty area and just booting the ball as far as they could when they got possession. The game would essentially look like a tired pickup basketball game, where guys aren't bothering to get back on defense. Which is the antithesis of exciting. 

The offside rule actually allows the fast break. It means that counterattacks are about timing the pass to players making runs at speed toward the last line of defense.


All of these goals are, in part, products of the offside rule.


As is the most famous goal in US soccer history.



May 31st, 2016 at 1:32 PM ^

Some of these are good. There needs to be some sort of foul that can be called in the box that doesn't result in a PK. There's so much contact in the box that doesn't get called. It'd be like when the NBA stopped allowing so much handchecking. The flow of the game would improve. 

Pepto Bismol

May 31st, 2016 at 1:45 PM ^

To borrow your NBA comparison, an appropriate hypothetical would be if a foul in the paint were automatically two points.  Some action in the paint isn't an imminent threat.  You'd see guys getting mugged with no calls because the referee would rightly determine that, while technically a foul, the infraction wasn't worthy of a free bucket.


May 31st, 2016 at 1:38 PM ^

Competitive balance is a major issue. The bundesliga use to be fairly balance but with some higher level clubs relying almost exclusively on their youth academy and other clubs being financially irresponsible, Bayern has been able to thrive and become even a bigger giant than they already were.

Pepto Bismol

May 31st, 2016 at 2:04 PM ^

#8 - The archaic game clock.  Brian mentions injuries, but it goes for all things.  I don't know what the equivalent is, but if halves were like, 30 minutes of clock time but they stopped the clock on out of bounds and between whistles that would probably equal the same 45 minute period of time, and would probably end up with more game action because guys wouldn't dick around the last half-hour of a game nursing a lead. 

There's nothing worse than watching a team trail, and without fail everybody on the leading team starts needing a stretcher for every tackle, goalies stall for 2 minutes before a mindless boot on a goal kick, substitutions that watch a guy trot slower than I can walk from the very far corner of the pitch, etc. 

Meanwhile, the trailing side rightfully complains about it to the referree, who gives a token warning to some guy who could not care any less because no official will do anything about stalling, and the crowd whistles and boos while the clock ticks away.  Maddening.

Hire a timekeeper.  Stop the clock.  End the bullsh**.  Could not be any simpler.



Counterpoint:  Stop time would allow for commercial breaks.  Yikes.


May 31st, 2016 at 3:30 PM ^

They don't have to stop the clock (I do like how the running clock cuts down on commercials), but they do need a dedicated timekeeper to actually keep track of stoppage time.   I'm sure it would be more than they typically add on.

I was watching a game recently in which three goals were scored in the first half, and somehow the referee only added one minute of stoppage time at the end of the half.  The reset after the three goals alone probably totaled a couple of minutes, to say nothing of all the other stops for fouls, throw-ins and such.