Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Are MLS games only fit to be tied? Let's look

Five of 10 MLS matches last weekend ended in a deadlock, which isn't so bad when you consider four featured at least four goals, there was a stoppage-time equalizer and three other tying strikes came in the last 15 minutes, including Landon Donovan's first since returning from retirement.

Draws, however, have come at much greater frequency this season than last year and at the highest rate since 2011.

Entering the final stretch of the regular season, 96 of 292 matches — or 32.9 percent — have split points. In 2015, the figure was 21.2 percent.

The high mark in recent years was 2011: 34.7 percent. The subsequent three seasons were 23.8, 25.4 and 27.6.

This year, nine of the 10 Eastern Conference clubs have recorded more draws than either victories or defeats (or both). The exception is the Philadelphia Union (11-11-8). This Saturday's match at RFK Stadium features D.C. United and Orlando City with identical records: 7-9-13.

In the spring, Montreal was stuck in a four-game tie streak. Eight other teams around the league have, at some point, drawn three consecutive matches. Just four Western teams have compiled a lopsided number of draws, though the Los Angeles Galaxy leads the league with 15 in 30 matches.

Last year, only the Colorado Rapids hit double digits in draws (10). This year, eight have already hit that mark and four others are on the brink.

The record for ties in a season was set by the Chicago Fire in 2014 with 18.

Conforming to the rest of the world, MLS has not used shootouts or extra time in the regular season since 2003 — and it has no plans to revert to a renegade system.

Draws are part of soccer. Fans are sophisticated enough to understand the value of gaining a point on the road and the disappointment of dropping points at home. And while ties remain unsatisfying to some, they do not necessarily lack drama.

In all, 20 MLS draws this season have been scoreless. Thirty-four ties, though, have involved four or more combined goals.

How does MLS stack up to the rest of the world? Last season, among the top five circuits in Europe, England's Premier League finished with draws in 28.2 percent of the 380 matches. Germany's Bundesliga was at 23.2, Spain's La Liga 24.2, Italy's Serie A 25.0 and France's Ligue 1 with a high of 28.4.

There is no one explanation for the rash of draws in MLS this year. Parity does play a part. While other leagues allow clubs to spend and acquire players without many restrictions, MLS narrows the gap with a salary cap, drafts and other centralized mechanisms.

MLS has always been a balanced operation, so the recent uptick in ties is probably nothing more than, ahem, a random draw.

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