Liga MX’s Liguilla kicks off next weekend, and Club América, in addition to being richer and buying all the best players, has another advantage over rivals: a tiebreaker. If, at the end of the teams’ home and away series, the two teams are tied, América advances because it finished higher in the regular season.
No penalties. No extra time. No replay. Just a handshake and smell you later. It might be a solution the furrows the brows of European and American fans, but this tiebreaker is actually a good thing (even if you hate America).
Ties. They suck, both in individual games and playoff series. They just muck things up. In the old days, men wore non-ironic Fedoras, sipped on Mint Julips and could easily catch the jitterbug back into town next weekend for a replay of a tied game. No more. With packed calendars and hardly any offseason, the show must go on. Sadly, though, both FIFA and UEFA have had trouble implementing a solution as good as Mexico’s.
The best example of a solution that solves nothing is the “Golden Goal.” For the 1998 World Cup in France, FIFA took a page from ice hockey and playgrounds everywhere by adopting the practice. At the end of regulation, tied teams would play two 15-minute sessions and the first to score would win. While NHL fans love the drama and tension in “sudden death overtime” (killer name, no?), soccer fans weren’t sold.
The rule was also only kinda sudden deathy. If you scored early, the first 15-minute session would still run to conclusion, but no second 15-minute session. The rule was later tweaked so the second 15-minute period would always be played, no matter if a team scored in the first extra period.
Not very golden, eh? Plus, the mandatory overtime only exacerbated another problem: physical fatigue. A 90-minute game with only three subs is strenuous enough, but another half-hour? From the viewer’s perspective, you get tired and probably injured players attempting to run for another 30 minutes, pretending they’re not exhausted, something that’s about as appealing as, say, a Backstreet Boys reunion tour. Thus, a big problem with the golden goal non-solution: It seldom results in a team winning. Instead, we’ve got tired players and fed-up fans wasting a half-hour before the drama of penalty kicks.
And that’s the other problem with the non-golden goal: We still get penalty kicks. Penalties, of course, are lots of fun to watch. The forward versus goalie situation reminds us of duels from the Old West, the time between and leading up to shots creates suspense, and, in an almost spiritual ritual, teammates sometimes get on their knees and lock arms in the center circle.
Still, there was another problem: Penalties are a fucking crapshoot for professionals. They can and do score over 80 percent of the time. A shootout for pros is like asking Rory McIlroy to go miniature golfing with you. He’ll probably beat you on 17 holes, but you can count on the waterfall or windmill to trip him up on at least one putt. And that hole should decide the winner?
Unlike international tournaments, domestic leagues with playoffs often rely on home-and-away series. The idea is that over two games, a clear victor is more likely to emerge. However, home-and-away series cannot eliminate parity. What happens when both teams win their home game? Or if they tie both games?
This year, MLS has adopted the European model of “away goals.” Basically, in the case of a tie, the team who scores the most away goals advances. The theory is that it will encourage visiting teams to attack, but the reality is that it encourages home teams to be conservative: it’s better for them to win 1-0 than 2-1, 3-2, or 4-3.
(Not to mention this rule is also kinda arbitrary. Some dude just said away goals are worth more than home goals, but does anybody really think that’s a universal truth?)
All of which brings us back to Liga MX, a league with a refreshingly common sense solution. You have this big (or, at least, bigger) sample size of a regular season. Why not use it? No extra time. No penalty kicks. If the lower seeded team can’t give us some reason to think the regular season was wrong, then the bigger (in the case of Mexico, 17-game) data set carries the day.
In a sense, the Liguilla doubly rewards teams for a season of work when it matters most (you play weaker opposition and can advance with a tie). It’s not perfect, but it is better than the pain of extra time and shit luck of penalty kicks.
Yes, it means Club América may advance more easily, but it’s a small price to pay for not having to watch 30 minutes of tired players jogging and falling over.