The 2014 MLS Cup Final field is set. Landon Donovan will play in his final professional soccer game at home against the New England Revolution for the MLS Cup. The away goals rule came into play in the Western Conference Final and was close from being used in the Eastern Conference Final. While it has added a new wrinkle to the competition, it is not need and unnecessary to the league moving forward.
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New England advanced to the final thanks to a 4-3 aggregate scoring. If NY Red Bulls had scored a third goal in New England, the aggregate score would have been 4-4, but New York would have advanced due to the 3-2 road goal advantage. In the Western Conference Final, Seattle won the second leg 2-1 but essentially lost.
Why did they lose? Well, Los Angeles held the 1-0 away goals advantage. The aggregate score was tied 2-2 and the league’s best two teams should have headed to two 15-minute periods of extra time and possibly penalty kicks. No one in their right mind would have rooted for more soccer that featured two American soccer legends, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Both have had a memorable 2014 for different reasons and another 30 minutes of soccer pitting the two against each other would have provided a great treat for MLS fans.
Yet, I digress on that and take a look at the Sounders’ 2014 MLS Playoffs run. In their four games, they won one game. Well, their one winning game saw them not advance to the next round due to the away goals rule. In fact, Seattle benefited from the away goals rule in their Conference Semifinals two-legged affair against FC Dallas. In the first leg, Seattle found a key road goal in a 1-1 tie. The second leg at CenturyLink Stadium ended in a 0-0 draw.
If the away goals rule was not in play, then FC Dallas and Seattle would have headed to extra time and possibly penalties. Instead, Seattle’s road-goal served as the reason they moved on to face LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Final. On the other hand, LA destroyed RSL 5-0 in the second leg after a scoreless first leg.
Overall, Seattle was on the winning and losing end of the away goals rule. Yet, the away goals rule is not needed in the MLS Playoffs. If it is that important, the away goals scored should be the first tiebreaker in determining the postseason teams when there’s a tie. However, away goals for isn’t the first tiebreaker because other criteria are more important.
Instead of using the away goals rule because it works in other leagues overseas, MLS should do its own thing. Instead of two-legged rounds, they should experiment with best of 3 series for each round. The winner of a game actually wins that respective game and isn’t screwed by a silly away goals rule. It sounds better in my head than the away goals rule. Scoring on the road may be a tad harder than scoring at home, but it’s not so difficult that they should dictate who moves on in the case of a tied aggregate score.
All in all, the MLS Playoffs needs fixing mainly due to the away goals rule. Two-legged rounds with aggregate scoring is nice and all, but the away goals tiebreaker negatively affects the play and doesn’t award the true winner. Instead total goals should hold the major influence into who advances.