Three Rule Changes that Would Improve Soccer

The enormous pressure of a penalty kick

Watching this year’s World Cup has been a great experience as there have been terrific matches and relatively little controversy as compared to other years.

Soccer is obviously the world’s sport and the pageantry and vivid colors give the event great flair.  However, there are 3 rules that I would love to see changed which would improve the soccer experience without drastically changing the sport.  Any change is met with objection from the traditionalists but I believe that these 3 changes would create a better overall game.  FIFA spent a lot of money evaluating and implementing goal-line technology, which had little need based on this year’s games.  The changes below have no real costs to implement but would have a positive impact on the games.

  1. Offsides
  2. Penalty Kicks during the game
  3. PK Shootout

OffsidesThe offsides trap gives the defense an ability to make strategic plays and prevents offensive players from staying too far downfield.  But at a certain point, the current offsides rule limits creativity and clogs the field making attacking soccer more difficult.  My proposal is that there can be no offsides on any ball played from inside the 18 meter line from the goal (i.e. equal to the top of the penalty area).  This balances the need for the offsides trap while allow creative thru balls and flick headers within the penalty area that are currently ruled offsides.  Currently a ball played from 6 yards from the goal to a player 3 yards from the goal can be deemed an offsides pass. This significantly hampers the offense’s ability to spread the field.  Ultimately, it also results in fewer goals and scoring opportunities because the defense doesn’t need to mark players and only needs to play the ball.  This change would allow the offense to find the space needed for more passing and creative moves inside the area and on the wings.

Penalty Kicks during the gameNot all fouls are created alike. Some of those within the area deserve a penalty kick and some of them do not.  The difficulty, is that the referee is currently given no discretion to decide which is which.  So while giving referees more discretion is rarely a popular option, this proposal would accomplish a few things.  First, it would ensure that incidental hand balls, or fouls on the edge of the penalty area in non-attacking positions would not require a penalty shot.  They would be rewarded with a direct free kick just like elsewhere on the field.  The fouls or hand balls in scoring position or directly denying a scoring opportunity would still result in a penalty kick.  Second, it would allow the referee to make more of the calls that currently go un-whistled.  Currently, if a ref sees an incidental foul or a marginal call, they ignore it and don’t blow the whistle because they are reluctant to award a penalty kick since it is almost an automatic goal.  By giving the referee this discretion, we would see the proper fouls calls and the attacking team would still be rewarded with a set piece in a dangerous spot.  It would also remove some of the frustration of players who are fouled and not getting the calls since the referee doesn’t want to award the penalty and it would also reduce some of the diving in the area because getting a free kick on the corner of the area is not worth as much as diving in order to get a penalty kick.

PK ShootoutYou can read my diatribe about overtime below and I recognize that proposal is far more controversial, but this proposal is about the current shootout format which is really not equitable for the teams involved.  One team is always going first, the other always going second.  This results in particular pressures that can be unfair as the shootout unfolds.  My proposal would be to move to a structure like the tennis tiebreaker format.  Under this format, the shooting order would look like this:

  • Argentina
  • Germany
  • Germany
  • Argentina
  • Argentina
  • Germany
  • Germany
  • Argentina
  • Argentina
  • Germany

This would ensure that the pressure shifts between the two teams and one team is not always ahead or not always behind.  I think it would keep a more equitable balance as the teams vie for the next round.

I have a couple of other more radical ideas that are worthy of consideration.

Overtime.           While a penalty kick is okay as part of the sport, I hate to see sporting events determined with them just as I would hate to see NHL playoff games decided on a penalty shot shootout.  Imagine Game 7 of the Stanley Cup decided that way.  The pressure and tension in an NHL playoff game is difficult to replicate.  But I would rather see a Golden Goal format for overtime and a continuation of overtime until someone scores.   Just as an NHL game can go 2 or 3 overtimes, I think that would really enhance the sport as opposed to the penalty kicks.  I recognize it is more difficult to score in soccer than in hockey and that unlimited overtime doesn’t wrap up in a nice package for TV which currently allocates 3 hours for elimination round games (2 hours for a regular game, plus 30 minutes of overtime plus penalty kicks).  However, if you are looking for other ways to encourage scoring in overtime you could allow free substitutions or choose my most radical idea—remove one player from each team every ten minutes after the initial 30 minutes of overtime.  The reduced number of players on the field would ultimately result in a goal more quickly than a full 11 v 11 format.

Substitutions.   The substitution rules are also outdated and I think the game would be better served by following a format similar to baseball where subs can be freely inserted but the removed players cannot return to the game.  The current rules give little flexibility to a manager who wants to strategically start with a focus on offense/defense and retain the ability to change strategies mid-game.

Enjoy the final. Let’s hope it is better than the last two Brazil games.

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