An initiative to promote attacking soccer was announced by Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber Friday for the start of the season Tuesday.
Will it work? Is it lip service? Will it lead to more goals? Is it the right thing to do? Sound off below.
Either way, Garber should be applauded for tinkering with the rules in an effort to encourage more goals, to protect attacking players from vicious tackles and to improve the quality of officiating. Few would argue that the league needs better officiated matches.
Garber said the MLS has been working with the national referees association, the United States Soccer Federation and other key groups to upgrade officiating and encourage referees to give benefit of the doubt to attacking players.
Garber spoke to reporters in a telephone conference four days before the First Kick between the Seattle Sounders FC and the LA Galaxy at Qwest Field.
Garber called this initiative the league’s “key points of emphasis” for competition this season. He stressed that the league is not changing the offsides rule, but referees have been instructed to call offsides with the “benefit given to attacking soccer.” He said officials should call offsides only “when absolutely certain that an offsides exists.”
He also wants to discourage studs-up challenges, and he wants holding and pushing penalized inside the 18-yard box. Referees, he said, should award penalties to players consistently violating this new rule.
Referees, Garber said, are being asked to pay attention to players being targeted for fouls, as well as players who repeatedly commit fouls.
He said referees should be more diligent about marking the spot of a free kick and enforcing the distance to defending players. He mentioned the use of spray-painted marks on the field as they do in Mexico and in Brazil.
These tweaks of the FIFA Laws of the Game could have huge impacts if referees and linesmen apply these new interpretations. It’s hard to know until the season begins whether the refs really interpret offsides in the spirit of promoting attacking soccer.
Part of this competition initiative includes creating a digital command center at the MLS offices in New York, he said. Senior refereeing officials will monitor every match and evaluate the performance of the referees.
It also includes reviewing and evaluating the operational, technical and broadcast issues and challenges of matches every week, all in an effort to improve the quality of the game.
Said Garber: “This command center will serve as a gateway to be able to address those issues.”
In other comments:
- The league is still in growing. Montreal will enter next year. Then a New York franchise will enter a year later. There’s a new stadium in Kansas City. The league will announce a “major international opponent” for MLS All-Star Game, as well as an international club tournament with MLS teams to be announced by end of this month.
- Northwest expansion is one of the big stories this season, noting the “trifecta of three great teams” in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. He said the newcomers are capping their season ticket allotments, with Portland already reaching its cap. He said Vancouver “could be the leading commercial team” in terms of sponsorship revenue.
- “Rivalries are a big part of the DNA of football overseas” and the hope is the rest of the MLS can learn lessons from what is driving interest of Northwest fans in “participating in something that’s bigger than just their team.” He hopes to do that with I-95 corridor teams New England, New York, Philadelphia and DC, as well as Rocky Mountain teams Real Salt Lake and Colorado.
- The league probably will offer “more benefit” for winning Supporters Shield, and thinks that won’t devalue playoffs or MLS Cup.
- Admitted the league needs to “grow its television ratings if we are to achieve our goals.” He acknowledged that he didn’t foresee the growth of television coverage of other world leagues as competition. But he cited good games and more dates on ESPN, including friendlies against international clubs. He also said the league has a “good partnership with the Fox Soccer Channel” despite disagreement over the value of the product.