If it's true, as they say, that a tie in sports is like "kissing your sister" then Major League Soccer 2009 is like going down on her.
According to some quick back-of-an-envelope figuring (literally; I used an unopened one containing an investment account statement. God knows I don't want to look at it, so I might as well put it to some use) there have been 54 MLS matches so far this season and 22 of them - 44% - have ended in draws.
What makes it even stranger is that the majority of them seem not to be the result of the common strategy of an inferior team playing for the 0-0 score or of a team on the road getting a goal and then bunkering in, putting seven or eight guys behind the ball and holding on for the point.
Rather, in game after game teams are coughing up the tying goal - or frequently the tieing two goals - in the last five or ten minutes, or even in stoppage time.
What is generally considered to be the simplest, most basic, any-fool-can-do-it tactic in soccer, ie. subbing out an attacker or two in favor of some extra defenders and then packing the penalty area wall to wall making it virtually impossible for the opponent to score, just isn't working.
For years, American pointyball fans have complained that the only thing the so-called "Prevent Defense" does is "Prevent" you from winning. The theory there is that if you put in six or seven defensive backs and "deny" the middle of the field that the opponent can't hit you up for a quick touchdown. Instead, he has to try and inch his way up the field throwing quick five to eight yard out patterns to running backs along the sidelines, essentially trading those yards for time until - the theory goes - time runs out.
The problem with this strategy - as any barstool quarterback will be happy to tell you until you expire from boredom - what you've done in that case is throw out the game plan that got you the lead in the first place in favor of an entirely new set of formations and tactics.
It's kind of like if, when the Allies got to the Rhine in 1945, Ike had decided to stop all the bombing, strafing and armored infantry stuff that had gotten them that far and switched over to trench warfare to finish off the Huns. Everyone would have agreed at long last with Montgomery's contention that the guy was an idiot (instead of Patton's contention that Monty was a limp-wristed pantywaist).
Just this weekend alone, three games were tied just as the referee was beginning to check his watch: Quaranta hit on 85' for DC to grab a point on the road against Chivas, Wolyniec hit NYRB's only goal of the day on 88' to pull even with Houston and the Galaxy's Eddie Lewis scored his first MLS goal on 91' to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat against Columbus.
Chicago, the only undefeated team in the league, has played nine games and tied six of them. They share the Eastern conference lead with DC, who have drawn six out of ten. Oddly, a third team in the East also has six ties - Columbus - and they're at the bottom of the table.
And yet none of those outfits lead the Cavalcade of the Sister-Kissers; that honor goes to LA, with an almost bizarre 1-1-7 league record, including five in their last six games and in all competitions since mid-March have drawn 9 out of 11. Not content with merely smooching with their female sibling, LA has apparently set her up in a condo in Vegas.
Maybe it's time to bring back the dreaded NASL Shootout, a method which drove purists absolutely crazy ("But that's not how they do it in Europe") but which had the advantage of making "playing for the tie" less attractive since all it was going to get you was the functional equivalent of a game-deciding crapshoot.
Meanwhile, long time MLS fans can be forgiven for feeling a strange urge to check the calendar to make sure they haven't accidentally climbed into a DeLorean, punched the flux capacitor and ended up back in the late 1990's. when men were men, Doug Logan ran the league and you could still see an MLS match in Florida:
Tied for the league scoring lead this morning are Brian McBride and Josh Wolff. Eddie Lewis scored for an MLS team in California and John wolyniec did the same in New York. Even Clint Mathis has a goal this year.
Is it any wonder that Stern John is reportedly looking at an MLS return? It'll be like Old Home week.
In other items of note, Chris Wondolowski scored the 7000th goal in MLS history this weekend, thus joining such notables as Thomas Dooley (1000) Mark Chung (4000), Andy Williams (5000) and Brian Ching (6000) in hitting league milestone goals.*
(MLSNet also says it was WONDOLOWSKI WHO HIT # 7000 while US SOCCERPLAYERS says it was Wolyniec, but USSP hasn't had a clue in years. If the choice is between them and the highly credible Climbing the Ladder AND the league itself, it's not much of a contest.)
Lest he get a swelled head, however, it should be noted that #3000 was struck by the immortal Alex Bunbury, whose two year MLS career (Kansas City) is otherwise completely forgettable.
* Statistics, as usual, courtesy of CLIMBING THE LADDER
****PLEASE NOTE: I edited and posted this as I was waiting to climb into the dentists chair for four and a half hours of what would make waterboarding seem like a week in Aruba.
In the rush to get the thing up I neglected to change the time frame from this season to "since April 1" which was where I was headed.
For the record - and many thanks to a kind missive from the incomparable STEVE SIRK - the full season totals are 27 draws in 68 league matches for a percentage of 39.7%.
The record was set in 2004 with 30.7% of all league matches ending in a draw.
I'm now going back to washing down Percocets with gin. See you tomorrow - maybe.