Soccer is a fantastic game -- the most popular sport in the world. Yet despite its popularity and success, it has two problems that lead to worldwide fan frustration. In a nutshell, soccer's problems are too few goals and too many ties.

Witness the fact that the last men's and women's World Cup championship games played in the United States ended in 0-0 ties after 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of overtime. These games had to be decided on penalty kicks, which most people agree is a poor way of determining a champion.

During the 1998 men's World Cup, the average number of goals scored per game was 1.3, and 19 games ended in a tie. Compare this with the 1958 World Cup, where the average number of goals scored per game was 3.6, and only seven games ended in a tie. Our solution is threefold:

First, modify the off-side rule. Instead of using the center line, use the penalty-box lines extended to the sidelines (approximately 22 yards from each goal). Currently, many of the off-side calls made by referees are erroneous, thereby unnecessarily stopping the flow of the game and preventing a significant number of legitimate breakaway goals.

Second, whenever a direct free kick is awarded to the attacking team just outside the penalty box, the defending team would be prohibited from forming a "wall" -- that is, a line of players standing between the ball and their goal. Thus, the kicker would be able to take a shot on goal from the spot of the foul with only the goalkeeper defending. This would create more scoring opportunities when serious fouls are committed close to a goal area.

Third, when a game goes into overtime (or a second overtime), have each team remove four players from the field and play seven against seven. More goals would be scored in overtime, and there would be less resort to penalty kicks or other tie-breaking schemes.

TONY DISTEFANO

Alexandria

WAYNE GARDELLA

Annandale