Under criticism from players, coaches and its fan base for continuing to use shootouts to decide games, Major League Soccer appears ready to dump its controversial tiebreaker and allow its regular season matches to end in ties starting next season.
MLS's competition committee plans to meet this month in Denver and, according to league sources, is leaning toward recommending that the league abandon the shootout.
The committee's recommendation will be made to the MLS Board of Governors for a final vote, but it's unlikely the board would not follow the committee's suggestion.
New MLS commissioner Don Garber said he likes the excitement of the shootout, but realizes it has turned off many of soccer's longtime fans.
"This is a very volatile issue for the core fans who are very committed to the game," he said. "At some point we're going to have to make a tough call and try to figure out what's right for the future of the league."
Garber replaced Doug Logan, an advocate of the shootout who was fired by the league's investors last month.
The shootout, in use since MLS's inception in 1996, was designed to attract average sports fans to the league by eliminating ties and creating a high-scoring, dramatic finish. But it also has angered traditional soccer fans, as well as players and coaches, who call it a gimmick that strays from the origins of the sport.
In other major soccer leagues around the world, games even at the end of 90 minutes of regulation are declared ties. In the standings, the point distribution is three points for a win, one for a tie, none for a loss.
The only exceptions are in the elimination rounds of tournaments, such as the World Cup, when a winner must be determined. In that case, 30 minutes of sudden-death overtime and, if needed, penalty kicks are used.
In MLS, a match tied at the end of regulation goes immediately to a shootout. Five players from each team take turns going one-on-one with the goalkeeper, starting 35 yards from the net and getting five seconds to attempt a shot.
The winner in a shootout earns one point in the standings, as opposed to three for a victory in regulation. A loss in regulation or in a shootout results in no points.
Among the alternatives that MLS officials will consider are keeping the shootout but altering the point system so the losing team is rewarded; playing a 10-minute overtime period and, if the game is still tied, letting the result stand; and eliminating the shootout and following the rest of the world by awarding a point to each team for a tie after regulation.
The number of games decided in shootouts has risen significantly this year. Through yesterday, 47 of 156 games (30 percent) went to shootouts, compared with 17.2 percent last season and about 21 percent each of the first two years.
D.C. United President and General Manager Kevin Payne, who is on both the competition committee and the Board of Governors, said Saturday he didn't want to comment on the future of the shootout. But he has said in recent months that there probably is enough opposition among the league's leaders to eliminate it.
The competition committee also is expected to consider allowing the referee to keep the official time on his watch instead of on the scoreboard--another rule unique to MLS.
Meanwhile, the Board of Governors' vote on the site of the 2000 championship game, which has been delayed several times, probably will take place late this month. RFK Stadium is the favorite, but Tampa's Raymond James Stadium also has strong support.
* FIRE 2, METROSTARS 1: Dema Kovalenko and Lubos Kubik scored in a five-minute span during the second half as visiting Chicago (15-11) won its third straight and handed New York/New Jersey (5-22) its 12th consecutive loss.