Major League Soccer hopes to announce some major changes next week, possibly including a short sudden-death overtime period instead of a shootout to break ties starting next season.
The MLS board of governors is expected to vote on that issue and several others during meetings in Boston leading up to the Nov. 21 championship game at nearby Foxboro Stadium. However, league officials cautioned that some topics may not be ironed out in time to unveil next week when the league concludes its fourth--and most tumultuous--season.
Among other proposals under consideration are switching from two six-team conferences to three four-team divisions, which would make it relatively easy to reduce the number of regular season games from 32 to 28; concluding the season between four and six weeks earlier than this year; and allowing the referee to keep the official time on a watch--like almost every other league in the world--instead of on scoreboard clocks.
The most controversial issue is what to do when a game is tied at the end of regulation. The current procedure is a shootout, in which field players go one-on-one with the goalkeeper starting 35 yards away and have five seconds to shoot. Players, coaches and fans have expressed displeasure with the shootout, and Commissioner Don Garber has stated that it would not be used next year if an alternative could be found.
"The clear sentiment is against the shootout," said D.C. United President and General Manager Kevin Payne, who sits on the board of governors and advocates overtime.
"But there are people in the league who are reluctant to just leave the game as a tie."
The compromise would appear to be a 10-minute overtime, and if no one scores, the game would be declared a tie. However, the league would need to consult television partners ABC and ESPN, which have expressed concern that extra playing time would stretch their broadcasts beyond their two-hour window for showing the game.
Under the current system, a shootout pushes the total duration to right around the two-hour mark. An overtime period without stoppage time probably wouldn't be much different, but the possibility of injuries and other delays could further lengthen the game.
Four fewer games would reduce the regular season by at least three weeks. However, some league investors oppose the reduction because it would mean losing game-day revenues.
Garber has said he would like the 2000 regular season to end in early September--this year it concluded on Oct. 10--and the championship game to be played in early October.
As for the site of the 2000 title game, the league appears eager to select Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, but if an ideal date and business plan cannot be finalized soon, RFK Stadium would be the choice.
MLS Notes: Forward Joe-Max Moore, the New England Revolution's all-time leading scorer, has agreed to a 3 1/2-year contract for an estimated $2 million with Everton of the English Premier League, the Boston Globe reported. . . . United has a finalist in each of the league's five front-office award categories: Payne (executive), Stephen Zack (marketing), R. Dennis Lee (operations), Rick Lawes (public relations) and the ticket sales staff. Winners will be announced next week. . . .
The U.S. Soccer Federation announced yesterday that the national team will play Iran on Jan. 16 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., as part of preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The game will begin at 5 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on ESPN.
The meeting will be the first of the two teams in the United States. The teams' only previous meeting came in the first round of the 1998 World Cup in France, where Iran eliminated the United States with a 2-1 win.