Here are some more of the changes I’d be interested to see. They aren’t subtle, and might change the game a bit too radically. So I’d love to see an exhibition tournament among top teams with one or more of these rules in place, or maybe one of the weaker national leagues (e.g., MLS, Scotland, J-League) could experiment with them for a season. Here goes:
1. This is the least likely to happen, and the most expensive to implement, but if you want to see more goals (as I do), then make the goals bigger. The size of the goals (eight feet tall, eight yards wide) hasn’t changed in at least a century, but the goalkeepers have gotten bigger and more athletic. So make the goals bigger to compensate. I wouldn’t make it too much bigger– just big enough that those shots that currently hit or slip-just-past the post would instead go in the net. It’d be easier to score on a long shot, which could draw defenders away from the goal and open up space behind them.
“What about penalty kicks?” one might whine. “A bigger goal makes it even harder for the keeper to stop the shot.” Well, too bad. That’s what you get for having hacks on your team.
2. Abolish the offside rule altogether. In theory, this would give the most skilled players more room to operate and allow the offenses to flourish. Would it lead to more cherry-picking? Possibly, but remember: the further up you leave your attackers, the easier it is for the other team to outnumber your defense. A lot of fans think that the ebb and flow of play is due to the offside rule; that it keeps the 20 field players in a sort of globular band that shifts up and down the field instead of having them cherry-pick and blast the ball back and forth like in a bad U-10 game. But I’m not sure the flow of play would be that much different without the offside rule. Teams would still try to keep their shape for the most part.
With no offside rule, I would want a little more protection for the goalkeepers, just to keep certain tactical “accidents” from happening to them. Maybe you give them more leeway in their boxes, maybe you broaden the area in which they can use their hands. That’d cut down on the cherry-picking a bit.
I said this would create more attacking space “in theory” because the current offside rule gives defenses an incentive to get away from their own goals: doing so forces the offense to back off. For really weak teams, the lack of an offside rule might actually increase the incentive to pack eight or nine guys in the box and leave them there all day.
(I’m not a huge fan of this idea– as a fullback I loved pulling an offside trap– but I’d like to see what would happen without the offside rule.)
3. What I hate most about soccer is that it takes a long time for minor fouls to add up to anything major. Say you’re on defense deep in your own end of the field. One of your opponents makes a bad pass, you get the ball, and you’re about to launch a 4v3 counterattack… but your opponent bumps you, or trips you up, or grabs your shirt, which kills your team’s chance at a 4v3 run, and the ref blows the whistle.
If it were hockey, the ref would blow the whistle, your opponent would go to the penalty box, and you’d have a power play. The advantage is restored.
If it were basketball, the ref would blow the whistle, your opponent and his team pick up a foul, which means you’re either going to shoot some free throws or you’re closer to shooting free throws. Either the advantage is restored directly (free throws) or the punishment is rapidly and visibly accumulating via team fouls (free throws in the immediate future if they keep it up).
In soccer? Oh well. Maybe it looked like a minor foul that only warranted a talking-to from the ref, maybe the ref is discerning enough to see what your opponent did and he shows a yellow card, but there’s no way to get that 4v3 opportunity back, because your momentum is dead and the other team has time to get all 11 players behind the ball.
You might point out that enough yellows will mean red, but what if this foul occurred early in the game? If I’m the opponent, you’d better believe I’ll risk a yellow card to disrupt that transition, especially since goals are so hard to come by. Let me rephrase: I have taken yellow cards to disrupt that transition, and it paid off every single time.
So if we want to discourage that sort of “professional foul,” we need a way to restore the advantage immediately. We need a way to restore the 4v3 or 5v3 breakaway. Here’s how:
When a foul is committed, only X players from the offending team may line up between the ball and their own goal line.
I think six is a good value for X (keeper plus half the field players). So if I get fouled as in the scenario above, then on the restart, my team sort of has that advantage back. See the industrial-grade diagram below:
The red team is defending the bottom goal and attacking the top goal. The blue team fouled the red team, and the ball (orange-yellow bullseye) is ready to be put back in play. Five blue guys have to line up behind the imaginary green line, i.e., farther from their own goal line than the ball.
That may not look like much of an advantage for red, but it’s better than having the entire blue team between you and goal. Sure, blue can hold off a 10v5 long enough for the rest of the team to get back on defense, but they’ve got to sprint to get down there and they’ll be winded. This rule would also make it harder to set up walls on defense– a three man wall leaves just two defenders available to mark up until the rest of the team gets back.
Maybe you tweak the value of X, or maybe you apply this rule only in certain situations– for instance, this should not be the penalty for being caught offside. But if you want to crack down on professional fouls, this is the way to do it– by keeping the guilty team from setting up their defense.
It might also lead to more diving, but if you remember a few posts back, we’re feeding those guys to lions.
A few years ago I read an article by some guy about making soccer a higher-scoring game. He had some really wacky ideas, but he also had some very valuable insights. One of his ideas fascinated me, but it probably has less of a chance of happening than anything I’ve suggested: he wanted any slide tackle to result in an indirect free kick. Not a yellow card (unless it was rough enough to warrant one), just an indirect. In other words, you can disrupt your opponent’s progress with a slide tackle, but you can’t win possession. His reasoning was that it would lead to fewer injuries and more room to maneuver for attacking players. You can still slide tackle, but he’d make it more of a last resort– do I give them a free kick or let this guy beat me? Defenders would be a little more hesitant to slide. It’s a good rule for beer leagues, but I don’t think the pros or the internationals would go for it.