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Was American Soccer Ahead of Its Time?

FIFA’s suggested new shootout rule is very similar to what was used in the 1980s in American soccer.

Alan Prampin Wizards

Last week, it was reported that FIFA is considering using run-up penalties to decide games during the group stages of the FIFA World Cup. While this new way of deciding games would be very foreign to much of the world, it’s an idea that has a long history in American soccer. So was American soccer actually ahead of its time?

American soccer has had an interesting history. Unlike most of the world, soccer hasn’t been the number one sport in America in well over 100 years. Teams and leagues have come and gone as they’ve struggled to find an audience and sponsors. In fact, Major League Soccer is arguably the most successful league the country has seen since the American Soccer League in the 1920s.

In an attempt to draw a wider audience, American soccer leagues have used different tactics. This includes timeouts for commercials and not being able to end league games in a tie. But most interesting is the way the leagues decided to resolve those ties.

In the late 1960s, the North American Soccer League came into existence. About 10 years later, it took the world by storm. World-class players such as Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, and others made the trek across the Atlantic to join the fledgling league. What they found when they arrived was a sport that had been manufactured for the American public.

In American sports like baseball, football, and basketball, there are rarely ties. These sports try as best they can to end each game with a winner and a loser. This differs from worldly sports like soccer and rugby. Because the American public had been conditioned to seeing a result, the NASL decided any potential fans wouldn’t stand for ties.

The way the league decided to end these games was that players would dribble the ball in from 35 yards out for a one-on-one breakaway with the goalkeeper. It was a thrilling way to end the game with multiple former superstars advocating the deciding event for the world to use. About 10 years after the NASL folded, MLS came into existence and implemented the same rule for the same reason. However, the league changed the rules to the standard game less than 10 years later, hoping to attract traditional fans who were against the rule.

Reports surfaced last week that FIFA is considering bringing this deciding factor back for the group stages of the FIFA World Cup in 2026. The only difference is that players would start only 25 yards away from goal rather than 35. The consideration was confirmed by legendary Dutch striker, and current FIFA Chief Officer for Technical Development, Marco Van Basten.

So, with FIFA considering this new rule, it begs the question; was American soccer simply ahead of its time? People around the world have mocked and ridiculed American soccer in the past with these types of rules largely contributing. But now FIFA is considering using these shootouts in the world’s biggest sporting event.

What do you think? Was American soccer right in the 1980s and 1990s about the shootout rule and was just ahead of its time? Or is this FIFA finding another way to ruin the beautiful game? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.