At last, away goals are weighted in MLS.
Why it took so long, who knows. But once again, (North) America has joined the world, our fans apparently now savvy enough to figure it out.
Actually, most folks probably could've been entrusted with understanding away goals and, for that matter, aggregate series scoring long, long ago. And, if so, who's to say there wouldn't be more banners, more trophies, more history to celebrate?
Some say away goals rule only erodes the home-field advantage of the higher seed. Others, myself included, contend it makes the playoffs less of a crap shoot, and that's a good thing, because local Sounders history is framed by the randomness of a shootout. I'll explain.
For the Sounders, two-match playoff series date back to 1977. Seattle swept both Minnesota and LA en route to Soccer Bowl. No controversy there. But the quarterfinal three years later still sticks in the craw of many, including Alan Hinton.
The situation: Seattle, top-seeded in the West, played and lost the first leg at LA, 3:0. Worst loss of the season, by far. Two days later in the Kingdome, completely different story.
Seattle dominated from the outset. A half-hour in, Greaves, Buttle and Peterson had made it 3-nil. Peterson added another on the hour.
"In any other country," Hinton once told me, "that would've given us the aggregate lead, 4-3, and we would've been off to play the Cosmos. Instead, we started over."
Back then, the NASL in its infinite wisdom, settled matters not by aggregate goals but by best-of-three. A 30-minute, mini-game would ensure. Seattle 'lost' that in penalties.
However, if the Sounders had advanced on aggregate, it would've made for the most attended two-leg playoff in American soccer history, to this day. Easily over 110,000 for matches at the Meadowlands and the Dome (as it was, 'just' 25,000 showed up in LA).
Exhibit B would come 14 years later. Hinton had revived the Sounders in the A-League and finished with the best record over the regular season. Seattle lost 2:0 at Colorado to open the playoffs.
That deficit was wiped out with 28 minutes of the return leg at Memorial Stadium. Jason Dunn then scored twice win a two-minute span of the second half, and the Sounders led, 4-3, on aggregate.
But no, the A-League followed in the NASL footsteps. Again it went to a mini-game and, again, Colorado prevailed on PKs. Seattle's season was over.
A year later the Sounders would come back to win the championship, but did so the hard way. After two games they were ahead of Atlanta, 4:1 on aggregate, yet were forced to play a third game.
As it turned out, Seattle beat Atlanta (who had been 10-1 in shootouts) at their own game, 2:1 in the tiebreaker.
Note: Seattle never-in any league-prospered from the non-aggregate method of determining postseason advancement.
Of course, aggregate goals were used by MLS and away goals didn't factor in Sounders FC playoff exits to this point. Yet who's to say that the mindset might have made a difference.
The late Martinez goal at RSL in 2012 clearly rattled the hosts. If away goals had ruled, it would have been a a resounding death knell. A late Seattle goal at Houston in '09 could have done the same, leaving the Dynamo effectively two goals down.
Anything that reduces the odds of an outcome being decided by penalties is a good thing, and by invoking the away goals tiebreaker, MLS has done that, at last, for the Conference Semifinals and Championship series.
Whatever happens for the Sounders from here on out, whether they win or lose, it's preferable to see it determined by what happens during a running clock than who scores from the spot. Because you never know, your history may depend on it.