On the list of miscarriages of justice in MLS, Goal of the Week voting barely registers. Just this week, for example, New York City FC lost a game when referee Alan Kelly allowed the New York Red Bulls to take a throw-in after the assistant referee had clearly called for a corner. (Yes, that’s the same Alan Kelly who incorrectly disallowed Danny Leyva’s goal a couple weeks ago.)
Important or not, though, there have definitely been shenanigans when it comes to Goal of the Week. We sorta covered it when Cristian Roldan was up for Goal of the Week in successive May weeks, mysteriously losing out both times to far less impressive strikes. American Soccer Analysis actually did some real investigation, too, and found some pretty compelling evidence of bot tampering.
But all of that paled in comparison to what was going on this week. By early Monday morning — less than 12 hours after polling went live — more than 400,000 votes had been cast. Nearly 300,000 of those votes were cast for Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino, with another 100,000 or so going to our Raúl Ruidíaz. At one point, votes were coming in at a rate of about 600 votes a minute. As ASA’s analysis pointed out, a really popular poll might get 30,000 votes — which were probably also bot-aided — and the norm is closer to 10,000. Nearly half-a-million cast over night when most MLS fans are sleeping? Something was clearly amiss.
294k v 103k ... and everyone else has dozens. Move along nothing to see here for sure. pic.twitter.com/OD5gfLNa2C— Josh Fomon (@FomonJosh) July 15, 2019
Over on Reddit, someone going by “RSL-Ward-Bot” even claimed credit for the trumped up numbers.
If there had been an air of plausible deniability during previous polls, that had entirely vanished this week. While MLS may have actually appreciated the goosed up numbers in previous polls, this week’s voting finally spurred them to make a change. Sounders fans, it should be said, were among those leading the charge and pointing this out.
At some point today, MLS removed voting from the original poll and replaced it with a new one. Unlike the old polls, this one had a simple — but effective — CAPTCHA button that forces the user to click a button stating “I am not a robot.” The poll also appears to randomly re-order the list of players. Combined, this should stop bots from deciding the outcome.
For better or worse, this solution appears to have been thrown together rather haphazardly. The previous code they were using would display real-time voting percentages and, frankly, looked much nicer. The new version just puts up a simple graphic thanking you for voting.
It’s also not remotely immune to good ol’ fashioned ballot stuffing. Despite a disclaimer at the top that says “you may only vote once” it’s exceptionally easy to get around this. Without even going into incognito mode, users can simply refresh the page and vote again. Not that I’m trying to give you any ideas...