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Shootouts shot down

MLS makes changes to follow international rules

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Posted: Wednesday November 17, 1999 03:53 PM

  Don Garber Commissioner Don Garber believes MLS rules have alienated hard-core soccer fans. David Leeds/Allsport

NEW YORK (AP) -- Major League Soccer announced Wednesday it will abandon its controversial shootout method for resolving drawn matches next season and will replace it with an overtime period.

The ending of the shootout, in which a player started 35 yards from the goal and had five seconds to attempt a shot one-on-one with the goalkeeper, was only one of a series of changes the four-year-old league announced in its attempt to appease its core audience and halt an incremental slide in attendance.

MLS will replace the shootout with two, five-minute sudden-death or golden goal overtime periods, and if still tied the game will end in a draw.

Sunday's MLS Cup championship game in Foxboro, Massachusetts, between two-time champion D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy, however, will still use the shootout if necessary to decide the match if still tied after two 15-minute golden goal extra time periods.

Along with restoring draws, the league also will revert to the international norm by putting the referee in charge of keeping the official time on the field, adding "injury time" at his discretion to each half. For each of its first four seasons, the official time was kept on the scoreboard and counted down from 45 minutes to zero.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said the reason for the rule changes was that the league felt it had alienated its core constituency -- soccer fans -- in an attempt to woo non-fans.

"It took a couple of years, but the concept of reconfiguring the rules based on the assumption that the American soccer fan has different tastes from fans outside the U.S, we found through out ... that this league had bypassed that market," Garber said. "We have to go back and shore up our existence with the core soccer fan. Build the model with the core fans.

"There was a negativity buzzing among the hardest core fans. We do know in our research that there are approximately 60 million people in this country that consider themselves soccer fans. We don't have 60 million people going to our games."

The league also announced it will realign its conferences from two six-team divisions into three four-team groupings. D.C. United, Miami, New England and New York-New Jersey will remain in the Eastern Conference; Chicago, Columbus, Dallas and Tampa Bay will move to the Central; while Colorado, Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Jose will stay in the Western Conference.

Playoff berths will be awarded to the winner of each conference and to five wild cards, all determined on points irrespective of conference.

It is still undetermined if the playoffs will remain a best-of-3 series, ending -- like the previous four -- with the each game determined by penalty kicks if necessary; be played as a three-game series determined on points (three for a victory, one for a draw); or go to the international standard of a two-leg series with the result determined by aggregate goals.

Next season will start in mid-March with the MLS Cup championship game in early October, cutting nearly two months off the 1999 calendar. It still has to be determined whether the league will reduce its schedule from 32 games per team to as few as 28. That decision was still pending, Garber said.

The league also will award the regular season champion with one of the United States' two berths in the CONCACAF Champions Cup with the other going to the MLS Cup winner.

MLS also is changing its television schedule. ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 will televise a game each Saturday rather than different nights of the week. A weekly highlight show on Monday nights is also planned.

 
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