When it comes to the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, perhaps one of the lingering concerns that its detractors cling to is how many contests end in a tie - or a "draw" as it is called by the sport's purists.
During that 2020/21 season, nearly 22-percent of all Premier League games ended in a draw. That translates to 83 top-level matches out of 380 ending a tie.
The isn't exactly how most sports fans in America like to see a game end. No marathon shootouts like hockey. No nail-biting sudden death like we have seen in American football. No buzzer-beating game winners that we have come to love about basketball.
Instead, soccer matches end in with a whistle and muffled applause as fans check and calculate the updated league standings.
But, even with primetime matches ending without a clear winner and loser, the passion and strategy involved in the 90(plus)-minute match is winning over American viewers. And in an effort to curb the curiosity or confusion of a growing American audience, let's explain once and for all the reason for the disrespected draw.
It All Comes Down To The Point Standings
Oddly enough, the question, Why are there ties in soccer?, helps answer itself. In most soccer leagues across the world, the standings are not decided by how many wins each team has, but by how many points the teams have accrued throughout the season.
If a team wins a match, they receives three points and the loser gets zero. However, if the teams finish in a draw, they both receive one point. Those points from draws, however disappointing to the casual fan, can make a world of difference for top-level teams trying to avoid relegation or qualify for the Champions League.
For example, Chelsea FC, an extremely popular club in London, finished fourth in the Premier League in 2020/21 with 19 wins and earned a berth in the Champions League. Leicester City, on the other hand, finished fifth with 20 wins and missed out on the Champions League.
So, what is the the reason for Leicester City with more wins to finish behind Chelsea?
Simple. Chelsea had 10 draws to their name while Leicester City had six.
Those four extra points were enough to cancel out the extra three from Leicester City's additional win and give Chelsea the Champions League berth by one point in the standings, 67 to 66.
For comparison, the National Football League has only had 27 ties since the introduction of overtime rules for regular-season games in 1974. In the 2021 season, the first with each NFL team playing 17 games, there was only one tie in 272 games. From 1920-1973 in the NFL, before overtime was introduced, 258 games ended in ties.
The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball do not allow for ties, while the National Hockey League got rid of ties in 2005-06 as part of a sweeping list of changes to improve the product on the ice following the lockout in 2004-05.
So, why don't Soccer Leagues just add overtime or shootouts to regular season matches?
Knockout round games in tournaments already have extra time periods and a shootout to decide a winner, much like in hockey. Why not adopt this for every match regardless of the stakes?
Ties Protect The Athletes By Limiting Injuries
One logical reason is that soccer players run between seven and nine-and-a-half miles during an average match. And the players don't have nearly as many breaks as players competing in other sports.
Each team only has a set amount of substitutions they are allowed to make per match, and players who are substituted off cannot come back in that game. Players cannot just come on and off the pitch in soccer like in other sports.
There are also no timeouts like in other sports, so players will spend the majority of their time running around the pitch. This means your starting eleven can only walk or relax for a small portion of the match. And resting your legs is only possible for a short period at half.
So, adding additional periods of time in a regular-season game only adds to the possibility of injury.
Teams still want to win because those extra points will add up over a season, but that single point for a draw can make all the difference as well. So do not expect to see actual overtime periods being added to regular season soccer anytime soon.