So how do we feel about the away goals rule?
Like the penalty shootout it’s one of those quirks of soccer that people often complain about without ever offering up a better alternative.
First introduced in the sixties as a way of mitigating against the difficulty of travel for teams traversing across Europe the influence it has had on games has gradually evolved over the years to the extent that it’s now often the home team who are happy to come away with a scoreless result in the first leg knowing full well that a single goal will carry so much more extra weight in the return.
So a rule designed to persuade visiting teams to attack became a rule that persuaded home teams to defend.
Unintended consequences indeed.
Ironically Major League Soccer is a league in which the away goals rule contains a glimmer of its original purpose given the travel distances involved but equally ironically that doesn’t apply to the upcoming contest between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders at all.
So how does Carl Robinson approach the first leg at BC Place on Sunday afternoon?
I suspect that if you offered him a scoreless draw right now he would take it (although he would probably always take a scoreless draw in any game so that point is somewhat moot).
But the chance to go to Seattle knowing that a single goal (say from, oh I don’t know, a set-piece for example?) would force the Sounders to try for two and thus leave them open to the counterattack must be a thought that sets Robinson salivating like a hungry bulldog in a meat pie factory (a word to the wise though, try to avoid buying a meat pie that has been made in a factory if you can no matter what any hungry bulldog may tell you).
And that same thought must be circling around Brian Schmetzer’s brain like a Vlasov-Poisson equation endlessly traverses the brain of a slightly drunk Math teacher.
For the Sounder’s coach knows that if his team can sneak a goal at BC Place their task in the return leg becomes so much easier, but he also knows that searching too hard for that goal could leave his team open to the counter-attack he most fears.
The thing he most desires is the very thing that could ultimately destroy him (much like a hungry bulldog in a meat pie factory funnily enough).
And that’s what the away goals rule does to you.
It deliberately makes some goals more important than others and thus it makes the hope and fear surrounding those goals the prime movers in the way both teams approach a game.
So expect a cagey opening period on Sunday which could then blend into a cagey ninety minutes if no breakthrough is made because the more the clock ticks the more that first goal increases in value.
It probably won’t be pretty to watch but every cross, shot or attempted through ball will contain within it the tension inherent in the knowledge that it has the power to transform the direction of the game completely (that’s true at all times of course but it just seems so much more dramatic in this context for some reason).