Soccer could use rule changes

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:58 AM ET

The sweeping new rules coming into the National Hockey League would never be possible in soccer, much as we'd like to see some.

Nearly everyone would like a satisfactory offside rule, always the most contentious.

And there are a host of other rules of the game that many feel could be tweaked.

But it won't happen in the same way as it does in hockey or any other major professional sport for a good reason.

Owners don't make the rules in soccer.

The laws are governed by the International Football Association Board, which meets annually.

And a request to change a law of the game has to travel a long route before it gets to this august panel.

First, you must pass the suggestion to your local association and it would then go to the Ontario Soccer Association and Canadian Soccer Association, then on to FIFA and the IFAB -- providing each group found enough merit in it to move it upward.

If you don't like the offside rule, which requires an attacking player be no farther than abreast of the last defender (plus goalie) at the instant the ball is passed ahead to him, you'll be joining a long list of people seeking changes.

North American pro soccer was permitted by FIFA to make only the last 35 yards of the defensive half of the field offside territory as a test. It failed, just as it failed when the Scots tried the same thing in the 1920s.

There have been attempts to have throw-ins replaced by kick-ins, penalty boxes and two referees, but the venerable game remains essentially the same. A century and a half of play by hundreds of millions of players has provided a pretty good test.

Still, IFAB does make changes. Nowadays, if you pass the ball back to your goalie (unless with a header), he can't handle it as in the past, so that helps speed things up. And nowadays an offensive player can be abreast of the last defender, not cautiously waiting to go past him, the second the ball is kicked to him and be onside.

One change I'd like to see is the penalty spot moved farther than the 12 yards from the goal-line. Rather than see a goaltender guessing (often embarrassingly incorrectly) on the shot, it would be more entertaining to see a cat-like 'keeper actually stretching out to make a save.

But there was a time when the goaltender couldn't move until the ball was struck. He can now move laterally but not forward.

Colin Jose, the noted Canadian soccer historian, was asked his views on changes.

"What I would like to see is the penalty area reshaped," Jose said. "A foul committed wide out to the right or left of the goal is not as serious as one committed in the centre, just outside the penalty area.

"How many times in a critical situation do you see a professional foul committed just on the edge of the penalty area? If the penalty area were moved out, say five yards, and squeezed in on the wings, it wouldn't be as convenient to pull someone down in that critical area."

There are a few other revisions Jose would like to see and he's not alone.

Momentum-killing late-game substitutions is one. And simulation (diving) is another.

If a soccer player fights, he's suspended three games. Hockey could use that.

But hockey's owners make those decisions, not the true custodians of the game.


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