Quote of the day: "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative." --Oscar Wilde
I'm always thinking of ways to make soccer a more enjoyable game to watch. These are my thoughts after watching (too?) many World Cup 2002 games:
A common tactic is for a player to use his body to shield the ball as it is going out of bounds after being last touched by an opponent. This is most often done on the end line, where the the issue of who last touched the ball is very significant: it is the difference between a corner kick and a 6-yard kick. However, in my opinion, shielding the ball is playing the body of the opponent instead of the ball which is normally a foul. For example, if I tackle a player with the ball by blocking his progress instead of playing the ball, that is a foul. To me, shielding is very similar although the opponent does not have possession of the ball (and my shielding is an attempt to prevent the opponent from getting possession before the ball goes out of bounds). But it's still playing the body instead of the ball and I think it should be a foul.
If shielding became a foul call, it would have a significant impact on the game since it would certainly lead to more corner kicks (relatively high percentage scoring changes for the team on offense). Since soccer is usually criticized for its dearth of scoring, I believe this rule would help add some excitement into the game.
Everyone agrees that penalty kicks are a poor way to decide the outcome of a soccer match, but no one has invented a better alternative when teams are unable to score after 30 minutes of extra time. My proposal is to modify how extra time is played in order to give a greater probability that one team will score before penalty kicks are required.
The reason teams have difficulty in scoring during the extra time session is twofold: 1) the majority of the players have played the whole game and therefore are very tired and, 2) teams play very defensively so as not to give up a goal. When teams resort to a 'bunker' type of defense, there are so many players in the defensive third of the field that it becomes difficult for the team on offense to pass and find open spaces in which to create scoring opportunities.
My proposal addresses these two problems. First, one additional substitution would be allowed for each team at the start of the extra time session. Since three substitutions are allowed in the normal 90 minutes of play, at the start of extra time there would then be four players who are relatively 'fresh' (excepting the case of an injury early in the game which would require a substitution much earlier than normal). Second, at the start of extra time, each team would have to remove two players from the field. Since there are normally ten field players per side (not counting the goalkeeper), this would reduce each side to eight field players (perhaps less if players have been sent off). The primary consequence of this rule would be much more space to create offense, increasing the liklihood of a goal being scored. A secondary consequence would be to further penalize teams that have had players sent off because, as the number of players is reduced, the lack of a red-carded player will be felt more acutely. A further provision of the second rule change would be that at the start of the second 15-minute extra time period another pair of players would need to be removed from the field and one more substitution would be allowed. This would almost certainly leave enough open space for one team to score a goal, and the presence of an extra 'fresh' player would also make scoring more likely.
The result of these rule changes would be a test of the depth of both teams, because 16 players from each team could possibly play in a match. If the top 14 players cannot decide the game in regulation play, then I believe the strength of the bench should be a factor in the extra time sessions. Reducing the field player strength to eight and then six would give 'creative' players the space they need to decide the outcome of the game without resorting to penalty kicks.