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Explaining a draw to the non-soccer crowd

Every once in a while I have to be reminded that not everyone understands soccer. And oftentimes I find myself teaching people about the laws of the game. It is, after all, to them a foreign sport, a growing one at that.

During the past two weeks, I’ve been reminded how many people in the United States find one very common aspect of soccer very peculiar. It is the draw. Yes, a draw when two teams score the same number goals in a 90 minute goal — whether it’s 0-0, 1-1, 2-2 and so forth.

As a soccer fan, a draw seems such a natural part of the game. I enjoy draws because they often represent a fair result of what happened on the pitch during the 90 minutes. Why penalize one team over another if both teams were equally as good (or bad) for the entire game?

I’ve been reminded about draws in the past two weeks because of the World Cup. That’s because the same question comes up every four years. “Why are there draws in soccer?” For most people outside of soccer, a draw seems like a foreign concept. Most American sports (maybe all?) have a winner and a loser. Seeing a winner and a loser in US sports seems more, well, American. Those who work hardest are rewarded. There is no place for a draw. Draws are for foreigners, not Americans.


One of the reasons I have to explain draws is when people ask me about the World Cup. And how the first round works. And what happens in the second round where if both teams are still at a draw after 90 minutes, the game goes into extra time. And then, if it’s still a draw, to penalty kicks. It’s a concept that a lot of people don’t know very well, those outside of soccer. I have to remind them that soccer games are very close scores and then often it’s the slimmest of margins that separates teams.

The best example of how the foreign concept of a draw has influenced American soccer was the early days of Major League Soccer where if the score of a game was still a draw after 90 minutes, the game would proceed to a shoot-out. As a season ticket holder to the Miami Fusion, I remember laughing out loud on several occasions in the stadium whenever games would go to shoot-out. Both teams had often battled so hard during the entire match and now a winner and a loser had to be chosen over something that was so silly to watch.

What about you? Do you like draws or would you prefer there to be a winner and a loser in each game, no matter what league or competition around the world? Share your feedback in the comments section below.

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  1. Ingo Nessel

    July 15, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    I have no problem with draws. It is sometimes the natural outcome of a game. I really hate that NHL decided to disallow draws and instead had some marketing genius institute a gimmicky short overtime and then shootout in regular season games. I get it that in playoffs you need resolution so have no problem with extra time in knock-out football matches and then penalties to decide, or in hockey sudden death overtime. But regular season games and non-knockout tournament or playoff games should definitely keep allowing ties. I don’t get the reasoning behind why people disdain ties.

  2. John Richardson

    June 18, 2018 at 10:20 am

    “Why penalize one team over another if both teams were equally as good (or bad) for the entire game” I dont think that is the case that often. I agree that PKs are a stupid way to address it. Why not do a soccer version of what is done in hockey.
    At 90 minutes, both teams go to 9 players.
    At the first substitution opportunity after 95 minutes, drops to 7v7
    100 Minutes, 6v6
    105 Minutes, 5v5
    110 Minutes, 4v4
    115 Minutes, 3v3
    120 Minutes, 2v2
    125 Minutes – Goalie vs goalie.
    My sense is that the vast majority of the time the game would then be decided by 110 minutes. So you have a winner, it is decided by actually playing the game (not just PKs) and it doesnt drag on so long that everyone isdestroyed for the next match.
    (FYI – more of an American football fan and I don’t like their ties either)

    • Paul

      June 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm

      John, Your suggestion is wrong on many levels, but I will highlight two of them Firstly a team might be playing for a draw, a risky tactic but sometimes works. A draw might enable a team to progress in a competition or give them the point they need, i’e avoid relegation or win a championship. Secondly,the laws of the game state that a game must end as soon as a team is reduced to 6 players.

  3. Sherri

    June 16, 2018 at 11:16 am

    I wish you would have ACTUALLY explained a draw to this non-soccer world American woman instead of explaining how you are reminded how often you have to explain the ins and outs of this “foreign” sport to Americans. I was looking for information, and found what seemed like a great article based on the title of the article and type of site/expert opinion being offered. I am taking an interest in soccer -which, by the way, I would think you would care about, since you promote soccer. However, this article is off-putting and reads more than a little condescending.

    • Paul

      June 18, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      Sherri. There are usually two types of competitions in soccer. Firstly there is a league competition (or regular season) where each team plays each other team in the same league (or division) both a home fixture and away fixture, although the number of times teams play each other can vary from country to country, but twice is the norm. At the end of the season the team with the most points becomes the champion. Points are awarded, 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and zero points for a loss. In league play a draw, worth one point can be just as valuable as a win.

      In knockout competition there must be a winner, so if a game ends in a draw they could either be a replay (rematch) or the original game can continue for an extra 30 minutes. If the teams are still level after the extra 30 minutes then the match is decided by penalty kicks.

      For the World cup the first phase is played in mini leagues or groups with the teams finishing first and second progressing. All matches during this first phase are 90 minutes and the result stands after 90 minutes, even if it is a draw. After the completion of the group matches then the World Cup becomes a knockout where each game must produce a winner either in 90 minutes, or 120 minutes if the teams are level after 90 minutes and lastly on penalty kicks if the teams are till level after 120 minutes.

      I hope my brief explanation helps.

  4. Evan

    November 7, 2017 at 2:42 am

    I like draws after full time in the regular season,
    However, in knock out tournaments, I would like to see the return of the golden goal, and get rid of penalties. Teams would tend to attack more, rather than go defensive and wait for pens.
    Also get rid of away goals because it changes the way the games are played, encouraging 0-0 draws at home.

  5. otto abel

    November 5, 2017 at 4:26 am

    I want to stake full time draw but I dont know which teams will make it successful.

  6. Patrick

    September 27, 2017 at 9:50 am

    The way I see it, it doesn’t make sense to play an additional 30 minutes every single time there’s a draw, especially over the course of a 30-38 game season. There’s too much risk for injury. And there’s also the issue of the next game possibly only being 3 days away. Coaches will probably want them rested up. Logistically, it doesn’t make sense to play it every single time.

    Honestly, I’m surprised the NCAA does 20 minute golden goal for every single game. The D3 school my sister goes to has 18 games over 2 months for both teams. That’s pretty dang rough as is, let alone with extra time added on.

  7. Mike

    April 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    DRAWS ARE DUMB. THEY SAY I CANT WIN, but don’t wanna lose

  8. Dan

    June 23, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I have no qualms about the idea of a draw during regular season play. For many years the NHL had them. I understand the idea that the game should be determined on the field and not with penalty shots/kicks.

    It’s for these reasons that I would like to see FIFA implement NHL style playoff overtime for the World Cup. Keep playing till someone scores. Why cheapen the round of 16?

  9. Gooster

    June 23, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Why isn’t there golden goal in the WC anymore? I miss that so much.

  10. eplnfl

    June 22, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Draws are well known in American sports, ie: NFL and NHL, but both leagues have worked to eliminate then although it is still possible to get one in pro-football.

    What I think American fans do not like is that you can and at times in soccer have to play for the draw. This fit to be tied strategy is against the American sense of fair play. While, I would not get rid of draws in soccer what can be done to avoid the nil nil or one all results that real bother American fans in particular.

  11. MarylandBill

    June 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I like draws. I think American Football and Ice Hockey should eliminate overtime in the regular season (I also think American Sports would be more interesting if relegation was possible, but that is just me :)).

    Now granted draws in most American Sports will be less frequent because scoring (even in Ice Hockey) is more common, but I think it adds an interesting dynamic to the game. One of the best College Football Games I ever went to involved Notre Dame versus Penn State in 1992. Notre Dame was trailing by seven points when they scored a TD with just 30 seconds or so left on the clock. The Coach had to decide whether to go for the win (which was risky) or play it safe and go for the draw. He went for the two point conversion and got it. Now, with overtime, he would never have dared to go for the two point conversion.

  12. Miami Ultra

    June 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I prefer draws to the crap shoot PKs deciding games. Ideally I’d rather see games go on as long as it takes for a goal to decide a winner. Just keep adding 15 minute periods until somebody scores. Failing that the old NASL style shootout, where some skill is actually involved, would be better than PKs.

    To be honest I’d prefer to see draws adopted and overtime scrapped in all American sports except baseball. In the NFL, NHL and NBA, once you get to overtime or a shootout, the mechanics of the game change so much from the first 4 quarters(or 3 periods). Either by special overtime rules or from players simply being exhausted, the game is not the same after full time is reached.

  13. WSW

    June 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    They should have the “silver goal rule” at WC:

  14. Logan

    June 22, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Draws are definitely a good thing. If the game is tied for most of the 90minutes yr still hoping for a goal to take the lead, or, at the very least, just to hold on and get that 1 point– each can be equally thrilling in the end. And if yr team is down there might be a point in the game where winning it is obviously not going to happen, but you have the excitement of at least trying to pull of that draw off in the end.

    As well, penalty kicks don’t determine who is the better soccer team, only who is luckier. Might as well flip a coin.

    So, yeah, let the 90minutes determine if there’s a winner, or no winner.

  15. Rebecca Jill

    June 22, 2010 at 9:09 am

    NFL games can end up in a tie, but it’s rare.

    Also NHL hockey games have draws during the regular season and only end up in shootouts during the playoffs, I think.

    • bradjmoore48

      June 22, 2010 at 10:24 am

      Actually the NHL has changed that of late: during the regular season, if a game is tied, it first goes to a 4-on-4 golden goal overtime. If still tied, then a 3-v-3 shootout (best of 3, or further until winner decided), with a team losing in a shootout getting 1 point rather than 0 for a loss.
      Playoffs are 5 on 5 20-minute sudden death overtimes until someone scores a goal.

      I guess its still a point of debate among hockey fans, but ultimately now, there is a clear winner and loser of every game.

  16. Pakapala

    June 22, 2010 at 8:30 am

    American Football have draw in regular season games. So I usually refer people who ask me this question to take a look at the NFL games that end up in a draw; I explain to them that group stage in World Cup is like regular season games in NFL, and knockout stage is like the playoff in the NFL where you definitely need to have a winner and a loser. That usually do the trick, although sometimes I find myself talking to someone who had no idea that NFL games can end in a draw.

  17. edmondi

    June 22, 2010 at 8:29 am

    i batter prefer a draw than penalty kicks.

  18. free bet

    June 22, 2010 at 8:04 am

    hehe true, nfl and nba never draw…well almost never…

  19. grizzlednaslfan

    June 22, 2010 at 4:55 am

    People who object to draws don’t get soccer, yet.

    I grew up with the NASL in the 1970s; it had shootouts. In hindsight I’ve learned a lot about soccer that I didn’t know as a kid thirty years ago. These attempts to banish the draw/tie from soccer are simply a result of lack of understanding of soccer, and lack of confidence in ‘marketing’ the sport to Americans.

    Thank God we’re past that now; we have a large American soccer fan base that ‘gets it’. At this point the people who don’t ‘get it’ are casual American sports fans checking into the World Cup on TV every four years. They’ll get it eventually, but the casual fans are always the last to catch on to this sort of thing.

    Remove spaces to follow links (spaces added in case of spam filter):

    http: // www. davesfootballblog .com /post/2010/06/13/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-draw/

    http: // modernspectator .com /Articles/1304/the-spirit-of-draws

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