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Why is Soccer a Low-Scoring Sport?

It has become very clear that soccer is definitely a low-scoring sport compared to other professional sports. There are several key factors as to why this is the case, but what if I told you that in most games the intention mostly never revolves around producing high scores.

The main reason why soccer is a low-scoring sport is that every goal scored is only counted as one point. Additionally, soccer is a game of strategy which focuses on other key aspects such as time of possession and strong defensive formations which decreases the chances of scoring multiple goals.

Let’s touch on all the main reasons to better understand why soccer is considered a low-scoring sport.

1. A Goal in Soccer is Only Worth a Single Point

The game of soccer has a point system that differs from most of the popular sports played around the world. A goal is only worth a single point which is one of the reasons why soccer is a low-scoring sport. On the other hand, a score in American football, called a touchdown, is worth 6 points. After a touchdown is scored the team has a chance of adding 1 additional point via a field goal kick or 2 additional points via scoring another touchdown from the 2-yard line. Therefore, the maximum points that a touchdown can produce are 8 points.

In the sport of basketball, a team receives 2 points when a shot is scored within the arc and 3 points when scored beyond the arc. With these two examples, it becomes clear why the point system structure of soccer leads to the lowest number of average points per game when compared to other sports.

The table listed below illustrates the average points per game of some of the popular sports played around the world.

SPORTAVERAGE POINTS PER GAME
BASKETBALL112.4
RUGBY27
AMERICAN FOOTBALL24.7
HOCKEY5.96
BASEBALL5.69
SOCCER2.6
An estimated average of points per game based on points scored in past seasons.

2. Teams Prefer to Protect the Lead After Scoring

Protecting lead after score in soccer

Keeping players fresh

Most leagues provide clubs with a 30+ game season. Seasons are long and one of the goals is to keep the overall health of players at a high level by placing the correct amount of strain on their bodies during games which ensures sustained peak levels throughout the season. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to transition to a strong defensive formation after taking the lead while working as a team to retain it rather than trying to score more goals, which is another reason why soccer is a low-scoring sport.

This helps by limiting the number of long runs which are typically made when trying to stretch the field and create scoring opportunities. When a team scores, they can transition from an attacking offensive formation to a defensive formation, placing less strain on their legs and bodies.

Odds of winning a game after taking the lead

Another reason why teams choose to protect leads rather than attempting to score more goals is that statistics have shown that the chances of winning a soccer game when a team has the lead become high when compared to teams that are losing and trying to tie the game.

Research has shown that in soccer the average probability of winning a game is approximately 70 % when scoring the first goal in a match. With this knowledge, it becomes quite clear as to why most teams transition to a mindset of retaining the lead rather than attempting to score more goals. It is also worth mentioning that when a team has the lead and is using players to attempt goal-scoring opportunities it gives opposing teams a chance to exploit the defense and create counter-attacks. Therefore, it is not worth the risk.

3. Matches That End in a Draw Also Have Point Value

It is much easier for a team to develop a style of play that makes it difficult to be scored on than to play 90+ minutes of outscoring opponents in a head-to-head battle which is difficult to sustain during an entire season. Because a full season is more like running a marathon rather than a sprint, teams have to use a high degree of tactical strategies to reach their end-of-season targets.

Most teams employ a mindset of win if you can, tie if you must, and just try your hardest not to lose. This breeds a certain level of content with finishing matches in a tie. The reason for this strategy is that in a game of soccer, due to the difficulty of producing high scores, ending a match in a tie is ok. The reasoning behind it has to do with how the end of match results move teams up or down in the standings bracket of the league they belong to.

The point system in soccer

At the end of a regular-season match, there are only three outcomes. A team wins, ties, or loses. A win represents 3 points. A draw represents 1 point. A loss represents 0 points. At the end of a season, teams are listed from most overall points to the least amount of points. Because of the fact that tied games result in a 1-point reward, teams are ok with having a fair amount of ties within a season which is why this is another reason for soccer games ending in low scores. Therefore if a game ends with a score of zero to zero, both teams ended the game in a draw and both receive 1 point toward their standings.

Below is an example of how most standings brackets look after a full season of play.

TEAMMPWDLPOINTS
Team A38269387
Team B38247779
Team C381812866
Team D382051365
Team E381881262
Team F3816111159
Team G3815131058
Team H3814141056
Team I3814121254
Team J381581553
Example of a standings bracket for the sport of soccer (MP-matches played, W-wins, D-draws, L-loses).

4. Defensive Formations in Soccer Are Difficult to Penetrate

Defensive formations are meant to disrupt any goal-scoring opportunities from happening. They create certain zones of coverage with the intent of preventing passes, making quality tackles, and stealing the ball which makes it very difficult to penetrate and score on. Because of this fact, we discover another reason why soccer is a low-scoring sport.

The typical soccer defender has always been known for his height, strength, and dominance. Not to mention that over the years clubs have made it an emphasis for defenders to develop speed and explosiveness along with elite passing and dribbling skills. All these attributes have made it more difficult throughout the years for even the most skilled forwards and midfielders to create goal-scoring opportunities.

Goalies

Goalies also play a big role in the effectiveness of a strong defense. The average height of a Goalie is 6 feet, 2 inches tall with an average wingspan of 6 feet, 4 inches. To put this into perspective, the standard dimension of a soccer goal is 8 ft high and 24 ft wide (192 sq ft). If a goalie were to stand in the middle of the goal he would cover roughly the entire height of the goal and about 3.2 ft to each of his sides (51.2 sq ft) simply based on his height and wingspan.

When you incorporate the athleticism, anticipation, and reflexes of a goalie the coverage area of the goal becomes more than double. Simply put, if a skilled forward or midfielder can somehow get past the defenders he still has the difficult task of getting the ball past the goalie.

To better understand just how difficult it is to score on a strong defensive formation, here is a great video that puts it into perspective.

In Summary

Soccer is a low-scoring sport because of its point scoring system which only counts a goal as a single point. Also, soccer is a game of great strategy and because of this most teams that score the first goal usually transition to a mindset of retaining the lead rather than attempting to score additional points.

Games that end in a draw also represent 1 point toward the standings bracket. Because of this, clubs are ok with ending a fair amount of matches in a draw which ultimately keeps scores low. And finally, strong defensive formations make it very difficult for teams to create goal-scoring opportunities.

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