During the weekend of April 19, six MLS matches ended in a draw with only three matches having a winner. There are at least five clubs with five or more draws on the season. The number of draws has pulled the standings close together and failed to show definitive characteristics of the clubs. Not only do the early results mean that teams will need to distinguish themselves in September and October, they will also have to work harder to attract fans.
The total number of draws in MLS up to this point in time have increased over the last three years. There have been 56 draws this season with 47 last year and just 26 in 2012. This comes with a caveat as not all teams have played each weekend. While the numbers in 2013 and 2012 are tallied with the same number of games played by every team, teams playing catch-up this year could make the number rise even more.
It could speak to the parity and unpredictability within the league. The draws have cluttered the standings. In the Eastern Conference, the first-place team and last-place team are separated by only six points. Every team except for Toronto FC have drawn at least two matches. The Chicago Fire have tied six out of seven matches. The New York Red Bulls got off to a slow start, but their five draws have pushed them into an early playoff spot.
In the Western Conference, the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas are exceptions. Real Salt Lake has given up late goals in a few matches, but have used five ties to help gain 14 points on the season. From fourth place to last place, the rest of the teams are separated by only six points. This means the winless Portland Timbers are still in the picture.
Although there is no real data to say that the draws are contributing to it, average attendance is down slightly since last year. The unofficial average attendance thus far is 18,261. The number was 18,806 last year, which shows about a one percent decline from 2012. The Colorado Rapids are down about 2000 fans in attendance in comparison to last year.
If the draws continue, it could be a reason for fans who have more sporting events to choose from to stay away. Casual fans tend to favor wins, not ties. Since MLS broadcasts most of the matches on MLS Live, it would possibly hinder the number of future subscribers. For soccer fans, draws can still be exciting, but it may not be enough to keep fans coming to the arena.
MLS teams will need wins in the last two months of the season to move away from the competition. While there could be some movement in the summer months, the time it is taking to find form for each team puts an emphasis on finishing strong. Momentum in August could lead to more fans in attendance in September. For now, let’s hope the draws are exciting and expect tight playoff races.