Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the biggest sporting event in the United States, the Super Bowl, is the New England Patriots "Deflate Gate." If you haven't heard it by now (then you should probably come out of whatever rock you've been living under), the footballs (of the American variety) used in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts were under inflated at halftime.
As New England head coach Bill Belichick put it in his press conference last Saturday, I have learned much more than I ever thought I would about the NFL's ball inflation policy and too much about the PSI (pounds per square inch) of balls.
With all this talk of inflated balls, I was curious what the MLS policy is for their soccer balls and how the procedure works in the United States' professional soccer league.
Per a league spokesperson, the procedure on balls for game day is as follows.
"Each home team supplies 14 game balls and prior to kickoff match officials test each ball to ensure they are between 12-14 PSI (13 is optimal)"
From what I understand of the league's ball policy, each team is provided with a certain number of balls for games and training. There are various number of balls used on the training pitch each session and are gathered, collected, and stored following the completion of each day's practice.
While it would certainly be more advantageous to prepare or "doctor" the balls for football, considering players are holding them in their hands or catching them frequently and want to have the best grip possible, there could be some reasons for soccer players to want a less inflated ball as well.
With the current MLS calendar, the beginning and end of each season is rather cold in most cities. Speaking from experience, a very hard ball can feel like a rock, especially when heading, on a cold day. Having a ball slightly under inflated would be nice in a cooler environment.
Also, for goalkeepers. Any time a team's goalie needs to catch a ball, like in football, it is easier to grip with a little less air. This would be handy when in traffic on crossed balls or set pieces, as the keeper battles with the other players in the air for the ball and does not want to drop it for an easy finish for the opposition.
According to the Adidas match balls, which is what MLS uses for their games, the pressure should be anywhere from 11.6-14.5 PSI. This allows for a little under inflation from the league policy.
Of course unlike in the NFL, where each team provides 12 of their own balls for their offense to use, the nature of soccer requires both teams to use the same ball. Once the ball is in play, every player on the field is kicking that ball until it goes out of bounds and another is possibly returned to play. The goalkeeper at one end is going to be catching the same ball as his opposite number, so the advantage of inflation would impact every player.
Have there ever been cases of balls being under inflated when checked at halftime? Questions to the league spokesperson on this issue were unanswered, but it wouldn't be surprising.
In all honesty, "Deflate Gate" is a silly story that has been blown out of proportion because it's the Patriots and there's a week of dead time between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.
Could something like this have happened in MLS? Sure, although it is much more likely and advantageous in football.
Maybe we'll have to keep a closer eye on our friends the New England Revolution if they ever hire a special assistant coach with penchant for cutoff hoodies...