Is there a better way to break ties in soccer than penalty kicks?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

I remember it happening again and again when my daughter was playing soccer. Below is what I wrote after a tournament we lost on PK's:

After a weekend of traveling out of town early in the morning and back each evening, winning five games and clearly dominating the sixth in terms of chances and field position, we found ourselves again looking at our watches as the overtime period ticked away, knowing that the game was about to be decided by PK’s.

I’m not bitter that we lost. It would have been a nice tournament to win, but we’ve won it before and it wasn’t life or death. But, whenever a game goes to PK’s, especially a big one, the comments from every parent on the sidelines are the same: Something to the effect of, “I hate PK’s.” We hate it because of the pressure it puts on the girls, (U14) sure, but there’s much more to it. No one, and I’m sure the other side feels the same way, believes this is an accurate or fair way to determine who won the game. You probably all saw the US lose to Japan in the Women’s World Cup final in the same manner. Even the television announcers were saying, “You hate to see it go to PK’s.”

So if most everyone is in agreement that this is a flawed system to settle soccer matches, why can’t anyone come up with a tolerable solution? Look at the NHL, the sport which most closely resembles soccer. Yes, they use penalty shots to break ties in the regular season, but that is mainly because those games are not tremendously important. However, it is my guess that the NHL powers-that-be would never even consider a proposal where playoff hockey games are decided in this fashion.

I know, there is much more scoring in hockey. I understand that many soccer games go over an hour and are still 0-0, and in fact no one has come close to scoring. How long are they supposed to play? Two hours? Three or four? That wouldn’t work. Still, there has to be some way to break ties that better represent which team is truly superior.

Patrick Barclay, soccer commentator for the Times of London — who says the shootout, for all its excitement, “insults all that goes into the game” — offers a novel alternative in the summer issue of Intelligent Life magazine: “Abolish extra time, count the fouls committed by the two sides, factor in red and yellow cards, and hand victory to the lesser offender.”

I don’t agree. We already have too many dubious fouls called — and way too much encouragement for flopping. Plus, do we want to provide even more fodder for angry fan mobs to attack referees in post-game riots? I shudder to think of the effects this proposal would have.

Eric Zorn, a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote, “How about a corner-kicking contest? Overtime periods where the number of players per side are gradually reduced?”

I like those ideas better. The corner-kick-off, while still not perfect is better than a straight penalty shootout, because it at least involves real game action…the full eleven on a side. This solution reminds me of college football’s exciting overtime where the ball is placed on the opponent’s 25-yard line and each tries to score.

I’ve thought of a few myself, but not having grown up playing much soccer, I hesitate to suggest them since they would likely be laughable to a soccer purist. But one idea is to keep track of shots that hit the posts or crossbars. If, after overtime, the game is still tied, the team who has had the most “close chances,” is the victor. Or, perhaps after regulation and extra time, the remainder of the game is played without a penalty for off sides. That would probably open up scoring, but I don’t know, that might be akin to a soccer person suggesting that baseball break ties by having runners be put on first and second with no outs to start an inning.

Oh, wait — in international competition, that is the tie breaking rule.


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