, Gloucester, MA

November 5, 2012

Penalty kicks: A broken system

On Soccer Conor Walsh
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — You see it across life’s spectrum, from family to business.

Broken systems that, year in and year out, continue to operate the same way simply because, well, that’s the way it always has been.

The Gloucester girls soccer team lived through such dysfunction twice over the past week, seeing both sides of the spectrum when their two Division 2 North tournament games ended the same way. Each evenly-matched game was decided by penalty kicks.

The Fishermen saw the jubilation that can come with a stressful penalty kick victory when they beat Melrose, 3-1, in PKs in the preliminary rounds.

They saw the other side of the coin in the following round, when their upset bid against No. 2 seed Hamilton-Wenham was cut short, along with their season, by a penalty kick loss.

After beating Melrose, Gloucester coach Alex White described penalty kicks as “the worst” and “a crapshoot.”

That’s after a win.

White is right, though. Simply put, it’s just a stupid way to decide a game.

Soccer is the ultimate team sport, a game often decided as much by the role players that don’t get much credit than a team’s stars.

So let’s give two teams 80 regulation minutes and two 10-minute overtime periods to settle a game naturally.

And after that, forget it. Let’s line up five individual players from each side to let it rip on an eight-by-24 foot goal from 12 yards away, and whichever team’s lucky enough to not ring one off the woodwork wins.

The other team? Well, that’s soccer. Good game. Good season. In some cases, good career.

Imagine Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, knotted at 2-2 through 12 innings, ultimately being decided by a 3-on-3 home run derby for the pennant.

Or how about a Final Four game that, after two overtimes, was decided by the world’s most intense game of “knockout.”

Listen, I get it. I understand that soccer games, more often than any other sport, end up falling into endless, conservative, defensive battles, so there has to be a way to eventually settle a tie game.

But to do it with penalty kicks is ridiculous.

So how about this?

Why not replace penalty kicks with set pieces? A corner kick or a ball placed 40 yards from the goal. Doesn’t matter.

Give the offensive team a two-player advantage, and once the ball goes in the net, out of bounds or the defensive team gains possession, that attempt is over.

Just like penalty kicks, have the teams alternate attempts, and each squad gets five tries at it. If that’s not enough to decide it, keep going with winner-take-all rounds until we have ourselves a winner.

Now, who knows if this kind of idea would ever work. It likely has similar flaws to those of the current system.

But at least it doesn’t rob the game of its nature. Soccer teams succeed as a unit, not as a bunch of individuals.

So why continue to place a team’s fate on the shoulders of six players. It’s ridiculous to end a game with something so arbitrary.

Will it ever happen? Absolutely not. It’s an iconic part of the sport.

Think about the U.S. women’s soccer team’s penalty kick victory over China for the 1999 World Cup title (Brandi Chastain ripping her shirt off as she celebrated the game-winner may ring a bell).

The 2006 men’s World Cup was decided by penalty kicks. So was the women’s in 2011.

So have countless other games, from amateur ranks to professional levels.

But just because it’s always been that way doesn’t make it right. And as the Gloucester girls soccer team saw, it’s no way to win a game, and it’s certainly no way to see your season end.