I’m a cranky old man at the ripe age of 20, but there aren’t many little things scattered throughout the world of sports that truly irk me. I’m trying to think of them right now and nothing is shooting into my brain. Wait – basketball players leaping into a defender to draw free throws. That gets my goat.
However, I have one ultimate target. To steal a line from Bill Simmons, if I ever become the czar of sports, this is the first thing I’m changing. Then we change the free throw thing, and figuring out punishments for tanking is priority number three.
Penalty shootouts are complete garbage. They need to go.
Soccer is an excellent sport that doesn’t get the stateside respect it properly deserves. It blends simple rules with a tactical complexity while emphasizing skill and teamwork. Hardcore fans provide a phenomenal stadium atmosphere and help build a great sense of community for the local club.
Here’s where they lose me: you can truly outplay a team for 90 or more minutes. You have the advantage in possession and shots, and record far more dangerous scoring chance. However, let’s say that you only put home one goal, off a brilliant sequence of passing, and the other team snipes the top left corner from 30 yards out when your keeper wasn’t expecting it.
Let’s say it’s not a regular season or group stage match, which would send both of you home with a point. Let’s say that we need to declare a winner.
The solution: take turns trying to kick the ball past the goalie from 12 yards away.
After nearly two hours of play, we spend five minutes doing an activity that is almost completely separated from the rest of the game to decide the victor. Success rate depends on the goalie’s odds of guessing correctly and the off-chance that the shooter misses the net.
This is a terrible way to end a tense match of soccer. Everyone else stands there and does nothing. Coaches do nothing. Scouting consists of watching tape of which way players kick, and which way keepers dive.
At least in hockey’s version of the shootout, which is marginally better, players can attack the goal from a variety of angles, and try any move they can think of. Goaltenders must use more of their skillset. This isn’t better than overtime, but it’s passable, and the NHL has tried to minimize its impact recently by implementing the incredible 3-on-3 overtime period.’
Not soccer. We could decide the World Cup with five minutes of kicking. Two minor league baseball teams once spent 11 hours to find a winner. Two tennis players once played 138 games in their final set. Two NCAA basketball teams once played six overtimes in a conference tournament game, or if you prefer a happier memory, four overtimes.
I just ended the biggest sporting event in the galaxy with five minutes of point-blank kicking. Deal with it.
Enough whining. Let’s fix things, or at least try. Let’s have a short overtime period, but instead of 11 players from each side, there’s only 10. The missing player is the goalkeeper, who is forced to head to the sideline as teams try to score on an empty goal.
It would be a disaster, but tell me it wouldn’t be fun. Would teams try to snipe the net from miles away or attempt adjusted offensive buildups, knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is much, much larger.
If nobody scores in that period, then you can have your shootout. At least we tried to end the match with something resembling soccer.
It’ll never happen, but a man can dream.