Fixing Soccer’s Penalty Shootout: A Simple Alternative

Imagine if at the end of a tied basketball game, each team went to the foul line. Each team chose five players to shoot free throws. The team with the higher percentage of made shots won the game. There would be a huge uproar over this, and not because otherwise-worthless shooters would suddenly become invaluable. One team shooting free throws better than another does not necessarily indicate that one team is better or worse than the other. It is a gimmicky way to decide which team is better. Now imagine if at the end of a tied football (American football, of course) game, each team decided five players to kick field goals. I know, crazy, right? Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson would probably be on the bench. And just imagine Peyton or Brady trying to kick a field goal. The analogy doesn’t fit quite as well with football, as it does with basketball. The point stands though, that both ways of deciding a game are pointless. They don’t show that one team is better than another.

So, why does soccer use penalty shootouts to decide a game that is still tied at the end of regulation and the extra thirty minutes, split up into two fifteen minute halves? Many Americans trying to persuade themselves into liking soccer can’t get over the penalty shootout. And plenty of hardcore fans despise the shootout. In fact, I don’t think anyone actually likes the penalty shootout. Win one and you love it. Lose one and you hate it. Penalties are only stopped worldwide, 22% of the time. The goalie is often left guessing, having to jump right or left, and hoping that’s the same direction the ball heads. Why decide a game on how lucky a keeper gets? Because, like it or not, any stop a keeper makes, is going to amount to luck. The keeper simply does not have time to do anything, but guess.

Penalty shootouts have an allure. Kind of. They are guaranteed to bring a thrill, whether your team is involved in them or not. It’s like watching a car crash. You know something bad is about to happen, but it’s impossible not to look. Sure, they’re dramatic. And I’ll admit: they are really fun to watch. But after the game is over, there is no sense of fulfillment, that the game has been decided adequately.

There have been several alternatives proposed by fans and experts alike. Here are some the popular fixes:

1. Play until someone scores.
Because, these aren’t real humans anyway. They’ve just played 120+ minutes of soccer, and damn it if they have to play 120 more for a goal to be scored, then that’s what needs to be done! It’s a silly idea really. Ideally, both sides would continue playing a Golden Goal format (the first team that scores, wins), but after how many minutes does such an exercise become futile?

2. Arbitrarily decide the winner on some stats.
Maybe the worst idea. Okay, whichever team had more corners wins! Wait, no. The team with more shots. But what if one team was just shots from forty yards out that had no chance of going in? Okay fine. What about the team with more possession wins? See, these have all been brought up, and deciding the outcome of a game on stats like these is just as unfulfilling as it is dumb. I’d rather have a shootout.

3. One on one: Attacker vs. Defender (and goalie).
This could be the most exciting way to determine the game. It may be just as exciting watching Messi take on a defender one on one, as it would be watching Messi try to defend anyone. Who wouldn’t want to see the best players in the world go one on one? The only (obvious) point to add in is that there would have to be some sort of time limit. Maybe 15-20 seconds, as the attacking player starts a few yards outside of the box.

4. Move the penalty box back a few yards.
It’s difficult to say exactly how far the mark should be moved, but the spot it’s at right now is too easy. Dropping the percentage from 81% to something a little over 50% would make things a lot more interesting.

5. Coin toss.
Because, why not? Just kidding.


The only legitimate option out out of the four is the third one, the one on one situation. But wait, there’s one more possible solution. This is another popular, but often forgot about, fix to the penalty shootout. Here’s how it works, briefly:

Every five minutes, each team takes one player off the field. There would have to be a cap on this. If and when the game gets to 5 v. 5 (not including the goalie), there would be no more pulling players off. Any more players, and the game could begin to look gimmicky. Chances are, or at least ideally, the game would never get down to 5 v. 5. A variety of factors would affect the coach’s decisions. Would you leave a forward on, who isn’t used to defending for an extended period of time? What about a defender who is a horrible finisher? Could you even leave a player with a yellow card on the field? What about formations with limited numbers?

With fewer players on the field, the game would certainly open up. Ideally, it would look like fast-break basketball, with quick changes of possession and more room for runs to be made, and creative passes. The fix may not be perfect, but it’d be much more fulfilling and exciting than a penalty shootout. And it would be very feasible.


155 responses

  1. You take any fare consideration of your suggestions away by comparing with basketball and football…two sports most Europeans,Asians and Africans, and more importantly, most soccer players do not care for!
    Good idea and efforts trying to find a solution for penalty shoout-out; but have you actually tried taking one before wrote this? Or you just looked up statistics? Look up how often ‘team’s best penalty players’ lose their own penalties.
    Try come up with other suggestions about soccer without so much interjections with football and basketball.

    • Also not true. Basketball is easily the most popular sport in China. India prefers cricket, but basketball has more market share there than soccer.

      He looked up how often “team’s best penalty players” miss. That’s the statistic 22%. Do you get how statistics work?

  2. To even suggest that the rules of a long standing worldwide sport be changed to suit a specific audience is quite staggering.
    I’m sure there’d be an outcry if, for example, the IOC suddenly decided that American Football should have it’s name changed because there simply isn’t enough contact between the foot and the ball during a game for it’s name to be justified.

    The penalty shootout is an unfair way to bring a football (soccer) match to an end, but it is unfair to both teams which gives the advantage to neither.
    We are after all, talking about a game which, after a period of 90 mins, + extra time, + 2 x 15 mins of game time has resulted in both teams being tied.
    There are absolutely no guarantees, other than deciding a winner and loser.

    Does the OP feel that ice hockey also requires a fundamental change to it’s rules too, as I believe penalties are used to decide non league games also.

    • change no rules! just add a 4th sub. most of the OT goals at the WC were from subs. if you are hung up on it affecting the pace of play, make a requirement that the substitution happen at the break between stoppage time and OT.

      • You nailed it! By the end of 90 minutes players are exhausted and only the subs have any legs. Give each team one more sub for overtime and you increase the likelihood of a goal and thusly avoid PK’s.

    • You’re an idiot. It’s football because it’s played on foot, not because you make contact with the ball with your feet. Hence, rugby football, Aussie football, Canadian football, American football, Gaelic football are all primarily based on hand-ball contact.

      Look stuff up before you go repeating it.

      • You’re a pillock

        – “I’m sure there’d be an outcry if, for example, the IOC suddenly decided that American Football should have it’s name changed because there simply isn’t enough contact between the foot and the ball during a game for it’s name to be justified.”

        I didn’t claim that the name football is wrong, you obviously didn’t read correctly and your abrasive comment proved my point exactly!

  3. The real fix is much simpler – just get rid of the offside rule (basketball would be boring with an offside rule). If soccer got rid of the offside rule, then more goals would be scored and there would be a much higher probability of the better team winning

  4. After every 3 mins of play one player from each team leaves the field it could go down to 2-2 players but no goalies are allowed to leave. What do you think?

  5. This is the dumbest articles i have read. It makes no sense at all. The rest of the world will not change anything to fit Americans’ desire. Enough of this whole “if you do it this way, we would like it” nonsense. No one is forcing you to like this sport. If you don’t like something about it, fine, watch at your peril, but I for one believe Penalties being the very last resort is a good thing.

    • Once again we have a criticism based, not on substance, but on it’s supposed Americanness. “Don’t try to change our sport and Americanize it; we don’t need you, if you don’t like it go away!” Yeah, okay. Come back with something of substance to offer.

      • I like penalties after OT whether in soccer or hockey. Think its the best way I’ve heard to bring a climactic, team oriented ending to a tied game that must have a winner.

        Golden goal is terrible in any form. The biggest thing I dislike about hockey OT and Stanley Cup. Hated it in the NFL. Would despise it in soccer if it came back again.

    • Teams would simply play deeper and then it might be even harder to score goals. I hate penalties and the teams that play for it, but as has been proved its difficult to provide an alternative. The only thing not mentioned here that used to happen is that they would simply replay the games until a winner is decided.Modern logistics and interest would not allow for that though.

      • The counter to the “everyone will just play deep” line of thought is that there would be more counterattacking. If you park the bus to defend a lead, fine. But if the game is tied, you cannot win by putting all 11 in a defensive mindset. Eventually, it will fail. By eliminating offside in extra time, the field gets stretched, there’s more space for passing and one-on-one play.

        I have seen this used at a few youth tournaments here in Pennsylvania, and the play is very exciting. Games are usually settled within 15 minutes (it’s Golden Goal as well).

  6. For now, it is what it is, basically the least unsatisfactory way to settle draws in situations where a result is absolutely necessary.
    Two “historical” notes: the “35 yard shootout” was tried in some US competitions a number of years ago – most considered it substantially more farcical than the PK solution; once upon a time in certain European (& other?) competitions draws resulted (& still do in some cases) in one or more replays. Fixture “jams” and TV exigencies being what they are, that seems an impossibility in major competitions at present.
    One statistical element that might have some degree of logic and applicability: “keeper corners.”
    That is, any corner kick resulting from a keeper’s save that is ruled a corner kick. Two logical elements here – the goalie has decided that if he does not make the save, a goal will result. Thus the onus is on the last defender to act in way that benefits the D but acknowledges a definite effort on goal by the O. Tallying “KCs” in the 2 periods of extra time might also encourage a bit more attacking verve in a situation all too often mired in attacking passivity and player fatigue.
    Won’t happen – the sport is too conservative. Plus there lots of other things that could be done to enhance the offensive aspects of the game. But that’s another whole realm of discussion.

  7. Thanks a lot for the ideas. However, it might have been worthwhile researching the subject a little more beforehand:
    – ‘Overtime’ has already been tried, in fact, ‘sudden-death’ matches have been recorded to go on for many hours.
    – ‘Statistical decision’ and ‘Coin toss’ have also been included in the past. On occasion (thinking spanish cup final 60 years ago), teams have lost due to having less corners taken..!
    – ‘Moving the box/penalty spot’ seems a bizarre idea, although official futsal (indoor 5-a-side rules) include a “double-distance” penalty spot (which is used to take all free-kicks after the 5th foul by the offending side)

    Your last idea, on the other hand, is probably the most interesting. I’ve played in 5-a-side games which were decided like this and it was, novel. It’d be great fun to see it tried out in 11-a-side. Perhaps at the next “international champions cup”?

  8. Why when the Americans get involved they always have to change things to suit their short attention span. (Although how is it you sit through baseball). Penalties are apart of the game during regulation time so leave it. The old NASL did break aways in overtime with a time limit which were the dumbest things I’ve seen. If the Americans don’t like it, don’t watch. Leave our game alone.

  9. Have the penalty shootout before extra time. The winners are awarded hall a goal. Then play the extra time. Both sides would be more likely to play for a win. Defending half a goal is a crazy idea, so that would encourage attacking football. At the same time getting rid of the deciding penalty shootout

  10. This is clearly a poorly thought out arguement, and the inclusion of referencing basketball and American football adds nothing. Why change an age-old rule of a beloved sport because some idiot thinks he has a better answer? Have you ever run about on a full sized football pitch? Reducing the number of people after 120mins would not make for good sport at all..

  11. Our local youth league did this and I loved it. Great idea. Another alternative is like college football- alternating corner kicks where each team gets 30 seconds to score a goal.

  12. The 1 v 1 option is OK but the writer didn’t go into details. What if the defender fouls the attacker? Penalty goal (like rugby) ? Seems harsh and would encourage simulation.
    Hate the idea of removing a player. Now all we’re promoting is survival of the fittest. At least with PK’s there is skill involved. All teams can practice before hand. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s decisive and encourages skill over luck or plain old fitness/grinding the opponent down.

    • You’re right. I realized this too. In the 1 v 1 scenario, what if there was a foul in the box? Now that would really confuse things. That’s definitely an unlikely scenario, and I realized it later.

  13. This was a retarded article and I want the time it took for me to read the article and comments after back. First, neither sport is comparable to soccer. There is no defender blocking a free throw and only 1 (maybe two) people on an american football team are trained to kick a field goal. American football players get breaks between every play and that is only when there half of the team is on the field (offense/defense). So let them play for eternity, who cares. Also, there is no limit to substitutes in basketball and you always get to play with 5.

    Second, nobody wants it to go to a shootout, but it is the best resolution. Far better than the above. Whoever thought it is a good idea to take a player off after so much extra extra time (120+) has never played soccer. You are talking about a field both longer and wider than an american football field and you say it is okay to go down to 5 players. Moron, you can’t play with less than 7 as it is against the laws of the game for how retarded an idea that is.

    Third, the comment about have you ever taken a PK is right. It is not a walk in the park and if you bothered to watch the MLS championship last year between KC Sporting and Real Salt Lake, you would see why. There were some amazing saves by both keepers, bad shots by some expected to score, and it went 10 shots per team (almost went to the keepers shooting).

    Lastly, Kobie . . . you have never played competitive soccer have you? Stop talking.

    The only feasible alternative is a shootout like hockey where the kicker starts at the center or 35 yard line and can dribble in, but that is not necessarily a “fix” for you haters. A soccer goal is much wider and taller than a tiny hockey goal and a PK is more level for the keeper.

    • No, I actually did play competitive soccer my entire life, so you’re wrong. Your lengthy rant didn’t make much sense. I’d really like the time it took me to read it back. You fail to explain why a 1 v 1 solution is “the only feasible alternative” but thanks for granting us your time. It really provided us all with some valueless insight!

      • Competitive soccer does not include a neighborhood game or a game at recess. Your comments lack all intelligence when it comes to the game of soccer and you are either 12-15 yrs old (not much of an “entire life”) or you have never truly played. If you have played, then I feel bad for your team.

        If you are going to try to argue, please use whatever creative talent you have and not recycle material such as wanting your time back. You mention I fail to argue “the only feasible alternative, but you do not discount any of my arguments.

        For your edification, here you go:

        Coin toss: 100% random. Who chooses? 3/5, 5/7, 1 toss? Worst idea ever.

        Stats deciding a game: If USA and Ghana tied, Ghana would have won . . . yet with poor stats all around BUT FOR the number of defensive clears, USA won the game. Stats never truly depict a game. You can have the most possession, but the worst attacking stats. Not an option.

        Play until somebody scores: The ‘ol golden boot. The human body can only undergo so much. Normally by the 120′ the teams have used all their subs to try to get a set of fresh legs to score. Unless you want the B teams deciding the winner, no good. Then if we are talking a tournament, even though the team won, they would have their butts handed to them the following game.

        Move the penalty box back: First it is not the box you move, moron. It is the penalty mark and from 12 yards out there are plenty of misses. The keeper still has to stay on his line until the ball is kicked, so it does not “solve” your problem.

        Attacker v. Defender (and Goalie): So it is 1v2. You already mentioned issues with fouls causing more of an issue than this is solving. Does the person playing offense have to play defense the following series? Can it be the same person? This creates more of a question as to whether the better team wins or just the team with the most individual talent. More issues than resolutions and not a level playing field. No.

        1v1: The best option, but still not better than the shootout. Same laws could apply outside of the kicker being able to touch the ball more than once (keeper could come off his line after the ball is touched anyway, etc.). Again, it tips the balance to a player’s ability to handle the ball and attack, which is not a defender or defender mid-fielders forte. More unfair to the keeper. Allows for all the tricks and tom foolery the PK system has eliminated for the most part (must continue moving forward, cannot stop at the ball, etc.)

        Like it or not, the shootout after 120’ of play is fair and exciting. There will always be a team that is disappointed, but if you want to avoid a shootout then score a goal in regulation or extra time.

      • No I’m much older and played much longer than you’re thinking. You can feel bad for whomever you want, but begin with yourself. You’re fairly obnoxious.

        Anyway, the coin toss and stats options are a joke. They’ve been talked about in the past, and it’s showing how absurd it is that people even mention those. That shows how people feel about penalties.

        The golden boot isn’t a bad idea at all. Guess what: if it takes a team 120ish minutes to move on, then, yes, they’re penalized and will be tired next game. That’s precisely the idea, Seth! And worst case scenario, the deeper team with more quality players wins! What a crazy idea!!! You can call it the “B team” deciding the game, but that’s a pretty baseless opinion. Most people would concede that the deeper, more talented team would win. Or maybe, the team whose best players could play well the longest. Really wondering what’s so wrong with that. I’ll save you the time–there’s nothing wrong with it, at all. Except your characterization that the game is decided merely by the B-level players.

        And sorry about the semantics. I’m sure you know I didn’t mean moving the “box” back, but the mark itself. Duh. But yes, pat yourself on the back. And you’re right! There’d be more misses! Instead of the conversion rate being near 80%, it’d be significantly lower. That’s the idea.

  14. I believe, and have so for many years, that there is a much more attractive solution. This solution maintains 90% of the interest of the game (passing, team work, finishing skill) but is likely to resolve the contest in a manner of application of skill and effort.

    – In extra time remove the off sides rule.

    It would be a fast flowing back and forth with lots of scoring. In the 15 minutes of extra time, you could be pretty sure to get 2 or 3 goals, maybe more. It would favor smart teams who can adapt, and penalize time killing tactics.

  15. Australian football has an interchange bench, so players are taken off and then return rested. I’m not sure where to apply this in a game of football/soccer but it’s an interesting idea. And by the way I have watched and loved football/soccer my whole life and I too hate the penalty shoot out.

    • The problem I have with Golden Goal is what is the point of having a timed OT period if you don’t intend to play all of it.

      I mean you win most spectator sports by being in front at the end of regular time, not when a certain point total is met. Golden goal is a strange change of logic that allows no comebacks, no mistakes, and makes a frantic period of reducing the fun.

      Golden goal OT periods such as the NFL at least give your team a shot of winning if the other team scores a field goal. Since hockey and soccer don’t really have that ability (maybe win by 2 in OT?), then something like a shootout legitimately gives teams of equal strength a legitimate, skill and calm based method of deciding a game.

  16. If after the first ten kicks (five per side) they are still tied, the shootout should proceed to true sudden death;
    this means that the first team to score a goal will be immediately the winner.

  17. If after the first ten kicks (five per side) the are still tied, the shootout should proceed to true sudden death;
    this means that the first team to score a goal will immediately be the winner.

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