Making the case for a shootout revival

When I lived in the USA, I used to love being asked to explain cricket. My favorite moment was seeing the expression on an American's face when I said, "Some games last five days, and at the end there's still no result." I might elaborate and add, "So, imagine a baseball game going on until 6 a.m. and the 47th innings, and then everyone just gives up and goes home."

I grew up with five-day cricket games that often ended with neither team winning, so it never seemed strange to me. The more I think about it, though, the more absurd it seems. It's not like we're talking about war, when two sides reach a compromise because neither can emerge victorious. This is mere sport. The whole idea is to have a winner and a loser and then to move on and look forward to next week.

I bring this up now for two reasons. First, MLS has entered its playoff phase and, for those of us looking from afar, it's really only now that the U.S. domestic soccer season starts to become interesting. Part of that interest is the knockout nature of the competition. Second, I've noticed an anomalous number of 1-1 ties in the Bundesliga this season -- a total of 19 from the first eight match days (72 games). For the sake of comparison, the previous two Bundesliga seasons' first eight match days yielded the same number of 1-1 ties combined.

Ties are tolerated for a number of reasons. A 0-0 game can always yield its own narrative -- perhaps the game's such a stinker that you can complain all week about the time and money you wasted. A 2-2 tie or higher can often be an enthralling game of comebacks or see-saw action. But 1-1 is just the beige jacket of soccer results. It's like a grey, windless Sunday afternoon.

It's like leaving drinks for the colleague whose name you never really knew. I'd rather any outcome in a soccer game than a 1-1 tie. Theoretically, I'd rather see my own side lose than tie 1-1.

The low scoreless draw is unsatisfactory to me, borderline offensive. When a game reaches 1-1, it has the potential to grow. Both sides have proven they can score. There's a base here to turn this into a classic. And then, nothing. We head home with the feeling that an opportunity was missed. That something remains unfinished. That the two teams, and indeed the sport of soccer as a whole, let us down because they couldn't be bothered to entertain.

When MLS began in 1996, one of the few innovations it carried over from the North American Soccer League was the tiebreaking 35-yard shootout. Fans were apparently unhappy about that. If the league wanted to be authentic, it was said, we needed to have the tie, with spoils shared, like all of the world's much older leagues. The tie has history -- soccer's past is littered with hundreds of thousands of 1-1 ties. No one will take us seriously if both teams can't go home with a hard-earned point from an utterly forgettable game. The shootouts were quickly axed.

I used to be of the same opinion. That shootouts were gimmickry, messing with soccer's time-trusted mechanics. Now I'm inclined to think, 'You didn't do enough to win, so you don't deserve a point. Let's have a decider.' For those teams that have failed to entertain the paying fan, now's their chance to come good. Let's face it, penalty shootouts get the pulse racing, even with the odds stacked heavily in favor of the outfield player. In a 35-yard shootout, where the attacker takes on the advancing goalkeeper, the contest is much more even, and so much more exciting.

It's odd that, given all the changes the game has made to sell itself to an ever wider audience, no one has pressed FIFA and other soccer administrators for an end to the tied game. Even though tiebreakers in the form of penalty shootouts decide the winner in many games at soccer's flagship tournament, the World Cup. If the tie is so sacred, why are there not replays at the most-watched sporting event on the planet? Logistically almost impossible, of course, but there's another reason -- no one wants them, we all want to see a victor on the day.

There would be strong resistance to tiebreakers from those coaches whose deadly tactics are geared toward securing nothing more than a point. So, let them keep their precious point. Shootout winners would get an extra point on top of the point earned over 90 minutes. Three (or even four?) points would remain for teams winning the game in the conventional manner. The only loser would be the dubious tradition of stalemate.

Cricket still has its 5-day international 'test matches,' and for connoisseurs like me they are wonderful events to follow, even without a clear result. In recent years, though, cricket has veered toward much shorter matchups that finish in a single day, or even over the course of an evening.

I viewed such hastily decided contests as a commercialized abomination until the night I caught the Indian Premier League on TV. It was pacey and dynamic, with a thrilling climax, and I was hooked. Best of all were the soldout stadiums and the raucous fans, loving every last second. In the end, those fans must be every sport's priority.

13 comments about "Making the case for a shootout revival".
  1. Mike Singleton, November 24, 2020 at 10:37 a.m.

    The inury rate of these shootouts was devastating and for that reason alone they should never be considered ever again.

  2. John Soares, November 24, 2020 at 2:11 p.m.

    Since the whole idea(s) is to have a winner.
    I much prefer the "golden goal" rule.

  3. Bob Ashpole, November 24, 2020 at 4:10 p.m.

    As a player, my objective was to play. It was the joy of playing I craved not winning. I always felt let down when the games ended. 

    In simple terms, I also recognized that there are two different camps of players. One loves playing and the other loves winning. Guess which camp is happier?

  4. Wooden Ships, November 24, 2020 at 5:09 p.m.

    I remember the shoot out and didn't care much for it. I find PK's better and it's a gut check. I like Golden Goal, but with 10 minute periods. Too much extra time increases injury risk unnecessarily. I'm okay with a tie if a winner is not required. 

  5. beautiful game replied, November 24, 2020 at 10:18 p.m.

    Agree with W. Ships. Why not give each team 3-subs in OT and have less PK deciders.

  6. frank schoon replied, November 26, 2020 at 9:43 a.m.

    Ships, I wouldn't worry about the shoot-outs, for the average player TODAY lacks the skills and dexterity to even accomplish this. As you know players from our times had much better skills and touch on the ball. If they try this today all the fans should meet in the parking lot and wait for the  balls to come......

  7. James Madison, November 24, 2020 at 5:52 p.m.

    We  had those awfjul shootouts in the primitive infancy of modern professional soccer in the US and are well rid of them.

  8. Mark Landefeld, November 25, 2020 at 3:12 a.m.

    Much happier with the 35-yd shootout compared to KFTM tiebreaker.  It's a better sample of game action compared to KFTM.

    But here's another idea -- run your tiebreaker at half-time, TB winner has a "+" on their score and we play the whole second half knowing who "wins" if the score finishes tied.  Somebody will be more incentivized to attack.

  9. beautiful game replied, November 25, 2020 at 12:43 p.m.

    IMHO, your idea is an introduction of a concept brings little to the table.

  10. R2 Dad, November 25, 2020 at 12:44 p.m.

    KFTM is dramatic but not compelling as currently enforced. And it's not set in stone--IFAB/FIFA could change their minds if someone came up with a simple but better mano-e-mano challenge. Having keepers run outside their 6 for a throw down is a receipe for studs-up carnage. I like the idea of putting 2 players at the 12 yard spot, back to back with the ball on the ground between them. To see what kind of trickery might ensue. As long as they didn't kick the snot out of each other like Keane v Alf, it might be an interesting alternative.

  11. Jack Carter, November 25, 2020 at 4 p.m.

    We all have different perspectives and opinions. Mine is, when they go to shootouts, soccer ends. I hated it while watching the Clash and now when there is a shootout I usually turn off the TV. They need to to have something like this in tournaments, but for regular games Please don’t reintroduce it. If a tie is so pleasant, up the value of a win again. Bremen is getting a lot of ties. While better than the losses last year, it will put them in danger again if they don’t start winning.

  12. Kent James, November 26, 2020 at 11:48 a.m.

    This problem with Ian's 1-1 tie is the 1-1, not the tie. Most 3-3 ties are exciting matches that people enjoy (and most don't have people walking away demanding a winner).  But that's a different issue.  

    As for ties, some games are evenly matched, and forcing a winner is inappropriate (especially on KFTM, which are often decided on which keeper guesses better or a shooter makes a mistake).  There are better ways to decide a match.  Ideally, you could expand the possiblity of scoring by playing a golden goal overtime with ever fewer players on the field (maybe losing a player every 5 minutes).  But for that to work, you'd need to shrink the field accordingly.  Heck, ideally you'd keep everyone on the field and move a goal to the midfield line; that would increase the ability to score, and would be exciting and just an intense version of regular soccer (purists might argue that you would miss some of the flow back and forth, and they'd have a point, but there were 90 minutes of flow so trying something else to determine the winner makes sense).  Logistically, the only problem would be lining the penalty area for the goal that was moved, though if you premeasured strings to lay it out, a good crew could probably put the lines down in 5-10 minutes.  

    I think the most realistic change to deciding games that are tied would be to using the same set-up as KFTM, but instead of taking them from the penalty area, take them from the edge of the penalty area (18 yds), or the top of the arc (22 yds).  Ideally you would have more than 0 out of 5 score, but fewer than 4/5 (1-3 out of five would be ideal).  In other words, it would not be so difficult to score that it rarely happened, but not so easy to score that the shooter was expected to score.  So instead of a shooter making a mistake to determine the winner (as is often the case now), the shooter who hits an exceptional shot would score.  The distance could be adjusted for different age groups or abilities.  

    One last thought, you could also give teams corner kicks instead of KFTM.  Using one goal, only one team can score on each kick (once the ball is either in the goal or off the field, the other team takes its turn).  First team to score when the other team doesn't wins.  Keepers just alternate. 

  13. beautiful game replied, November 28, 2020 at 11:47 a.m.

    These concepts of a tie-breaker are for team sports other than soccer. Game should be judged by quality of play not the final score. 

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