Are PK’s OK?

Can we talk about penalties for a minute?

(And yes, by “penalties” I mean “penalty kicks.” Don’t think I haven’t started picking up on the little nuances of soccer jargon over these last three weeks.)

As someone who is investing himself into multiple soccer games per day, every day, for the first time ever, I feel like we need to discuss this.

Every sport has a way of figuring out a winner when a regulation-length competition is not enough. Some sports choose to alter their format to ensure a winner is decided in a timely fashion, others opt for keeping things the same no matter how long it takes.

Soccer has chosen the former over the latter, but does this newbie think it’s the right decision? Are penalties the best way to determine the winner of a soccer match if no winner has been determined in regulation? I have the correct answer, but before I give it to you, a little background.

Baseball, basketball, and hockey fans will tell you that their sports have chosen integrity over convenience. If no winner has been decided during the normal course of play, normal play keeps going. Baseball adds innings, basketball adds 5-minute periods, and hockey adds a sudden-death 20-minute period.

In all three of these sports, there is no limit to how long the game can go. The upside is that no one complains about the integrity of a win, the downside is that these games can sometimes run four or five hours in the process. Ask anyone who has had to get up early for work on a Monday morning after their hockey team has won a 3OT game four hours earlier, and they will tell you it was totally worth it. Ask a fan of the losing team that question and expect to get punched in the throat.

Football is a little different as there is some discrepancy between how overtime is handled in college and the NFL. The NCAA changes the format of the game to start teams just outside the red zone. The NFL opts for an overtime period where the first score – as long as it’s not a field goal – wins. To be honest, it feels like both organizations are still tinkering and trying to figure things out.

As any non-soccer fan will tell you, draws are a part of soccer, and maybe the worst part. Soccer fans don’t really seem to be bothered by a game that ends with no winner, but that obviously doesn’t work in a tournament bracket format. Someone has to win. And rather than subject fans to a 5-hour marathon (or longer?) the World Cup, since 1978, has been using penalties.

Opponents of the penalty format will tell you that it’s a terrible way to decide a game. Like opting for a home run derby over extra innings in baseball or a 3-point contest instead of an overtime period in basketball.

Proponents of the format make the case that the teams have more than just the 90 minutes of regulation to decide a winner, but the two 15-minute overtime periods as well. They argue that teams become so winded after two hours of playing, that the product on the field decays to the point where it’s hardly even soccer anyway.

So where does this newbie stand on deciding World Cup Knockout Stage games via penalties?


For three reasons actually:

1 – Two hours of soccer is absolutely enough time to figure out a winner. That’s 120 minutes of attacking and defending and taking your chances on both sides of the pitch. You’ve had your shot at winning.

2 – As Alexi Lalas said on the FOX broadcast before Colombia and England went to penalties on Tuesday, the kicks are not just dumb luck or a coin flip. Taking penalties is a skill, and the teams that prepare for that part of the game and have the most skilled players should come out on top.

3 – Penalties are incredibly exciting. No one will argue that. The drama might be unparalleled in all of sports. This 11-on-11 team game suddenly becomes 1-1 in a moment that lasts just a few seconds. It is the highest of high drama.

The World Cup championship game has come down to penalties two times since it was introduced in 1978, most recently in 2006. And while there might be a small part of me that hopes that doesn’t occur when this World Cup concludes on July 15th, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for it to happen.

The two squads that make the final game will have 90 minutes to attack and defend in an effort to score and keep their opponent from scoring. And if we don’t have a winner at that point, they’ll have another 30 minutes to do the same. After that, they get exactly what they deserve. The drama and tension of penalties to decide the winner.

And after investing all this time in the tournament this year, I’m starting to think that it’s what I deserve too.

“Magic and dreams are finished in football.”

Carlos Alberto Parreira

Bryan Allain has spent 41 years of his life ignoring soccer in favor of the Red Sox and golf, the REAL beautiful game. (His words not ours). This is the account of his 30-day, all in, deep dive on the premier showcase of the most popular sport on earth, the 2018 World Cup.