A penalty kick in soccer involves a shooter placing a ball 12 yards from a goal, which is eight yards wide and eight feet high. The goalkeeper, who must remain on the goal line, although he or she can move from side to side, awaits the kick.
The shooter has a distinct advantage.
According to Wikipedia, a German professor compiled the success rate of penalty kicks during a 16-year period in Germany’s top professional league (Bundesliga) and shooters converted 76 percent of the time.
During the 2005-06 English Premier League season, 57 of the 78 penalty kicks awarded were converted (73.1 percent).
Penalty kick shootouts are used to break ties in certain situations as mandated by soccer’s governing body, Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA.
If a game is tied after 90 minutes of regulation play, teams play two 15-minute overtime periods to their conclusion. If a goal is scored, play continues for the full term.
If it is still tied, it resorts to penalty kicks, with each team getting five. The team that converts the most penalty kicks is declared the winner.
Penalty kicks are also used to break ties in high school soccer and college playoff games across the country.
Five of the six New England states use penalty kicks to break a deadlock in all high school playoff games, while Connecticut uses them up until its state championship games.
In its state title games, teams are declared co-champions if they’re tied after two full 15-minute non-sudden-victory overtimes.
“We did that for a few years five or six years ago,” said Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals Association. “But someone compared it to kissing your sister. We had co-champions but representatives from both schools said they would have preferred to have had a winner. So we went back to penalty kicks.”
Maine and Vermont have the same playoff format.
After playing two 40-minute halves, they play two 15-minute sudden-victory overtimes. If a goal is scored, the game is over. If not, they go to penalty kicks.
New Hampshire and Massachusetts use 10-minute sudden-victory overtimes with PKs although Massachusetts goes to 15-minute OTs in its state title games only.
Rhode Island and Connecticut play the full overtimes even if a goal is scored before going to PKs.
Connecticut, like Massachusetts, goes to 15-minute OTs in its state championship games.
“Nobody likes penalty kicks [deciding a game] but there aren’t any better solutions,” said Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals Association and a former soccer referee.
“I don’t think it’s the best way to decide a match but there is no clear answer,” agreed 31-year Orono girls coach Cid Dyjak.
“I feel so bad for the goalies. You watch their shoulders sag after a goal goes in. There’s a lot of pressure on the goalies,” said Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the MPA, who oversees the soccer tournaments.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the shooters as well,” said Dyjak.
“If you shoot and miss, you feel like you lost the game for your team and it shouldn’t be like that because soccer is such a team sport,” said Washburn High School senior midfielder Carsyn Koch. “I’d almost rather have the teams continue to duke it out until somebody scores.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with adding a couple more overtimes [before PKs] but that would probably be the limit,” said Washburn senior midfielder Carmen Bragg.
“[Penalty kicks] isn’t actually how the game is played, it’s just a small part of it,” said Washburn junior striker Mackenzie Worcester. “It doesn’t seem right to decide a game that way. The defense isn’t involved.”
Brian Higgins, who just finished his 40th year coaching the boys at Ellsworth High School, recalled them using the number of corner kicks taken in a game to decide the outcome several years ago.
Years later, games were decided by corner kicks taken by each team after the overtimes.
The team that took the corner could try to score until the defending team cleared it over midfield. Then the defending team would take a corner. If it didn’t score, the corner kicks would continue.
“That’s a pretty good way to decide it, although we lost to Sacopee Valley in the state championship game after we took something like 34 sets of corner kicks. By the end of it, I didn’t have a starter left on the field because they were all cramped up,” said Higgins.
The advantage to corner kicks is that all 11 players on each team are involved. The negative is the time constraints, player fatigue and the fact most fields don’t have lights.
“You could go a long time without a goal using corner kicks,” said Ralph Michaud, who just finished up his 16th year as the Presque Isle girls coach.
Michaud said using penalty kicks to decide a soccer game is like having “a foul-shooting contest to decide a basketball game [after regulation].”
But Bangor boys coach and former University of Maine women’s coach Dave Patterson said, “I don’t think penalty kicks are the worst way to settle a game.
“If you play 80 minutes and then two 15-minute overtimes, your players are going to be tired and they’re more susceptible to injuries,” said Patterson.
“Time and exhaustion would become an issue [if they extended the overtime periods],” said Burnham.
There have been several other methods tried globally rather than penalty kicks and there are other proposals floating around:
1. In high school and college field hockey, overtime periods involve 7-on-7 play as each team has to remove four players. Soccer and field hockey each use 11 players.
“That’s an intriguing idea,” said Burnham.
“My concern is that the seven players would have a whole field to cover and you’re risking injury,” said Patterson.
However, more open field would lead to more scoring chances and a potential earlier conclusion.
Michaud suggested that each team lose one player for the first overtime and two for the second.
2. The old North American Soccer League used to place the ball on the 35-yard line and shooters would have five seconds to break in on the goalie and score.
3. The Attacker-Defender-Goalkeeper method. A player gets the ball 35 yards from goal and has 30 seconds to score against an opposing defender and a goalkeeper. Each team gets the same number of attempts.
4. Expand the penalty kick format to include all 11 players for each team getting to take a PK.
5. After regulation, go to penalty kicks and the team that wins earns an advantage. Then play two 15-minute overtimes and if it is still tied, the team that won the penalty kick shootout wins. That would compel the team that lost in penalty kicks to attack during the OTs.