In the Women’s World Cup Round of 16, USA and Sweden played a very dramatic game for the right to advance to the Quarterfinals. Despite Team USA controlling the ball and overall flow for large portions of the game they were unable to get one across against Swedish goalkeeper Zecira Musovic. Even with extra time being added to the game, both teams were scoreless after 120 minutes. Sweden eventually won, 5-4, on penalty kicks.
While this was a shocking loss for Team USA, there’s a bigger question here. Should a World Cup game end in penalty kicks? Granted, the two teams had 120 minutes to score on their own, and Sweden in particular never mounted any sort of sustained offensive attack. And of course, there’s an element of player safety. Soccer players can run several miles during the game. However, for a game of this magnitude, a World Cup game, penalty kicks feels like a bad way to send a team home. Even the announcers and analysts on TV watching this live didn’t want the game to end in PKs. In hockey, when in the playoffs, they play until someone scores, regardless of how long it takes. This is because the NHL recognizes the importance of these games and don’t want to cheapen the ending. The same is true for all NBA games. In the regular season and in the playoffs, teams play for as long as it takes to determine a winner. Should soccer, and in particular something as important as the World Cup, adopt similar rules? In the regular season for the NHL, the two teams play 3-on-3 for 5 minutes and then go to a shootout. Perhaps soccer could adopt similar rules. Having less players on the field would open up the field and make it easier to score.
Sweden had a historic win that the team and country will remember forever. However, it’s unfortunate that it’s marred by the way soccer games are designed to end. Perhaps this will spurn FIFA and the teams to come together to ensure another great game like the one we saw doesn’t end in penalty kicks.