Friday, August 19, 2016

Flying Solo

Following the USWNT loss to Sweden; Hope Solo said something rather controversial. She said that Sweden "played like cowards". She was referring to their ultra defensive style. They basically played 1 attacker, 5 mid-fielders, 4 defenders.

Her statement did not reflect the feelings of all the USWNT players. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have said Solo's statements don't represent the team.

The main problem here is that Hope Solo was right, and everyone knows it.

Credit to Sweden for figuring out the "trick" to winning against the current crop of top women's national teams. They used the exact same strategy against Brasil. The best of the best are creative attacking forces. All you need to do is "park the bus in the net" (to quote Ronaldo on Iceland in the Euro) and you can shut them down. Let it go to penalties and then take your chances there.

Nobody has an advantage at penalties, nobody. I don't care what anyone says, it's just not the case. Penalties are about luck.

  1. The luck of the goalie guessing where the ball is going (because he or she doesn't have enough time to react. The goalie commits and if the ball goes there, then a block can be made)
  2. The luck of the penalty taker to hit the ball where the goalie isn't guessing it will go.

Mistakes can be made. A goalie can guess right, but just not have the fortitude to knock the ball out or hold on to it. A penalty taker can muff the shot. It happens. It happens a lot. There's so much pressure to pound the ball as hard as you can and into a top corner where the goalie can't reach... half a centimeter off and that ball is sailing over the goal.

Still, it boils down to luck. Four of your team make it. On the fifth one the goalie guesses right.

When you know you can't beat a team by attacking and winning in the first 90, this is a solid strategy.

And, no, Sweden isn't the only team to do this. They're not even the only team to do it this year. It feels like half the matches in the Euro went to penalties. More and more; teams are choosing this strategy when it seems like they can't find an opening and secure the win.

What can be done?

Hate the Game not the Player

It's completely unreasonable to expect a game to go into infinite extra-time periods, like baseball does with extra-innings. Whatever you think about football/fußball/futból/soccer; you can't deny that it is an extremely athletic game. So saying "just keep playing until someone wins" isn't reasonable.

So here's my suggestion.

Play 90 minutes the way it is now. No changes. If there's a winner at the end of 90 that's the game.

First Extra Time (2 x 15 minutes)

If there's no winner at the end of 90, two 15 minute extra-time periods will be played in full, similar to how it is now. Except each time gets an additional sub, whether they're out of substitutions or not. So if a team still had 1 sub, they now have 2.

Second Extra Time (2 x 15 minutes sudden death)

If there's still no result after the first two 15 minute periods of extra time two more 15 minute periods of extra time are played, but it is now sudden death. First goal scored ends the match. Also another substitution is awarded (5th total for the entire match)

New Penalty Format

Finally; if after all that extra time there is no winner it goes to a penalty style kickoff, more in line with hockey than with how it's currently done. A single player gets the ball at center mid-field, the goalie starts on the goal line. The penalty taker has 15 seconds to take the ball to the net, but the first shot on goal has to be from outside the penalty area.

Normal goalie rules apply. The goalie can come out of the penalty area, but can only use hands inside the penalty area. If the goalie deflects it, and the ball is still in-bounds, and there's still time left; the penalty taker can try to take another shot from anywhere in-play, even inside the penalty area.

  • If the goalie catches the ball the penalty take is over and is scored as a miss.
    • To save time because he/she would just hold it until time runs out
  • If the ball goes out of bounds the penalty take is over and is scored as a miss
  • If time runs out the penalty take is over and is scored as a miss.
    • The ball must be in the air before the whistle is blown (like basketball) to count

Rules for determining a winner stay the same as now. Five chances to start and then it continues until there's a winner after the second team takes their shot.

I may be wrong, but I feel like this puts a little more control in the players' hands and also makes it more exciting for the fans.

Anyway, just a suggestion. It's a silly old game that is slow to change, and it's sure as hell not going to change because the US women's team was knocked out by a boring strategy.


  1. With games like soccer and Hockey single matches can suffer from fortunate, or unfortunate "bounces". Because the scores are usually so low, there isn't a whole lot of room to make up for a single mistake. I don't know if time would allow for best of 3 matches, especially in the Olympics, but that would mitigate situations like this.

    1. The main problem with trying to do a best of three in soccer is the time needed between matches. Unlike pretty much every other sport, there isn't free substitution. So while a hockey or basketball game may seem grueling, the competitors are only actually out there playing for a few minutes at a time with decent breaks for rest between. In soccer there's a half time, but still it's 90 minutes of running. You'd need a minimum of 3 days off between matches in order for it to still be exciting and competitive. So if a best of three was implemented from the round of 16 (knockouts) forward, the final stage of the tournament is going to take 45 days to complete.

      Are ties still allowed during the best of three in the knockouts? Because if so, you still have the potential for the third match ending in a penalty shootout. If they aren't allowed, you're still in the position where each match has the potential to get turtled out to a sub-par conclusion of Penalty Kicks.

      However, your point is well taken. The chances of a team pulling that off twice or three times is pretty rare. You can trick a team once, but the second match they'll be ready for it. As long as the team isn't Brazil, who only know one way to play.