Pat Onstad is 3-2-4 on the season for the Earthquakes.
Gail Oskin/MLS/

Goalkeeper's Log: I hate penalty kicks

Dear Diary:

The penalty shot. The most exciting drama in a soccer match. For obvious reasons, I hate them.

Let's look at the phases of the penalty. There are five of them: the call, the argument, the shot, the save/goal and the celebration.

The call is, bar none, the most controversial of all the phases. It also leads directly to the next phase (the argument). I would hate to be a referee, damned if you do and damned if you don't. I don't think there are many people who would want a job where 11 people instantly disagree with every major decision you make and either thousands cheer you or thousands boo you. It definitely takes a different breed. I believe the best penalties, in terms of drama, are the ones that are questionable. An inadvertent hand ball, a little dive or a tackle where it is difficult to ascertain the timing of ball/man or man/ball. Once the call has been made all hell breaks loose. This leads to the argument.

Now what player (especially a defender or goalkeeper) has not argued a penalty call? Well, maybe not Jeff Agoos. A good argument does not necessarily include rational reasoning but for the fans sake should include lots of arm waving and finger pointing. I would love to hear the stories referees have for arguing penalty calls. The arguments I am often involved with have nothing to do with the actual call but rather to do with some obscure call that the referee made 25 minutes earlier. I always like to appeal to a linesman even if the foul is obviously inside the box. I know I will get nowhere but usually I can moan about some offside that I felt was missed earlier on (of course once I see the tape I realize the player was five yards onside). But to add to the drama, the best penalty arguments end in a barrage of yellow cards while the crowd eggs on the referee or arguing players.

I'm just a goalie, but I have always thought that blasting the ball as hard as possible was the most successful technique for the spot kick (I don't know why our gaffer doesn't let me take them). Anyway, I'm sure there are all sorts of theories about taking the penalty but what do I know? My only advice would be that any technique is good so long as you score.

As a goalkeeper I feel a goal on a penalty kick should not count unless the net bulges. This allows all of the fans to instantly know the final result and allows the linesman to snap his flag in the direction of the center spot (I honestly think they enjoy that). The worst penalty goals are the ones that slither under or through the goalkeeper as they are desperately trying to push, pull or bat the ball away to safety. But as any striker will tell you, all that matters is that the ball crosses the line.

The celebration is what the penalty is all about. The tension of the moment and then the realization of the final result allow for some interesting performances. Pretty much anything goes. Although I believe the rule is as follows: the more important the goal, the more exuberant the celebration. The shirt over the head, the run to the fans and the sliding on the knees are all well accepted practices. However, some need to be dropped. I'm glad Ronnie Ekelund has decided to do away with the "I Dream of Jeannie" celebration (although it was only a free kick and not a penalty). That was a weird one.

I would like to say I'm an expert at the save, but my record would show that I only stop penalties in finals. I always like the fist pumps (a la Tim Howard) when the ball has been parried away and of course the calm cool look when the goalkeeper has held onto the ball. However, the blank "I can't believe I stopped it" look seems to be my method of choice. Once the ball is stopped the striker has many options. The blank stare, the collapse, the hair pulling, or the head shake are all excellent choices, but the confident striker just gets on with it knowing that they will get the goalkeeper sooner than later.

The penalty. The drama that is soccer.

– Pat