World Cup: US national team untested in penalty shootouts, but prepared if need arises

SALVADOR, Brazil – When Omar Gonzalez held court with reporters at the United States’ home training ground in Sao Paulo on Saturday, it was immediately clear he couldn’t compete with the do-or-die dramatics of the World Cup.

While Gonzalez discussed his maturity as a player and the first World Cup start of his career last week against Germany, reporters drifted in and out of the conversation. Even Gonzalez let his eyes go astray at times to the screens above, showing the final seconds of extra time in Brazil’s knockout round match against Chile.

Eventually Gonzalez and the other players were temporarily relieved of their media duties in order to watch the penalty shootout that followed, but that’s about as close as these players have ever been to the drama while in American colors.

On the heels of heart-stopping shootouts between Brazil and Chile over the weekend and then again in Costa Rica’s win over Greece on Sunday night, could the United States be in store for such a dramatic fate against Belgium here on Tuesday (4 pm ET, ESPN/Univision in US, CBC in Canada)?

Not if history is any indicator. The United States have yet to compete in a penalty kick shootout during head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s three-year tenure, and they never did under former boss Bob Bradley either.

In fact, you have to go all the way back to the team’s win over Panama in the 2005 Gold Cup final at the now-defunct Giants Stadium in New Jersey to find the US team’s most recent appearance in a penalty kick shootout.

Klinsmann said after the team qualified for the knockout round last week that he has not decided on who his five top choices would be if the match against Belgium goes that far, but he insisted on Monday that his team has studied up for the scenario.

“We are prepared for penalty shootouts,” Klinsmann said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to score all five, but you have to prepare the best way possible. So you train them, talk the players through them, and you talk obviously with your goalkeeper about potential penalty takers from the Belgian side.

“You do your homework as much as you can, and so does Belgium. They’ll do the same on us.”

According to US Soccer, the US team is 4-3 all-time in matches decided by penalty kicks, but they’ve never faced a shootout in a World Cup. The only player on the current roster who has participated in a shootout for the US is winger Brad Davis, who converted the game-winner against Panama in 2005.

And with Landon Donovan left behind last month, there are also no players on the current roster who have converted a penalty kick during regulation in a World Cup match.

Clint Dempsey will likely take any potential penalty kicks on Tuesday and is a sure-fire bet for a shootout. It’s tough to imagine that midfielders Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones would not figure into Klinsmann’s final five. Defender and former winger DaMarcus Beasley is also a veteran option.

A number of other players have also been in do-or-die penalty shootouts in the past at the club level. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman missed his attempt in the 2009 MLS Cup final for Real Salt Lake before converting his chance in the title game last December, the same game that saw Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi and Matt Besler come up empty for their side.

Davis, meanwhile, has converted 13 of 17 penalty kick attempts during regulation in his MLS career but missed in the 2006 MLS Cup final for the Houston Dynamo.

Klinsmann said the team has worked on penalty shootouts since the team's pre-World Cup camp in California last month, calling them “a mental moment” players need to be prepared for.

“If you’re not prepared for that mental moment to walk from the halfway line in front of 60,000 to the penalty spot and get the job done,” he said, “then I think it’s wrong.”

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