Commentary: Is it time for FIFA to implement the old-school MLS shootout?

Is it time to bring back the old-school MLS shootout?

FIFA technical director Marco van Basten made some headlines earlier this week when he advanced an idea to replace the traditional penalty-kick shootout with a run-up shootout reminiscent of the kind used to break ties in the early days of MLS.

The penalty-kick shootout is widely derided as a poor way to decide a match, a glorified skills competition that can be very cruel, not to mention highly unreflective of the preceding 120 minutes.

I mostly agree with that, and I’m certainly open to alternatives to the current format, but I’m against replacing penalties with a run-up style shootout.

In the current system, knockout-round matches in competitions like the World Cup that remain tied after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time are decided by a penalty-kick shootout. Van Basten would replace the spot kicks with a best-of-five series of breakaways from 25 meters (27 yards) in which attacking players would be required to score within eight seconds of taking their first touch.

MLS used breakaway-style shootouts to break ties in regular-season matches from 1996-1998, in which players ran in from 35 yards and had five seconds to score on the opposing goalkeeper.

"Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early," van Basten told the AP’s Rob Harris. "But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It's more skill and less luck. It's maybe a bit more spectacular. It's more football but it's still nervous for the player."

Van Basten’s correct in that a run-up shootout would be “a bit more spectacular” than the current setup. I don’t think it’d do anything to mitigate the issues people have with the current format, however, and it could create a few new problems, too.

Like a penalty-kick shootout, a run-up competition is nothing more than a skills competition. Instead of a spot-kick contest, it’d determine winners based on a breakaway competition. It involves a different, slightly expanded skillset than taking or saving a penalty, but it’s still nowhere near reflective of the sport as a whole and it’d still be a cruel way to decide a contest.

And, after 120 minutes of grueling action, it seems like a little bit much to ask players to make an additional sprint with the game on the line. Goalkeepers rushing off their line in attempts to stop onrushing attackers could lead to collisions, which could lead to injuries. For a system that wouldn’t be much of an improvement on the current format, why add that extra risk?    


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