Are Soccer's Penalty Kicks Too Easy?

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Since 1966, players have scored on x percent of penalty kicks at the World Cup. Is it time to make them harder? (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)
Since 1966, players have scored on x percent of penalty kicks at the World Cup. Is it time to make them harder? (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

During the group stage of the World Cup, there were more than 1,200 shots on goal. If you believe the Internet, U.S. goalie Tim Howard saved all of them. About 10 percent of those 1,200-plus shots went in.

In contrast, since 1966, players have converted 81 percent of all World Cup penalty kicks.

Kirk Goldsberry thinks that disparity merits a review. He examined the issue for Grantland in his article, Crime and Punishment: Should the Penalty Kick Spot Be Moved Back? He joined Karen Given on Only A Game.

Given: To give our listeners a mental picture, describe the location of the penalty kick spot and how a penalty kick plays out on the field.

[sidebar title="The Future Of Team U.S.A." width="330" align="right"]Now that they've been eliminated from the World Cup, what's next for the Americans?[/sidebar]Goldsberry: Well, the penalty kick spot is exactly 12 yards from the goal mouth, right in the center of the box. If you were going to try to line up the optimal shot to make a goal, it's pretty close to right where you would put it.

Given: You write, "In FIFA county, you go to the gallows for stealing a horse. You also go there for littering." Explain what you mean by that.

Goldsberry: No matter what foul you commit in the box, no matter how egregious an act it is, the punishment is uniform in nature. In other words, if I trip somebody incidentally at the far corner of the box or if I intentionally save a ball illegally with my hands as a non-goalie player, the penalty's the same.

Given: In addition to the idea of simply moving the penalty kick back, you also float the possibility of having two penalty kick spots. Describe how that might work.

Goldsberry: In the case of the Netherlands-Mexico match from last weekend where Arjen Robben was fouled, he wasn't shooting the ball and no goal was imminent, yet he went to a place to take that penalty kick where a goal was imminent. So having a second penalty spot, a second kick location [where] a goal is less certain to occur would be more appropriate in cases like that. So a second spot maybe 18 yards away.

Given: We shared your article on our Facebook page earlier this week and one listener sarcastically commented, "YES!!!!! Because less scoring is exactly what we need in soccer." How would your respond to that?

Goldsberry: [Chuckles] I appreciate that as an American. We've all had our times getting impatient with the scoring in soccer. However, the beautiful aspect of soccer is those free-play goals, and I think we want to see those goals rightfully take their place in the hierarchy of soccer goals as opposed to so many of these penalty kicks resulting in goals.

Given: You've also written that it's time for the NBA to consider moving its three-point line [back]. In the NFL, the extra point has come under fire for being too easy. Is there anything that's too hard and needs to move closer?

[sidebar title="The Attack On The Extra Point" width="330" align="right"]Is it time to eliminate the extra point from the NFL? [/sidebar]Goldsberry: Oh, maybe in baseball the fences. Maybe we could use some more home runs. But I have started to think a lot about sort of the arbitrary lines that demark our playing surfaces in all these games.

These things are hugely influential, and, at least in American sports — you know, in baseball we've raised and lowered the pitching mound in accordance with trying to keep a competitive balance between the pitcher and the hitter. This 12-yard line, for instance, has been there so long. The ball has changed, the players have changed, the game has changed. Maybe that dot on the field should change as well to try to keep that competitive balance intact.

Given: Well, do you think FIFA will take your advice and at least review the penalty kick spot?

Goldsberry: Oh my lord, no, I don't! I think if there's one organization that would look at an article like this and do the opposite it's FIFA. To the NBA's credit, they have and continue to look at their playing surface and those lines as a work in progress. Whereas I think the mentality in soccer is to look at this as almost a perfected system.

This segment aired on July 5, 2014.


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