Why do GHSA soccer state playoff matches come down to penalty kicks? I never understood that.
During the regular season, I understand. Sure, that’s slightly hypocritical, since the regular season determines playoff spots, but it makes sense to me to have a definitive ending on a school night.
But not during the state playoffs.
In the state playoffs, matches should be determined on the field by playing the actual game of soccer. In the current GHSA playoff structure, if a soccer match is tied at the end of regulation, two five-minute, non-sudden death overtime periods are played.
Let me stop right there.
A five-minute period for soccer is ridiculous. By the time a team has gained possession and set up a play, the horn sounds. Or, even worse, say one team does actually score. The other team has no ample time to respond, so it virtually is a sudden death overtime.
Most of the time, when two teams make it to overtime, they go scoreless in those five-minute periods. So then it’s time for the penalty-kick session, when five players from each team rotate taking free kicks at the goal. If teams are still tied after the first round of penalty kicks, the sessions become sudden death. And that’s how winners are crowned.
To put into context how absurd this is, apply soccer’s rule of letting one aspect of a game determine its entire outcome to other GHSA sports. Basketball games will be decided with five players from each team shooting free throws. Football games will be decided by five players from each team kicking extra points. (I’ll add my own fun wrinkle — start with offensive linemen). Baseball games will be decided with five players from each team attempting to steal second base.
All of those sports, with the exception of football, play the game out until a winner is decided. In football, each team starts with the ball, first and 10 on the 15-yard line. That’s fair — though I would prefer college and high school games be played under the new NFL playoff overtime rules.
My solution to high school soccer in regards to overtime and the playoffs: adopt what the NHL does.
A regular-season NHL game comes down to penalty shots if tied after the overtime period, but in the postseason, the league switches to 20-minute sudden death overtime periods.
GHSA soccer should do the same. That gives teams the fairest chance to settle the score by playing the game, instead of just one aspect of it.
Through the first three rounds of this year’s playoffs, 11 games have gone to PKs.
All three of Habersham Central boys’ wins came off PKs. The Flowery Branch girls’ reward for toughing out a match in horrendous weather conditions that induced two hours worth of rain delays was going to PKs, where they were eliminated.
Any time a close game is decided in regulation, the coach almost always says, “Boy, I’m glad that didn’t go to PKs. You never want a game decided like that.”
On the flip side, I’ve seen a team in the playoffs exploit the overtime format. The team, which we’ll refer to as “the Wimps,” thought they had an advantage at goalkeeper. So they went for the shutout to get to PKs by stacking the box and focusing all efforts on defense. Not one effort was made toward setting a shot. That’s ruinous to the spirit of the game. Thankfully, the Wimps lost 1-0 in regulation. Coincidentally, it was on a penalty kick.
There’s no excuse why the GHSA can’t have a better playoff overtime format to determine a winner. No one can bring up the argument “the games take too long.” You think a team that just spent five hours driving across the state to play a championship match cares about an extra 20 minutes of soccer? They’d care more about having to suffer the five-hour bus ride back having lost on silly PKs.
The rationale behind the current format may have to do with World Cup standards. If Spain hadn’t beat the Netherlands in stoppage time, the winner would have been decided via PKs. Ask any soccer fan, regardless of allegiance, what they think of matches ending in PKs.
It’s up to the GHSA to become pioneers and fix what is so wrong with soccer. Matches shouldn’t end in PKs, so get rid of the rule. If the organization does, maybe the change will trickle up to FIFA, and pretty soon every soccer league will have it right.
But it can stop now at the state level.
Adam Krohn is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesakrohn.