Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Again With The Penalty Kicks?

Penalty kicks? Again with the penalty kicks? 

Does this sound familiar:

Yes, it's dramatic and exciting and all, but it's an awful way to decide a game. It's not that dissimilar from deciding a tied basketball game by a free throw shooting contest. Actually it's worse than that. The biggest problem is that a team can play to get to PKs and then take its chances. You would have to play a much different game if you knew that no matter, you couldn't win without a goal.

If it does, it's because TigerBlog wrote it during the 2018 World Cup. After watching the Euro Championship final Sunday afternoon, TB again says the same thing: PK's are an awful way to decided a major championship.

He understands them in theory. In the knockout round of a tournament like the World Cup or Euros, a team can't be expected to play an indefinite length of overtime and then have to turn around and play again in the next round a few days later.

On the other hand, the impending PKs hover over these games almost from the start. Coaches have to make late changes conceding that they're going to penalty kicks, rather than trying to win the game in the flow of play.

The worst part, though, is what TB wrote three years ago. You would have to play a much different game if you knew that no matter what, you couldn't win without a goal. When there are looming PKs, nobody wants to take a risk, for fear of being countered. 

It takes a great event like England-Italy Sunday and turns it into a disappointment (though the announcing team of Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman was as good as it gets, and Twellman sounds a lot like former Princeton player and head coach and US National team coach Bob Bradley). Yes, the drama is insane. No, TB would not want to be one of the people who has to take one in a situation like that. 

But in the end, all it does is ruin a great game. Keep playing, and someone will score. And, TB assumes, they'll score in the 30 minutes of extra time (or the last 10-15 minutes of regulation) if they know they have to score to win the game.

Still not thrilled about the way the game ended Sunday, TB reached out to Princeton head men's soccer coach Jim Barlow to see if he likes having penalty kicks decided knockout games in major events. Even as he sent the text, TB knew what the answer he'd get back, and that's in fact what happened: 

"I didn't like it for the Michigan game."

That game was back in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Princeton played at Michigan on a snowy night, and the game ended up 1-1 through regulation and overtime. Who would advance? It would be decided on penalty kicks.

Usually, penalty kicks consist of five attempts per team. This particular night saw it extend for 14 rounds before the Wolverines won. 

That night might not have gone the way Barlow would have wanted it to, but he's put together an extraordinary career at Princeton. A member of the Class of 1991, Barlow was the 1987 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, the 1990 Ivy League Player of the Year and the 2018 Ivy League Coach of the Year. He is the only Princetonian ever to achieve that trifecta.

Barlow enters the 2021 season with 188 career wins. That ranks first all-time at Princeton, already by a wide margin.

Where does it rank in the Ivy League? Barlow is currently in third place.

The all-time record is 251, set by Brown's Cliff Stevenson, who coached the Bears from 1960-90. Stevenson's total was one win more than Penn's Douglas Stewart, who won 250 games from 1905-43. It makes you wonder what Penn soccer looked like in 1905.

As for Barlow, his 188 wins mean that he's won more games in the last 30-plus years than any other Ivy League men's soccer head coach. He enters this season 12 wins shy of 200, which is a lot of wins in college soccer.

The 2021 men's soccer schedule, and the rest of the fall schedules, will be released soon.

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