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The search for a better way

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Is there a better way to end soccer matches than via a penalty shootout?

Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saves a shot by England’s midfielder Bukayo Saka in the penalty shootout during the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match
Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Okay, hands up if you know how to make Kraft Dinner? Mostly every single person right? You boil the macaroni, you mix in the cheese powder, maybe add a dash of milk, and you're good to go. It’s been this way for surely this must be the only way to do things right?

Well, not if you're Jeffrey P. Nesker.

You instead try to break the system. You hack the process. Not because you're an evil Bond villain, conscribed to break the rules of society and undo our very pillars, but instead because you refuse to accept that the status quo is the only way of doing things. You challenge the traditions itself, seeking and demanding a better way of experiencing the tradition. Maybe you fail miserably, but your place will never be with the meek who never dared to try. If you fall, it’ll be with dust on your face, having dared to try like the man in the arena.

And maybe with that energy, we can discuss on how we should conclude championship soccer games. Maybe we need to talk about how the cheese is added to the noodles.

The NHL for its regular season game overtime uses a 3 on 3 format, differing from the previous 60 minutes which is 5 on 5. If the 3 on 3 is insufficient at breaking the deadlock, then they go to a penalty shootout.

Maybe there is something in there that NHL is on to.

In theory, the goal of taking two skaters off the ice is meant to open up the game and allow attacking players more room to maneuver unimpeded and create more chances. The result isn’t always a break of the tie, but quality scoring chances are usually not in short order.

What if something similar was done with soccer?

Watching the Euro 2020 Final fallout on twitter, I saw two groups of reaction. One was from my soccer cohort, who lamented the loss of England or celebrated the victory of Italy, but by and large were completely content with the manner in which the match was decided.

The second group was the casual sports fan. The one who tunes into big games and tournaments, or follows a winning team, and isn't necessarily watching soccer on the same regularity that the readers of this website are. Those fans weren't quite so enamoured with the manner in which the game ended. Those fans couldn't understand how something like a penalty shot could decide the previous 120 minutes of battling, in a match with such importance.

And it got me there a better way to conclude the climax? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s try and see if there's a better recipe.

My Proposal:

If after 90 minutes, the score is still tied, there are still 30 minutes of Extra Time, but instead of having 10 outfield players, each team is required to remove three players, and move on to 7 on 7 game, possibly with an extra substitute allowed at this point to bring in some fresh legs. If after 30 minutes, the score is still tied, then we move on to penalty kicks and decide like we always have.

The goal of this change would be to create an open field for players to make attacks, and make it more difficult for teams to play for penalty kicks by parking the bus. In theory, fortune would favour the bold. With 6 total players removed, both the chances for through balls and long balls meeting a defender would be reduced, and you’d have more space for creative attackers to operate in, as opposed to being slogged down by tight defensive lines.

The system isn’t upended, as much as it’s just tweaked to allow the game to be ended in a manner that still resembles what the sport actually is. The idea of “but tradition” is null. We’ve gone from three substitutes to five substitutes, and from referees being the voice of God, to a mysterious eye in the sky called VAR all of a sudden talking to God in his earpiece and giving things a second look. Why were these changes made? Because of a want to better the game, and to get things right. The feeling that sometimes penalty kicks is just a bit random is always an idea that permeates amongst fans of the game, both casual and hardcore.

Look, I don't think FIFA is going to all of a sudden implement rule changes for the coming season, or even in time for the next set of major international tournaments, but what if a league like MLS were to implement it for its playoff system, and provide some evidence to the other leagues and governing bodies of what this system would look like. Maybe it fails spectacularly, but maybe people look at it with a Eureka! moment. Why be afraid to try? In a country with 330 million people, a league averaging 280,000 tv viewers can’t be afraid of trying to tweak the recipe, and see if the new product sells a bit better.

And you know the best part of trying? You can always just go back to the way things were done before. Soccer, much like Kraft Dinner, is strong enough to handle minor changes. We the fans don't have to be afraid of ruining it. Lets try spicing it up a bit.