Seattle Sounders Penalty Study

Sigi Schmid, embattled coach of the Seattle Sounders, saw his team exit the playoffs early for the 7th straight season. I’ve already shared my thoughts about his gameplan in Frisco (and I realize this news is getting stinky like leftover salmon), but I have a quick addendum to my previous #SigiIn/Out post. Whatever your opinion of Sigi’s performance at Dallas during regulation and extra time, his choice of penalty takers was just poor.

When extra time started, I was terrified. We were gassed, Dallas had the momentum, and Roldan was playing leftback FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS CAREER! Things were grim and I was desperately hoping for us to battle through ‘til penalties. PKs are pretty much a crapshoot. Too often in a shootout, a result is decided by nothing but pure, dumb luck (I am looking at you Portland). But after a grueling match, the Sounders needed a chance, as the run of play greatly favored Dallas. And we had experience.

A roster chock full of cold-blooded veterans of European campaigns should be heavily favored in a penalty shootout against youngsters, right? Valdez and Friberg were already subbed off and Brad “I’ve never missed a PK, ever” Evans wasn’t healthy, but the hydra has many heads. Dempsey, Ivanschitz and Oba were all a strong bet to ice their takes. And that’s what makes Sigi penalty decision so odd.

Sigi choose Deuce, Ivanschitz, Barrett and Rose as his first 4 takers. We’ll never know who was slated 5th (but can only hope for sanity’s sake it was Oba). Let that sink in again.

Chad Barrett and Andy Rose were selected above Oba (don’t give me that “saving best for last crap”, remember Ronaldo against Barcelona back in 2012?). Hell, Rose and Barrett were selected above Mr. Cheeky Himself, Marco Pappa.

Carl Bialik, of The Wall Street Journal, researched the science of Penalty Shootouts following that Ronaldo incident:

Greg Wood, a researcher in performance psychology at the University of Exeter said, “Therefore, these kicks have a great deal of added pressure for which your best kickers should feel most confident in handling.”

Wood, who co-wrote a study finding that anxiety had a huge negative influence on university-level players, also coaches a local youth team. When its games go to PKs, he typically has his best kicker shoot fourth. Only the first three are guaranteed to get a chance in best-of-five penalty shootouts, but if the best kicker is placed third in the order, “then if he scores, then someone (not your best taker) will definitely go after him,” Wood says. (That assumes the kick by the third man in the lineup didn’t clinch a 3-0 win.)

Two big takeaways from Wood’s research: only your first three kickers are guaranteed the opportunity to kick, and the fourth taker should be your best. Sigi choose Deuce, Ivanschitz, Barrett, then Rose. I am completely fine with Deuce and Ivanscitz as the first two.

Deuce iced his and Ivanscitz, uncharacteristically, missed. Dempsey had the nerves and quality needed to convert his chance. According to, Dempsey was 11/15 on penalties in his career going into the FCD shootout. He was experienced and in form, as his last made PK was just this past July in the Gold Cup. Ivanschitz was another stellar choice, and not just because of his nickname. Ivanschitz was a staggering 13/14 on penalties in his career. And he was, very recently, taking penalties for his team, as he last converted a PK in December 2014 for Levante. It is a shame his second miss, ever, was in Rave Green.

The selection of Barrett and Rose is where it got weird. Chad Barrett did have a 100% conversion rate, as he was 2-0 on penalties. However. 2 PKs in an 11-year career belies little experience and shows your team doesn’t often trust you. How in-form were Barrett’s penalty skills? His last PK attempted was July 2008 in the US Open Cup. Yep. Dude hadn’t even attempted a penalty in over 7 years! And Barrett has never been wildly technical or talented with his feet. He’s a work-rate, hustle and opportune-timing type striker. Little surprise the odds weren’t in his favor.

Lastly, Sigi trotted out Andy Rose in the 4 spot, the supposed cleanup hitter. Andy Rose, had never attempted a penalty in his entire pro career. Ever. And in 4 years with the Sounders career, he’s scored just 5 goals (most with his head), so not exactly your “best kicker” best equipped to deal with the anxiety of the moment. Rose converting his kick was, to say the least, an outlier.

Maybe I am splitting hairs. Dallas’s keeper was on fire. Ivanschitz missed. It was all chaos and random chance at that point anyway. It’s just the Sounders’ season ended so abruptly and so inexplicably. Now we have to go, at least, another 16 months without MLS Cup.

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