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MLS playoffs 2022: How do penalty kick shoot-outs work?

Join us as we take you on a tour of some of the terms we always hear in football, but are seldomly explained, including the penalty shootout.

MLS playoffs 2022: How do penalty kick shoot-outs work?

Given that we’re about to get into the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, we want to be sure that you’re all up to speed on some of the terms used and how they work, like the ‘penalty shootout for example.’

Stoppage time & how Stoke City’s cheekiness changed football

Before getting into a breakdown of how penalty shootouts work, we thought it might be worthwhile to give you the low down on what can ultimately lead to them. So, in case you didn’t know a standard soccer match is 90 minutes of action separated into two 45-minute halves. Regardless of whether injuries, substitutions, or goals and their subsequent celebrations occur, the clock just keeps on ticking. This is where ‘stoppage time’ comes in. For each of those aforementioned possibilities, time is understandably lost. It’s the referee’s job to calculate all that time and then add it back, at the end of each half.

How did this come about? Legend tells of a match between Stoke City and Aston Villa that took place way back in 1891. Trailing 1-0 with little time left, Stoke was awarded a penalty and with it a chance to level the score. Apparently a very clever man, Aston Villa’s goalkeeper allegedly kicked the ball out of the stadium, which resulted in time running out before the ball could be recovered. Stoke got the win, but not without changing football forever. ‘Stoppage time’ was introduced shortly after to stop such a thing from occurring again. Regarding how stoppage time is actually calculated, it’s worth noting that the amount added is normally at the referee’s discretion, however, the table below outlines the general rule of thumb:

Time addedReason for added time
30 secondsEvery goal scored in the match
15 secondsEvery substitution in the match
15 secondsEvery foul in the match

Is there a record for stoppage time added?

Yes, there is a record for the most stoppage time added in a match and we don’t have to go back more than a century. It was just three years ago in a Carabao Cup match between English League One side Burton and Premier League side Bournemouth. As fate would have it, a power outage during the match delayed proceedings for so long that the referee was on the verge of calling it off, when league officials pressed him to wait. Eventually, the match would restart to the tune of 28 minutes of stoppage time and Burton would go on to win 2-0.

So, what about Extra Time?

Normally, when stoppage time comes to an end and the referee blows his whistle, the match is over. On the other hand, if the match has to have a winner and the score is tied, we then go to ‘Extra Time.’ This additional period consists of a 30-minute ‘mini match’ that is split into two 15-minute halves. To be clear, it doesn’t matter if one of the teams scores during this period, the two halves are played until their completion and what’s more is that as seen in regulation time, stoppage time can be added.

Extra time is typically seen in single-match tournament competitions such as the UEFA Champions League Final or the MLS Cup Playoffs that we’re about to witness. As you can probably guess, these matches can’t end in a draw, which is to see one way or another there must be a winner. So, what happens if even at the end of stoppage time IN extra time, the teams are still locked. Cue the ‘Penalty Shootout.’

The unpredictable lottery that is the ‘Penalty Shootout’

Known to MLS fans as ‘PKs, the heart pounding tit-for-tat is the last means of determining a winner in knock out scenarios or any other game which requires a victor. When do they occur? At the end of stoppage time in the second period of extra time, with both teams tied, they will then go to penalties. At that point, the referee will flip a coin to determine who will shoot first and then the teams prepare for their date with destiny. In case you didn’t know, both teams are given five chances to shoot and do so in alternating fashion. After the five kicks are taken, the team with the most goals wins the game.

If, however, the teams are again still tied due to missed/saved penalties or both teams having scored all, then we go to ‘sudden death.’ At that point, both teams alternate and the first team to go ahead, via the scoring of their own penalty after the opponent has missed or been saved, is the team that wins. It’s worth noting that there is no limit as to how long that process can go on. The shootout continues until one team falls. As for how it is performed, only the penalty taker and opposing goalkeeper are allowed in the box with the referee. Last but not least, there are no criteria based on position, with regards to who can take a penalty. Indeed, we’ve seen goalkeepers in the past take and score penalties. With that, we hope this guide helped!


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