Penalty kicks have certainly been in the spotlight in this edition of the World Cup. A controversial call Sunday against Mexico defender Rafael Marquez on a foul against Netherland’s Arjen Robben in the penalty box led to Holland’s game-winning goal in stoppage time to send the Dutch through to the quarterfinals.
It was certainly not the first and it definitely won’t be the last questionable call that results in a spot kick. This is soccer. It happens.
What galls many — fans and critics alike — is the use of a penalty-kick shootout to decide a winner after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime. Many like to use the examples of using free throws to decide a NBA playoff game or a home run derby to crown a baseball winner in postseason. Basically, the suggestion is that it is so easy to score a goal from 12 meters away with only the goalkeeper standing between two posts 24 feet apart.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not that easy. Ask Chile’s Gonzalo Jara, whose spot kick clanged off the right post, enabling host Brazil to escape with a shootout win in its round-of-16 game to send the Brazilians into the quarterfinals.
The problem with the basketball or baseball comparison is that it’s not exactly fair. It’s comparing apples to oranges. The difference is this: there is no defender in basketball trying to prevent a free throw from going in or a pitcher trying to get a batter out in the case of a home run contest. In a soccer shootout, the goalkeeper is there to defend the goal.
If you truly want to level the comparison, take the basketball scenario: how about stationing a defender just outside the key who is then allowed to try and block the free throw attempt? In the baseball situation, how about Aroldis Chapman and his 100 mph fastball used as the pitcher in a home run derby? Suddenly, neither scenario becomes all that easy.
I’m not a big fan of PKs to decide games. But for the health of the players, it seems the only logical way to do it. You can’t have these players, who are running the equivalent of five to six miles a game, continue playing until one team scores that golden goal. They would be dropping like flies. These player are absolutely drained after 120 minutes of play — both physically and mentally. Given the spotlight penalty kicks draw on the world’s biggest stage and the one-on-one drama between shooter and goalkeeper, it’s hard to ramp up any more pressure.
Besides, anyone who watched “Happy Days” growing up knows how tough winning a basketball game at the free throw line can be. Just ask Richie Cunningham, who missed a free throw that would have sent his team into overtime.
Pressure can do funny things.
The San Francisco Giants’ free fall seems to be complete as the nine-and-a-half-game lead they had over the Dodgers at the beginning of June is now gone. The only question is: can they turn it around? That remains to be seen.
Despite losing 15 of their last 19, the Giants’ record during June was “only” 10-16. Given how poorly they played last month, a 10-16 record doesn’t really look all that bad.
Here’s the good news: the starting pitching, which was shaky for most of the season, appears to have rebounded in the last week, with all five starters giving the team quality starts. Another good aspect is Buster Posey has apparently found his swing as his batting average creeps toward the .300 mark.
The bad news? The clutch hitting has disappeared. All those two-out knocks that drove in runs? Gone. The team’s newfound power? Also seems to have abandoned them. The bullpen, the group that carried the team in the season’s first two months, is in shambles, with closer Sergio Romo embodying those problems.
Injures to Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan have been bigger than initially thought. I still can’t get over how bad the Giants are without Pagan at the top of the lineup. We saw it last year and it’s happening again this season.
All that being said, however, the Giants are still 10 games over .500 and are still, technically, in first place, just percentage points ahead of Los Angeles, who has played two more games. Now the season enters to dog days of summer. Let’s see if the Giants can turn things around in July before giving up on them.
Boy, the way he is rising up the ranks, Jason Kidd may be a NBA team owner in a couple of years. Kidd, who has been fawned over since being a freshman at St. Joseph’s High School in Alameda, retired following the 2012-13 NBA season and walked right into the role of head coach with the Brooklyn Nets this past season, without a lick of coaching experience.
After guiding the Nets to their first playoff appearance since 2007, Kidd decided he wanted more power within the organization, with reports indicating he wanted to run basketball operations. When the Nets’ billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov balked, Kidd instigated a “trade” to Milwaukee. Apparently the Bucks only got Kidd to coach the team, but rest assured it won’t be long before he wants more power.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.