MLS penalty shoot-outs were absolutely wild in the 1990s

  • Rob Swan

As football fans, we’ve all experienced penalty shoot-out heartache on at least one occasion down the years.

Is a series of spot-kicks at the end of 90 or 120 minutes really the fairest way to decide a football match?

Some of the biggest matches in football history – including World Cup and Champions League finals – have been decided on penalties and it always feels a little unfair on the losing team.

However, back in the mid-1990s, Major League Soccer (MLS) – the top division in the United States – experimented with a radically different style of shoot-out to settle matches.

In an attempt to “Americanise” football (or soccer, if you will), MLS implemented the use of these unusual shoot-outs to settle games that ended in draws.

American audiences weren’t used to seeing draws (ties) in other sports – the idea that a sporting contest could end all square seemed boring and strange to many US residents – and this was a major hurdle that MLS had to overcome.

To combat this, MLS introduced the ‘true shootout’ which saw players given five seconds to beat the opposition goalkeeper from a starting point of 35 yards from goal.


Players could attempt to dribble around the ‘keeper, shoot from distance or closer to goal. There were many different options available to them.

Similarly, goalkeepers could either stay on their lines or rush out of their areas.

If the goalkeeper fouled their opponent, a traditional penalty from 12 yards would then be awarded.

Video: What did MLS penalty shoot-outs look like in the 90s?

Watch the footage here:

Should MLS penalty shoot-outs be reintroduced?

It looks very strange to those of us who have only ever seen traditional penalty shoot-outs, but would it actually be a fairer way of deciding football matches?

Whisper it quietly but this seems a better test of skill, both from the penalty taker and goalkeeper’s perspective, compared to the static 12-yard penalty.

One potential downside, though, is a higher risk of injury.


These ‘true shootouts’ were scrapped in 1999, three years after their introduction, although there are many football fans who would like to see them trialled again.

When MLS asked their audience via Twitter in January 2020, 47 per cent of 14,000 people who voted said they’d like to see these shoot-outs brought back.


Even the great Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest minds in football history, was quoted by Grant Wahl as suggesting: “I still think in Europe they should try it.”


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