Teams That Shoot First Have PK Edge

Results of detailed study do not hold up in limited sample of MLS shootouts

NEW YORK – The scholars who study penalty kicks for a living have come up with another factoid: The team that goes first in a penalty-kick shootout has a 60 percent chance of winning it.

Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, whose penalty-kick studies have been most famously highlighted by the bookSoccernomics, analyzed 269 shootouts between 1970 and 2008. The results will be published in December by the American Economic Review, showing that the team to kick first has a 60.5 percent chance of winning while the opponent that goes second wins 39.5 percent of shootouts.

However, the advantage does not extend to Major League Soccer. In the much smaller sample of seven penalty-kick shootouts in league history (all in the MLS Cup Playoffs), only two of the teams to shoot first actually won the competition (28.6 percent).

The study indicates that the advantage (ranging from 15 percent to 24 percent) exists across various types of competitions, international or domestic, neutral field or not and whether or not the first team is home or away. They also compare the results to another study on chess matches, where the player who starts first also has a 20 percent greater chance to win.

The author of the study says he will pose the results to the governing bodies of the sport to see if there is a way to correct the imbalance.  

All-Time MLS Penalty-Kick Shootouts:

Nov. 22, 2009: Real Salt Lake 5, LA Galaxy 4 (MLS Cup 2009)

Opening PK: Los Angeles (Lost)

Nov. 14, 2009: Real Salt Lake 5, Chicago Fire 4 (Eastern Conference Final)

Opening PK: Chicago Fire (Lost)

Nov. 12, 2006: Houston 4, NE Revolution 3 (MLS Cup 2006)

Opening PK: Houston (Won)

Oct. 28, 2006: NE Revolution 4, Chicago Fire 2 (Eastern Conference Semifinal)

Opening PK: Chicago (Lost)

Oct. 28, 2006: Colorado Rapids 5, FC Dallas 4 (Western Conference Semifinal)

Opening PK: FC Dallas (Lost)

Oct. 29, 2005: Colorado Rapids 5, FC Dallas 4 (Western Conference Semifinal)

Opening PK: FC Dallas (Lost)

Nov. 6, 2004: D.C. United 4, NE Revolution 3 (Eastern Conference Final)

Opening PK: D.C. United (Won)