With goals in 6 of 7 penalty kicks this season, Louisville City FC's Cameron Lancaster has been among the best penalty takers in the Championship this year. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Ah, the penalty shootout. The one event in soccer you can’t get to your remote control quickly enough for when you’re a neutral, and the one you watch with clenched teeth as a fan.
The 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires, are here, and that means the potential for the ultimate tiebreaker returns. After last season saw four matches decided by shootouts – including three by cardiac kings El Paso Locomotive FC – we’re likely in for more over the 15 games that will decide who lifts the title this year.
According to Opta Data, since the start of the 2019 season – across both regular season and playoffs – 73.2 percent of penalty kicks have been scored in the Championship. 21 percent of penalty kicks have been saved, leaving 5.8 that have missed the target entirely, including shots off the post or crossbar.
So, who are the players you might want stepping up to the mark for that decisive shot, and who are the goalkeepers you’d like in net? Here’s our Top Five in both categories.
Neco Brett’s 10 goals from the penalty spot are tied for second-most in the Championship since 2019, but the Jamaican has the best percentage of five high-volume penalty takers with at least 10 penalties taken in that span. Brett’s calmness from the spot saw him go a perfect 4 of 4 this season alone.
As prolific as Hadji Barry has been in claiming the 2021 Championship Golden Boot and equaling the Championship’s single season scoring record in the regular season, it’s no surprise he ranks highly here. In fact, his saved penalty against Real Monarchs SLC in the penultimate game of the regular season was the only one he’s missed in three years.
There aren’t many better dead ball strikers in the Championship than Aodhan Quinn, and that’s reflected in his high quality from the penalty spot. The California native went 1 of 1 this season when on duty for Rising FC, and you bank on him if he was put into a spot this postseason.
It might be surprising to hear, but Cameron Lancaster didn’t take on penalty duties for the past two seasons before putting home a tidy 6 of 7 this campaign for LouCity. That carried him to a second 20-goal regular season for his career and showed why he’s maybe the most lethal finisher in the league.
Just like the rest of his game, there’s a no-nonsense approach Kyle Murphy takes to penalty kicks, and it has served him and Memphis 901 FC very well indeed. If push comes to shove, the New York native is ready to step to the mark.
- Four is the most penalty kick goals currently without a miss among the league’s leaders since 2019. Also in that group with Kyle Murphy are Dario Suarez (TUL), Enzo Martinez (CLT), Elvis Amoh (RGV), Augustine Williams (SD), and Dre Fortune (MEM).
- Two of the league’s leading scorers in that span – the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Sebastian Guenzatti and Phoenix Rising FC’s Solomon Asante – haven’t quite been sure things from 12 yards. Guenzatti has gone 10 of 13 (76.9 percent) and Asante 11 of 15 (73.3 percent).
- The postseason squad that struggled most from the spot this season? That was the Charlotte Independence, which only converted six times after being awarded a league-high 11 chances from the penalty spot.
Logan Ketterer was overtaken this season by Hartford Athletic’s Jeff Caldwell for the most penalty saves in the past three years, but the combination of Ketterer’s overall record and his guiding El Paso through two shootouts a season ago make him a primetime performer.
We’ve already seen Danny Vitiello come up with one clutch penalty kick save this season when Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC ended the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ winning streak at nine games. The 2020 Golden Glove winner appears to read shooters well, getting a jump on where he’s heading.
Since a midseason injury, Brandon Miller has been on the substitutes bench in favor of Austin Pack for Charlotte, but there’s a really good argument for his return in the postseason given their comparative penalty kick records. Miller has been solid on the spot over the past three years and could give his side an edge if it comes down to penalties.
The 2021 Golden Glove winner has shown off plenty of his repertoire this season, including making penalty saves. Louro is the only goalkeeper in the postseason field with multiple penalty kick saves in the regular season, with the other five all having played for teams now eliminated and onto their offseason.
Paul Blanchette might fly under the radar a little bit when it comes to the league’s goalkeepers, but in a limited span he’s shown up to the task here. He went 1 of 2 for Oakland Roots SC this season to add to his stint last year with Rio Grande Valley FC.
- Some goalkeepers thrive in the spotlight of a shootout, but for others it hasn’t been as kind. Among the goalkeepers that have gone without a penalty save in an official game in the past three years are: Birmingham Legion FC’s Matt VanOekel (0-for-12), Miami FC’s Connor Sparrow (0-for-6) and Louisville City FC’s Chris Hubbard (0-for-6).
- That doesn’t automatically mean anything, though. After all, last year Phoenix Rising FC’s Zac Lubin entered the postseason having gone 0-for-11 facing penalty kicks in the Championship for his career, and came through in both of Phoenix’s shootout wins against Reno 1868 FC and El Paso Locomotive FC.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Birmingham Legion FC Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC Playoffs News San Diego Loyal SC The Miami FC Oakland Roots SC