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On The Spot – who would you take to win you a shootout?

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 10/19/23, 12:00PM EDT


Four shooters, four ‘keepers, and all the numbers you need to know in the case of a shootout

New Mexico United's Justin Portillo has been one of the USL Championship's most reliable penalty takers all-time, going 4 of 4 this season. | Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC

If you win one, you love them.

If you lose one, you hate them.

But whatever the result, you can’t resist watching a penalty shootout.

We’ve seen 13 games in the past five editions of the USL Championship Playoffs be decided from the spot, including some epics that have gone beyond the first five shooters per side.

Ahead of the 2023 USL Championship Playoffs, here are the numbers on who’s succeeded under pressure, which sides have historically come up short, and you can let us know who you’d take to deliver from the spot or come up with a clutch save when all the chips are in the middle.

Shootout History – Who’s hot, who’s not

Orange County SC won a pair of penalty shootouts on the way to claiming the 2021 USL Championship title. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Eleven of the teams in the 2023 USL Championship Playoffs have previously engaged in at least one penalty shootout in the league’s postseason. Phoenix Rising FC has participated in the most, going 3-2 across five shootouts in its history.

The most successful club? That would be Orange County SC, which is a perfect 3-0 all-time in shootouts. OCSC produced one of the biggest upsets in the Championship Playoffs in 2016, defeating No. 1 seed Sacramento Republic FC 5-4 from the spot as a No. 8 seed in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, and then won twice in a shootout against Oakland Roots SC and San Antonio FC on the way to the 2021 title.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have San Antonio FC. The defending title holder is 0-2 in shootouts all-time after its defeat to Orange County two seasons ago. Three other teams have lost their only prior shootout in the playoffs (Birmingham Legion FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, New Mexico United).

Postseason Penalty Shootout Records – 2023 USL Championship Playoffs Clubs
Birmingham Legion FC – 0-1
Charleston Battery – 2-0
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – 0-1
El Paso Locomotive FC – 2-1
Louisville City FC – 2-1
New Mexico United – 0-1
Orange County SC – 3-0
Phoenix Rising FC – 3-2
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – 1-2
Sacramento Republic FC – 1-1
San Antonio FC – 0-2 

Take Your Pick – One Shot to Win

Indy Eleven's Aodhan Quinn has scored 25 goals from the penalty spot in his career, the most in the USL Championship's history. | Photo courtesy Matt Schlotzhauer / Indy Eleven

There have been some clinical penalty takers in the USL Championship over the years. League legend Luke Vercollone scored all 14 of his penalty kicks in the regular season and playoffs, while others like Chandler Hoffman (15 of 16) and Brandon Allen (14 of 15) were almost automatic from the spot.

This year’s postseason field includes four players who’ve been calm under pressure. Which would you take to score with the game on the line?

Aodhan Quinn, Indy Eleven: The USL Championship legend has scored more penalty kicks than any player in league history, going 25 of 28 in his career.

Justin Portillo, New Mexico United: A title winner with Real Monarchs SLC in 2019, Portillo became the second player to record at least 20 penalty kick goals all-time this season. He’s 22 of 24 overall from the spot.

Cameron Lancaster, Louisville City FC: Lancaster ranks third in the Championship’s history with 80 regular season goals, and he’s gone 15 of 16 from the spot in the regular season and playoffs all-time.

Rodrigo Lopez, Sacramento Republic FC: The 2014 Championship Final MVP has gone 10 of 12 from the spot in his career in the Championship. He scored the winner in Republic FC’s shootout victory against Sporting Kansas City in the 2022 Lamar Hunt Open Cup Semifinals.

Take Your Pick – One Save to Win

The Tampa Bay Rowdies' Connor Sparrow ranks second all-time with six penalty saves in the USL Championship's regular season and playoffs. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Sometimes, the hero of a shootout will be the player who scores the decisive goal. What’s unquestionable, however, is the person everyone wants to celebrate with after claiming victory is the goalkeeper that either made the final denial, or set up the chance to close out the win.

This year’s playoff squads have some shot-stoppers who’ve shown their mettle staring down shooters from the spot. Which one would you take to come up with a clutch moment this postseason?

Connor Sparrow, Tampa Bay Rowdies: Sparrow ranks second all-time in the Championship in penalties saved, stopping 6 of 18 shots for a save percentage of .333 percent.

Danny Vitiello, Sacramento Republic FC: The 2023 Championship Golden Glove has come up clutch before in his career, last year’s Open Cup for example, and has saved 4 of 13 penalties faces for a .308 save percentage in the league.

Rocco Rios Novo, Phoenix Rising FC: The Argentine standout had the best season of his young career in the Championship this season and is 3 of 11 all-time facing penalty kicks for a .272 save percentage.

Christian Herrera, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC: Herrera had a standout first season taking the majority of starts for the Switchbacks with 10 shutouts and is 2 of 8 all time facing penalty kicks for a .250 save percentage.


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