Cover photo of Matt Jordan belongs to Getty Images.
Matt Jordan is MLS's best penalty saver at an outstanding 41% save percentage.
I received an email last week asking about a goalkeeper's height playing a factor in penalty kicks.
Taylor Twellman at least twice during the College Cup Championship shootout suggested that UVA keeper Callie Brown's being 6'5" played a big role in the two UCLA penalty misses. Twellman said something like, "Brown's size alone will put greater pressure on the PK takers, and this alone could be a factor in what caused these UCLA players to miss these penalties, by overcompensating for his height." But I have never seen any statistical evidence of this factor. From what I have seen from just watching games, I can't say that such a height of goalkeeper factor seems to actually relate to the number of penalty shots that are missed. I'm not talking about penalties saved. Do you know of any goalkeeper stats comparing the size of the keeper to the number of penalty shots missed?
I found an article which provides some research on perception of goalkeepers' height impacting shots but this study doesn't include any actual stats based on real soccer games in real penalty situations. The article does include a link to a research abstract that the article claims provides information on "preliminary data suggesting that their findings are indeed applicable to real-life situations. However, when I read that abstract, I found no reference whatsoever to any "real life" soccer situations.
The short answer is no, I don't. Data for penalty shots missed is somewhere, I'm sure, but not at my fingertips. So while I don't have any information on goalkeepers' size affecting a shooter to completely miss the target, I can graph the size of MLS goalkeepers against their penalty save percentage.
Using the thirty-eight goalkeepers who have faced ten penalties in MLS action, which doesn't include penalty shootouts, there seems to be no correlation (.03667) between a goalkeeper's height and performance in goal. I would assume the reason is that the difference between a saved penalty versus a scored one is impacted more by the goalkeeper's decision, not length. We rarely see a goalkeeper miss a penalty because his arms weren't long enough but quite often we see a goalkeeper going the wrong direction.
As for missed shots specifically, you can use the same argument for why a large goalkeeper will influence a shooter to shoot wider (and miss the goal) as a smaller goalkeeper will shoot closer to frame, making the shot more likely to be saved. If he's smaller, perhaps the shooter doesn't shoot as wide, and the goalkeeper would have an easier time getting to the ball. On top of that, a shooter is typically not aiming just inside the goalpost. He has given himself room to err so if he does shoot wider because of the goalkeeper's height, it would actually be harder on that goalkeeper to make the save.
If you have any thoughts on the subject, either comment below or email me at email@example.com.