How High Would Soccer Scores Be With No Goalies?

I’m an American, and while following the World Cup has been interesting, I will admit freely that I mentally tinker with the game as I watch it, since it is so different from most American sports. The big three American sports (football, baseball, and basketball) have higher scoring and are chock-full of statistical record keeping, so that fans can assess their teams’ progress even when scores are low. While I am learning to appreciate the explosive joy that a goal can bring in a game with so few of them, I thought it worthwhile to ask a question: how many goals would be scored in World Cup-level soccer if there were no goalies at all?

According to FIFA, 2.2 goals have been scored per match thus far in the World Cup, though 1-0 has been the most common outcome thus far. While teams have combined for almost 28 shots per match thus far, they have managed only 10.2 shots on target per match thus far. By definition, total goals in a match would thus rise to at least 10 if matches were played without goalies.

But if there were no goalies, game play would be altered in a number of ways. Teams would be more likely to shoot, raising scoring further. Defenders would spend more time in the box as “armless goalies”, so that not all shots-on-target were converted. Even without goalies, the percentage of shots-on-target might not rise dramatically, since the presence of defensive players alters many shots. As an upper bound, assume that total shots per match doubled to around 56, with 35% of shots-on-target (same as today). This yields roughly 20 goals per match, with scores of the 12-8 or 11-9 variety quite normal.

While scores like 12-8 and 14-6 sound astronomically high to the die-hard soccer fan, these are still less than one-fourth of basketball scoring, similar to high scoring baseball games, and about double football scoring. With rules change governing the offside rule or otherwise floated as a way to increase scoring, it’s interesting to note that even a radical proposal would not turn soccer into basketball. It’s difficult to score in soccer, even if there are no goalies!

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