Analytics

03 September 10:36 pm

Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP

 

The Backcut has talked about the growing importance of statistics in soccer before. Manchester City is busy crowd sourcing ideas by releasing reams of stats from last year's campaign while MLS has already made much of the same information available through their excellent Matchcenter Chalkboard

But now none other than the immenent tech geek bible Wired takes a look at the new adidas tech wizardry behind their new miCoach system and its potential impact on the league through their excellent Playbook blog.

Starting off at the 2012 MLS Combine in Florida, the article talks about how a number of draft eligible players taking part in drills and scrimmages--Portland's eventually drafted Andrew Jean-Baptiste among them--were outfitted with prototype miCoach trackers that fed information about speed, location, heart rate and more.

It’s far flashier than such antiquities as a timed 40, but not much different in that the athletic attributes it measures have little to do with sport-specific skills like, say, passing the ball.

Still, proper dribbling technique is more easily taught than absurd acceleration through a defensive alignment, which is why University of Connecticut defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste started turning so many heads.

Jean-Baptiste was among those participating in the miCoach trial ahead of a league-wide rollout next season. As four Adidas reps roamed the sideline holding iPads displaying real-time readings from the field, coaches and team officials filtered by with raised eyebrows and the occasional question. Everything was proceeding as expected until Jean-Baptiste took off on a sprint across the pitch and his measurements exploded.

“Ten to 12 teams’ staff people crowded around me at once,” said Jan Mueller, a manager for the miCoach line. “They were watching intently, and then began asking a lot of questions.”

Given the long established importance of statistics in sports such as football, baseball and basketball, MLS is looking to push the envelope as to what kind of stats become more important for soccer. And not just for coaches and players, but for fans as well. The aforementioned Chalkboard feature is already readily available for fans and writers alike to breakdown certain elements of a game with heat maps, pass completion rates, shot locations and more.

miCoach adds another layer into the player performance aspect by breaking down individual elements to a very specific level. And while much of that in-game analysis of miCoach may not be something that fans will have immediate access to, MLS Digital general manager Chris Schlosser says in the article, “We’re working on what we feel like is a game-changer in the digital match experience — a whole new way for consumers to experience the game."


Image: Adidas

And even coaches who are intrigued with the possibilities of what miCoach could bring to the table such as Philadelphia Union head coach John Hackworth, there's still a belief that not everything seen on a computer screen tells you everything you need to know about a player.

“We’ve always had lies, damned lies and statistics,” said Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee. “For example, just because a guy is covering a lot of ground, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s smart running or that he’s in the right place at the right time. That’s a statistic that needs to come with experience. So some of these measurements are going to be useful, but some aren’t. We’ll just have to see which ones fill a void.”

In that capacity, miCoach readings will fit right in with the rest of soccer’s statistics. There’s another school of thought, however, that presents an even warier eye.

“Soccer is so much art, and art is impossible to measure, like music or dance or paintings,” said Hackworth. “The beauty of our sport is that there are so many creative, imaginative and skillful moments, and you’ll never be able to truly quantify that.”

It's a fascinating read about some great tools MLS is leading the way with. Read the whole piece here.

How do you see the focus on statistics changing the game? Let us know in the comments below or send us a note at thebackcut(at)portlandtimbers.com

 

22 August 4:21 pm

Last week, famed English Premiere League club Manchester City announced a special program that would release loads upon loads of statistical information from the team’s 2011-2012 EPL season. They did this in a unique way to crowdsource ideas and analysis of players' performances. Gavin Fleig, Man City's head of performance analysis, told The Guardian, "The whole reason for putting this data out there is to open the doors. The data has value, previously it has been kept in-house and behind guarded doors, but there is a recognition now that clubs need to help this space develop."

Both Michael Lewis' Moneyball and Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s Soccernomics tell the story of the importance of statistical analysis in sports--Lewis' with baseball and Kuper and Szymanski's then building off of that to get into soccer. With Man City, their document is incredibly thorough and open to all after registering at their website. Broken out by player, there’s every match and every stat you could think of: Right Footed Shots off Target, Goals from Corners, Total Unsuccessful Passes Excluding Crosses, Corners and much much more. It’s a deep document.

But that kind of statistical analysis and, more importantly, access to it, is something that MLS has been similarly doing on a league-wide scale since last season as they rolled out their toolbox of features with Opta. Every Matchcenter page on MLSsoccer.com has up to the minute stats in game and the Chalkboard feature is filled to the brim with heat maps, pass stats, positioning information and more.

And with adidas’ new Smart Soccer platform having debuted at the 2012 MLS All-Star Game with an eye towards even more use in 2013, the importance of statistics and their meaning on the game becomes even deeper. See their latest ad running with quite a few cameos from Timbers players.

How do you see the focus on statistics changing the game? Got a thought? Let us know in the comments below or send us a note at thebackcut(at)portlandtimbers.com.

 

27 June 9:31 am

David Horst has been picking up the honors this week with his CenturyLink Man of the Match performance in the memorable 2-1 victory over Seattle. MLSsoccer.com also bestowed an honorable mention to him in their Week 16 Team of the Week.

But perhaps most interesting is MLSsoccer.com taking a look at his first ever MLS goal in their great Anatomy of a Goal series. Calling his strike via Franck Songo'o's corner kick "textbook," editor Greg Lalas gives us the X's and O's of how Horst's gamewinner came to be.

Got a story, tip, soccer tidbit to share? Send it in to thebackcut (at) portlandtimbers.com.

22 June 8:31 am

While the Portland-Seattle Cascadia Cup rivalry chatter increases to a fevered pitch, let us not forget all the excitement happening over in the Euros. Portugal eliminated the Czech Republic 1-0 on Thursday in the quarterfinals and today at 11:45 am PT on ESPN, the formidable Germany will take on the suprising Greece.

Now you could watch Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas break down the game in a cool holographic virtual tabletop on ESPNFC.com. Which is great, no doubt. And looks like something from the future.

But perhaps you be better served going back a ways--both in history and in philosphical theory--by referencing the great Germany vs. Greece match so ably presented by Monty Python years ago:
 

What do you think? Who is Greece's new version of Socrates in this Euro 2012 clash? Or will the Germans triumph via the argument that "reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics"?

Got a story, tip, soccer tidbit to share? Send it in to thebackcut (at) portlandtimbers.com.