With the publishing of the book Moneyball, sports analytics became a big trend in the world of sports. It quickly moved from baseball to basketball and is now moving into football and hockey as well. But what about soccer? Some people say that soccer is too much a free-flowing game for stats to really be used and analysed.
I started to wonder how Real Salt Lake felt on this subject. Did they feel that stats were important? What stats did they keep? And what analysis was done on these stats? Did they use any type of statistical analysis when scouting and evaluating potential signings?
The only way to find out the answers to my questions was to go to the team directly. I was very fortunate to be able to speak with General Manager Garth Lagerwey on the topic of sports analytics.
Since 2008, RSL has used a video analysis service called Prozone. Along with the video that is provided, the team is also provided many statistics as well. With this statistical data, both the coaching staff as well as Lagerwey and other members of the front office are able to review and look for trends. The coaching staff looks in-depth at each player and compares the player to themselves and their past performances using the data. Lagerwey's group is looking at more of a macro level to try and find trends in the data.
"We care a lot about the data. It is very important to us to have this information and we are always on the lookout for more statistics that might help us," Lagerwey said. He recognized the stats that are currently being posted by fans and that they can be valuable. "The origins of Moneyball started with fans of baseball looking at and writing about baseball stats." But he also recognizes that it is much more difficult to use stats in soccer as compared to other sports: "It is much more challenging and difficult to isolate individual events in soccer."
Lagerwey talked about the need for more information. "No program out on the market has everything that we are looking for," he said.
He gave the example of wanting to see more information on turnovers, saying he wants to get to a point where they can see where on the field a turnover is occurring and if those turnovers lead to a scoring chance.
"We are continuing to work with Prozone to develop new metrics for us," Lagerwey said.
Lagerwey said that he believed that this area in soccer would only continue to grow, especially in MLS: "There are a couple of teams already in MLS that have hired a full time data analyst."
He went on to say that there is not one "magical stat" in soccer that tells the whole story, but there is a lot of very useful information that can be found by doing statistical analysis.
In talking about scouting potential players, Lagerwey said that statistical analysis is already being done. Many teams will use data collected on potential players to do comparisons with players already in the MLS.
Lagerwey said the team feels it is more valuable to compare to other players in the same league as the player they are evaluating. He also said that statistics can be found for most players in the world. The only area that they can't find stats on is for leagues on the African continent, he said.
As far as what the future might bring, Lagerwey said that the team and the league will continue to move to using improved technology to help with analytics. He feels that it is a way that a smaller market club like RSL can start to help even up the playing field when compared to the larger market clubs.
Although it is much harder to analyze stats in soccer than in other sports, it is good to hear that RSL takes this area very seriously. It is an area that they are investing in and believe will continue to grow.