Interceptions and Chris Schuler: A match made in heaven

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The interception in soccer is a small statistic that's easy to overlook, but the impact it can have on a team's play is hard to dismiss.

Winning the ball back, no matter where you are on the pitch, is an ostensibly positive act. It's not a statistic that indicates a team's likelihood to win a game -- there are too many confounding variables for that -- but it does help us describe the play at hand, and it does speak to our ability to win the ball without either waiting for the opposition to cede possession, or resorting to brute force tackling.

Chris Schuler led Real Salt Lake in interceptions through 2013 -- aided in part by the first game of the season against San Jose Earthquakes, a 2-0 win in which he posted 19 interceptions (a league high for 2013). This, despite playing only 16 matches in the regular season.

It's a reasonably wild measure, really. As evidenced below, Schuler steps outside the line of best fit here -- we've listed the ten highest interception-winning players at Real Salt Lake, and among these players, there's a definite trend. Among these 10, the average interceptions-per-90-minutes (not per match, mind) floats between 2 and 3. Schuler sits at 4.75. Yes, nearly five interceptions per 90 minutes played.

This speaks to two major items: First, Schuler largely plays as the center back who pushes forward into the more advanced position of the pairing. This is necessary to win interceptions as a center back -- at least in this volume. Second, it indicates a tendency Schuler has to get sucked forward and to attempt to recover from those positions. While it works most of the time -- or even the vast majority of the time -- it did see him in error-prone positions early on. This is a solvable problem, and indeed, Schuler's late-season and playoff performances paint a very positive picture indeed.

The message is simple: If you win the ball back, you have hopefully (supposing you have not given the ball to the opposition straight away) given your side a better opportunity to get into goalscoring positions. Of course, if forced to choose, the better solution may be simply giving the ball away less frequently, but thankfully we're not in that sort of bifurcated world. (Still, that would explain why Real Salt Lake ranks a bit lower than other teams -- but we can talk more about that later.)

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