Match Analysis: Soccer’s Moneyball

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I say the best way to become a soccer convert, if you’re an American who knows little about soccer and dismisses it in favor of the usual favorite sports in the U.S., basketball, football, and baseball, go to Europe and see a Champions League game, a derby, or a World Cup match.

You won’t need stats to learn that soccer is the best sport in the world, just listen to the songs, see the flags waiving, and the passion of the fans in Europe. But I’m all for more information and stats give you even more of an insight into the game, a new way to look at it, and that can only help make the experience better.

As many American fans need more proof that soccer is the world’s game, and something to backup their opinions about a team or a player, they can look no further than Match Analysis and the way they analyze the game and give you stats on individual players.

Ever heard of Jesse Marsch? Neither had I, but the Chivas USA midfielder led MLS in possession percentage (PP) last year: He got the ball and passed it successfully 81% of the time. Conversely, Yura Movsisyan of the Kansas City Wizards had a 37% rate, which is fine if you’re nine years old and wearing an orange-wedge smile for the Little Ladybugs but not so good if you’re a pro.

For starters, Beckham really does torch those free kicks; according to a 2007 British newspaper study, he has one of the hardest shots in Premier League history, clocked at 97.9 mph. Match Analysis indicates that he not only led MLS with an average of 87.9 touches per 90 minutes last season for the Los Angeles Galaxy (a great indicator of game control), but he also dominated in shot creation (SC)—how frequently a player is involved in an attack that leads to a shot—helping to set up 11.2 shots per 90 minutes, or a whopping three more than the next-best player. You may have no idea what any of this means, but trust me, it will sound impressive the next time you’re in a pub.

What is Match Analysis exactly: they provides high speed data collection and state of the art video and statistical analysis tools for soccer (football).

But this is nothing new to European football. They’ve been gathering stats and numbers for some time. You’ve seen the total miles a player runs in a game I’m sure – flashed up on the screen when a player comes out of the game? Top midfielders logging more than 7.2 miles per game.

Stats are always an interesting realm worth an investigation, but some stats aren’t as well known, and stats that don’t really get the attention they deserve. Take blocked shots for example, that’s one stat that flies under the radar. Defenders rarely score goals, so this is one stat that helps you gauge their value to the team–even more relevant is last man saving tackle. The play where a defender stops a forward from scoring when they’re the last player back, and avoid taking the player out and getting a red card, which often happens in those types of situations.

If you’ve played any fantasy league soccer then you’re more familiar with stats in general, but let’s take a closer look at some of the stats that Match Analysis software is focusing on and bringing to the attention of the soccer newbie or the American fan who let’s say is new to the sport and only knows football of the oblong ball kind, where the only kicking that goes on is via field goals.

Well Known Stats
Lesser Known Stats
  • Fouls suffered and committed
  • Yellow and red cards
  • Assist and Goals
  • Shots taken and shots on goal
  • Keeper saves
  • Blocked shots
  • Possession percentage
  • Touches per 90 minutes
  • Possessions won
  • Shot creation
  • Last man saving tackle
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