Laidig Speaks: All He Wants for Christmas

santaThis time of year is widely considered the season of giving.  However, as a parent to three young girls, I also know that this is also the season of wish lists.  And it is in this spirit that I offer: what I want in soccer statistics. I made this list because I hope these metrics will be developed and made available to soccer fans (and stat geeks). If my wishes are granted, broadcast analysis would be more informative and interesting, and the understanding of the game would grow.  And as understanding of the game grows, sports fans become casual soccer fans, and casual soccer fans become season ticket holders.  In addition, I think this information would be useful for the teams that analyze performance, which would lead to better performance across the league.

First, I’d ask Santa (or Don Garber, or Opta, or Stats Inc…you get the idea) for information tracking 2nd Tier passing.  In other words, I’d like to know if the recipient of a pass was then able to complete a pass or attempt a shot (defined as an assist or “key pass” by Opta). Devin Pleuler, author of the Central Winger column for MLSSoccer.com, has published some of this data.  But one person compiling the data by hand is not the widespread availability I am wishing for here.  The bottom line is, good players complete passes.  Great players make passes that allow their teammate to do something with the ball.  Let’s keep track of that.

Second, as long as we talking about passing information, let’s separate the square/back passes from the more aggressive forward passes.  The forward passes are more difficult to complete, and are similarly more likely to unlock a defense.  Although conservative passing may be wise in a specific situation, treating all passes equally loses important information, and just doesn’t fit our understanding of the game.

Third, let’s ask for a defensive metric. I’d like to know if a player was able to pressure opponents, shut down the attack etc.  We have stats for dispossession, such as tackles, interceptions, and recoveries.  But a defender may harass an opponent all night, reducing the opponent’s production in a way that’s less visible. Thus, let’s report an opponent’s passing percentage allowed by each defender/player (preferably separated into the types of passes as above).  Sure, this requires some judgment in determining the closest defender, and whether the player is close enough to get the credit (or blame) for a pass.  But it’s the season to think big.soccer stats

Finally, and this is the biggest ask of all.  I want a metric to quantify off-the-ball movement.  I know there is some data on the number and speed of sprints.  But we should also add location information; where the run is on the pitch, how far, relation to the ball, etc.  We know that off-the-ball movement helps the offense by drawing defenders, wearing down opponents, screening defenders and the like.  However, if we don’t measure it, we have a tough time recognizing these efforts.  And I think the collective wisdom of the soccer universe can determine which actions are the most meaningful, and then follow that up with accurate measurement.

I’ll be the first one up on Christmas morning to see what I get.

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