The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Enter the “Moneyball” Quakes…

Posted by steigs on January 6, 2008

So we’re starting to get a glimpse of what the new San Jose Earthquakes, and their Oakland As ownership, might bring to MLS.  Billy Beane, hero of Moneyball by Michael Lewis, has gotten the soccer bug and it appears the case is as bad as mine:

…On a recent trip to Europe, Quakes’ GM John Doyle visited several British clubs, and was impressed by the precision and volume of data that was collected and analyzed. Closer to home, every MLS team has contracted with a company called Match Analysis to receive statistical and video breakdowns of every game. According to the company’s president, Mark Brunkhart, the product has been used by some coaches and players to analyze their own week-to-week performance, as well as that of the opposition.

But the potential is there for additional uses as well. And in terms of player evaluation, the data, which records every touch a player makes in a game, reveals some interesting numbers. Although typical stats like a player’s possession percentage are tracked, there is also one called shot creation, which records how many times a player was involved in an attack that led to a shot. (The runaway leader? David Beckham with over 11 shots created per 90 minutes. Among full-time players, the highest mark belonged to D.C. United’s Christian Gomez at around 7.4 shots created per 90 minutes.)

So it’s a matter of using cold hard stats to pick up on things that conventional soccer wisdom misses.  It certainly appears to have some benefits in baseball, a numbers-heavy sport with a century of conventional wisdom.  One can certainly think of good players that don’t fit the stereotypes — smaller center backs like Italy’s Cannevaro and Michael Parkhurst of the Revs.  (If memory serves, Parkhurst read the game so skillfully that he managed to play good defense without drawing a red card until the play-offs.)  Former DC United goalie Nick Rimando is short, a cardinal sin among keepers, but manages to get by with athletic ability. 

 Then there’s the case of veteran Italian forward Filippo Inzaghi.  He’s profiled in the latest FourFourTwo, which includes this bit:

“I remember the first time Pippo got called up for Italy,” a former international once confided to FFT’s man in Italy, James Richardson.  “In training we all stood stunned because his technique was the worst we’d seen, but despite it all he just scores and scores.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your all-time European club competition goal scoring leader!  Perhaps this helps explain it:

Which brings us back to that comment from Johan Cruyff: “Look, the thing about Inzaghi is he can’t actually play football at all.  He’s just always in the right position.”

So, basically, Billy Beane and his compatriots are looking for numbers that will help them find Inzaghis.  Good luck to ’em — we Americans need all the help we can get. 

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