The Seattle Sounders boast Major League Soccer's strongest fan base, with an average of more than 43,000 packing into CenturyLink Field for the team's home games. Soon, they might have one of the strongest analytical units as well.
Over the past few years, data and statistics have played an increasingly prominent role in soccer. During the 2012 MLS All-Star Game, Adidas debuted the miCoach system, data trackers embedded in uniforms that allowed coaches (and fans) to track players in real time. GPS monitors, heat maps, and other location-based data-collection devices are available to clubs. The league partnered with Opta, a company that collects and displays additional facts about performance, ranging from miles run to sprints completed.
Since joining the Sounders in 2009, head fitness coach Dave Tenney has slowly been building up a sports science unit, attempting to make sense of it all.
Sitting in the very front row of a packed football analytics panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Saturday was Detroit Lions' defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson, who one day earlier had been a panelist himself. Like so many other Sloan attendees, "LoJack" showed up early, stayed late, and live-tweeted from panels. I chatted with him about his interest in the conference, how it felt to be traded from Seattle, his thoughts on the Saints' situation, Karl Marx, and Steve Jobs.
So, what made you want to come spend two days listening to stat geeks and nerds? You were on a coaching analytics panel, but you were also here all day Friday, and all day Saturday, attending tons of panels yourself.
I read a report written about me on Pro Football Focus last year. They wrote a story about how there's a difference between, say, a guy with 10-plus sacks — who, in the media and in coaching circles, is thought of as a productive pass rusher and a productive defensive lineman, even if he has way more opportunities to get those sacks — and a guy like myself who might not have as many snaps, but who on a per-snap basis is more productive. That showed me that it's not just what you see, and it's not just the statistics. It's how can you get deep enough to paint a picture of what's actually going on? I think pretty soon we'll get into a time period where athletes will use analytics in great detail to enhance their training and their ability to execute in their sport.