Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Farce That is "MLS Player of the Week"

Does anyone else get upset at some of the selections like I do? It seems like there is a basic formula which goes something like this:

1) Pick whoever gets the most goals.
2) If no one scores more than one goal, pick the goalscorer with the most assists or pick an oustanding goalkeeper who kept a shutout.

This came to the forefront of my mind a two weeks ago, when Nicolas Addlery won the award. It was for his performance in the 4-0 win over Colorado (highlights). No player scored more than a goal that week, so they give it to a goalscorer with an assist. His assist looked like a failed attempt to go around the defender himself, while his goal was an easy header off a corner while his marker (Brandon Prideaux) fell down. Actually, Fred and Christian Gomez also both had a goal and assist, so maybe he was chosen due to his goal being the "game winner" (don't even get me started on that)? Addlery had a good game, but it was hardly a great performance and it was debatable whether he was even man of the match.

Who votes for the award? That would be "a panel of journalists from the Professional Soccer Reporters Association (PSRA)." Basically just the same guys whose blogs and articles we read on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, it seems that the voters never even watch the matches. Or maybe they do, but just go for the easy answer and look at the stats. There are plenty of times when statistics are not the answer, and this is one of them. Have you ever seen a defender win the award without scoring a goal or assisting on one? Has that ever even happened in the past 12 years? That's why we need a technical study group to pick the winners. FIFA generally does a better job at the world picking the man of the match with their group, although they still have a few head scratchers.

I don't expect the voters to watch every MLS match in a given week (how many of them even see the HDnet exclusives, BTW?). That would require 12+ hours of their time, and it's hard to give a thorough analysis on one viewing of a match anyway. So that's why I'm in favor of some sort of small committee picking out the award (if there even should be one at all). That's also why I have a problem with the way it's set up, because it encourages the use of statistics in place of analysis.

This isn't just an MLS problem, just check out How can we be expected to vote in the poll for "player of the round" when virtually all the games don't have highlights online, and had attendances in the hundreds/low thousands? You can't vote based on any kind of analysis, just on the description provided. It's also not just a soccer problem. Statistics can easily be used in place of analysis in other sports. How many casual fans really know what they're talking about in baseball or football? Do they know the game or just the stats?

A lot has been made in your typical anti-soccer articles about the lack of statistics in the sport, which has been derided as not allowing people to understand how good or bad a certain player has been. First of all, there ARE statistics that would allow us to better judge players, like passes completed, headers won, etc., but outside of the ACTIM index you're not going to find them used. I would imagine pro teams have access to that stuff. I could go into American attitudes and why they haven't caught on, but that's another article. Let's also not forget how MLS has handled statistics in the past (or, why I don't put much stock in Steve Ralston's assist record).

Anyway, the premise that sports statistics allow you to measure a player's performance is true. They obviously don't tell the whole story, but they tell you generally how good somebody is. That's especially true in baseball. That's not so true in soccer, at least with the current statistics we have, because so little is measured and you can't tell much about the game by statistics alone. It's certainly easier to sound like you know what you're talking about in baseball and the other sports when you deal with statistics, and therefore it's harder to be a knowledgeable (sounding?) soccer fan.

We need to compile more detailed soccer statistics. I don't mean "points" or "catches/punches", but rather the real stuff (like I mentioned earlier) that could better allow you understand how good a player is. And while I'm at it, why should a brilliant pass that led to a goal be given an assist and the acclaim that comes with it, but a brilliant pass that leads to a muffed shot be totally ignored? That's yet another debate, but until things change, let's find a better way to determine the MLS player of the week.

MLS Player of the Week Award Statistics

Most Awards

1 Cobi Jones 9
1 Jeff Cunningham 9
3 Carlos Ruiz 8
4 Ante Razov 7
4 Jason Kreis 7
4 Taylor Twellman 7
7 Chris Klein 6
7 Jaime Moreno 6
7 Mark Chung 6
7 Preki 6

Number of players in this top ten who are also in the top ten for most MLS goals scored: 7/10.

Breakdown of the 313 Awards

GK 36 11.5%
Field 277 88.5%

LA 35 11.2%
DC 34 10.9%
NY 32 10.2%
CLB 28 8.9%
NE 28 8.9%
KC 27 8.6%
CHI 25 8.0%
DAL 25 8.0%
SJ 21 6.7%
COL 18 5.8%
TB 15 4.8%
MIA 10 3.2%
RSL 6 1.9%
HOU 5 1.6%
CHV 4 1.3%
TOR 0 0.0%

Comments on "The Farce That is "MLS Player of the Week""


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:18 AM, July 15, 2007) : 

Steve Davis here ... from and MLSnet.

Right-o on your POW comments. I vote, and I watch EVERY game. (well, at least 60 minutes or so ... sometimes I have to edit a bit for time)

Anyway, plenty of times the best players aren't on the list we're given. Now, we're not restricted to that list. We can "write in" a vote. But what's the point? If I pick, say, Kyle Beckerman b/c he had a monster game in central mid, but he's not on the list, then I've just "wasted" my vote.

The MLS PR folk submit the candidates (I think).

Anyway, a far-from-perfect process.

Nice site. Just stumbled across it this morning.



Blogger scaryice said ... (2:04 AM, July 16, 2007) : 

Thanks for the complement. Does each team submit one player, something like that? It'd be nice if you could post this week's ballot.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:22 AM, July 16, 2007) : 

Davis again --

Teams don't necessarily pick one player each. They submit a name if they believe they have a deserving candidate.

Not sure posting the list would be the best idea. Not looking to call anybody out. Just noting that, as the post points out, its a less-than-perfect process.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:23 PM, July 20, 2007) : 

Most of the MLS teams have have contracted with Match Analysis for video and statistics.

From their website:

"Match Analysis provides high speed data collection and state of the art video and statistical analysis tools for soccer (football).

Match Analysis indexes and categorizes every touch by every player during a match (over 2500 distinct events) and provides coaches, fans, and the media with cutting-edge tools for analysis, player development, scouting, broadcast support, content creation, and video archiving."


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:55 PM, January 05, 2008) : 

I am not sure I follow on the Steve Ralston comment? I would put a lot of stock in that stat as well as the most goals scored stat and saves stat.


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