25 April 2008

Soccer in America

On Tuesday evening I watched game 7 of the Caps/Flyers series at the 51st State in Foggy Bottom. Yeah, that's right... I got on the Caps bandwagon hard. And it hurt. It was Chad Barrett scoring at RFK last November, it was the Cavs outpacing the Wiz by 30 on Monday night and then it was an OT goal at the Phone Booth on Tuesday night. And then I went home, turned on the computer and had pocket aces cracked by pocket jacks. Brutal all around. But this isn't the point.

My friend S, who is very smart and observes all, made an interesting comment to me as we made our way through too many pints. He said, "Look at baseball, which is the most popular sport in America, but is, for the most part, a boring game." True. He pointed out that American sports fans seem to have a preoccupation with statistics and that maybe baseball is so popular because there are so many statistics to throw around while you are trying to make your way through three innings of shallow pop flys and slow roller ground outs to the second baseman who has chewing tobacco juice on his shoes. You are always hearing about "on-base percentage after the 7th inning with runners in scoring position by lefties against righties from Spanish-speaking island countries" and "slugging percentage". And all these statistics have fun, convenient abbreviations, like OBP(A7RISPLvRSSIC) and BB and HBP.

So maybe MLS would do well to create (invent?) more statistics for viewers to track with the hope of keeping the American sports fan occupied through 0-0 draws and defensive bunkering. Perhaps teams stats like "most team passbacks from the middle third to the keeper" or individual stats like "percent time of possession spent with back to goal". In fact, in all seriousness, I heard on last Thursday during the CLB @ DCU match that Alejandro Moreno was the most fouled player last year. It wasn't immediately obvious to me what it was about AM's game that would put him in a position to be consistently fouled. I don't know that he is a big flopper.

Do you have ideas for more stats that MLS could track? Is this plenty? Discuss your ideas in the comments and be sure to give some thought to how too many numbers being tossed around may cause Eric Wynalda's head to explode.


Only tangentially related to this topic: Mike and Mike, on ESPN2, spent a TON of time on their show Tuesday morning talking about how Andrei Kirilenko had flopped (OMG!) and drawn an offensive foul call at the end of the Game 2 of the Jazz/Rockets series. The foul call waved off a made 3 pointer and allowed the Jazz to steal a road win. Golic was absolutely astounded that such an injustice could be allowed to stand. Green was more practical, trying to figure out how to punish a player who flops within the current NBA rules of fouls and technical fouls. It was hilarious to see two grown men so upset at how a blown call or slight embellishment by a player could effect something like 3% of a team's total point instead of, as any soccer fan knows, perhaps 50% or 100%!!

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At 25 April, 2008 11:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two immediately come to mind.. the team possession statistic and the percentage of passes each team (and in some cases, each player) complete.

At 25 April, 2008 11:33, Blogger Jason said...

"On Tuesday evening I watched game 7 of the Caps/Flyers series at the 51st State in Foggy Bottom. Yeah, that's right... I got on the Caps bandwagon hard. "

And if you didn't get on the bandwagon. Shame on YOU.

On the statistics thing. I agree with fightingtalker about possession, and pass completion counts. I think we'd all get a laugh out of pass chaining statistics. So here are my suggested ones:

Average Pass Chain (Team, every time they start making a set of passes, how many does it chain through. Duplicated players counted as long as it is touched by someone else ;)) Maybe count only chains of 2 and up so the average isn't so low
Longest Pass Chain (aka the Ole count) What is the longest chain of passes the team has ever gotten. This is the sort of thing that can show which team has amazing possession skills. The timer just shows how boring the other team is sometimes.

At 25 April, 2008 12:17, Anonymous Bootsy said...

It wasn't just that AM was the most fouled player last year -- he was the most fouled player last year by an absurdly wide margin. And he was also the most fouled player for the 2006 and 2005 seasons as well, again by very large margins.

2007 -- AM @ 93 fouls suffered in 29 games; the nearest player with a comparable number of games was Davy Arnaud @ 63 fouls in 28 games.

2006 -- AM @ 112 fouls suffered in 30 games, Arnaud @ 76 fouls in 32 games.

2005 -- Moreno @ 102 fouls "suffered" in 31 games, Arnaud @ 85 fouls in 31 games.

My understanding of this particular stat comes from where you and I disagree -- I think he dives every bit as often as Carlos Ruiz. He just isn't theatrical once he's on the ground like Ruiz is.

At 25 April, 2008 16:16, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Jason- I didn't get on the bandwagon. However, I'm from eastern PA and have been a Flyers fan since high school. I will say that I was impressed with the Caps fans this year. I remember the playoff series 5 years ago when the playoff games here weren't selling out. Disgraceful.

Bob- I strongly dispute the assertion that baseball is the most popular sport in America. The NFL eclipsed baseball quite some time ago. There aren't as many statistics in football, but there still are a lot.

At 25 April, 2008 22:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea, no offense, but I nearly threw up reading all your suggestions for statistical categories. Soccer doesn't need all that Americanized bullshit; it's perfect the way it is. if mainstream society won't accept it, screw them. They can go sit in a virtual rap concert while watching 10 players wearing athletic shorts and shirts put a ball in a hoop, or go sit outside on a hot, sunny, day and work on their tan and occasionally see a player hit a ball with a giant stick.

That's America. Soccer will never be a part of that.

At 26 April, 2008 00:19, Anonymous stuck in 200 said...

I'd say the attraction in baseball (and NASCAR and pointyball to some extent) is that the rhythm of the game allows for a kind of conversation. Put on a baseball game sometime and listen to how the flow of the commentary sounds like you have a couple of friends in the room having a conversation. Sometimes it's about stats, but not all that often.

The flow of soccer is different, and can't really be forced into a simlar box. The announcers who try are the ones that drive us crazy as we yell at the TV telling them to pay attention to the game already.

On the Caps - for the first time in 35 years, they're trying to play entertaining hockey with a star who wants to play here. Surprise, the town responds by getting excited about them. Some parallels with a DCU side that has always tried to combine winning with an entertaining style. Funny how that works.

At 26 April, 2008 09:13, Anonymous Skippy said...

I understand your point, but I don't think that the obsession with statistics is a trait exclusive to sports fans from the U.S. Though hardly an authority, doesn't Nick Hornsby relate his obsession with statistics while following Arsenal?
I can't help but think that given the flow and sheer length of time baseball sportscasters have to fill, the ridiculous statistics ("percent of fastballs low-and-away to Cubans under-five-foot-five past-7 o'clock since the All Star break" is a fairly useless statistic) may have evolved as a necessity. To some extent, the same can be said for American Football during all the restarts. Plus, statistics are easy compile these days. But I think those are just extremes of every televised sport.

At 26 April, 2008 21:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I like the 51st State. I moved to DC from Chicago, and the 51st State is the closest thing to a neighborhood bar that is omnipresent on every other street corner in Chicago. I do have complaints about their TV policies (they insisted on showing the Yankees game on the big screen when US-Italy was on the last World Cup, relegating the latter to a single small TV that everyone in the place watched), but I generally like the place.

BTW, DC looks pretty good (but not that good - given that Real Salt Lake just scored) in tonights game at RFK.

At 28 April, 2008 09:34, Anonymous Tolik said...

Actim Index http://www.pa-sport.com/en/actim/index.html
collects tons of stats

Are you looking for something like that?


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