Sounders Insider

MLS gets deep into stats with 'Chalkboard'

MLS fans awoke this morning to a great gift from the league: the Chalkboard, a hyper-detailed statistical account of each match.

However, the league rolled out the new tool without any fanfare, so I contacted the league for a little bit of a users guide. If you'd like to follow along, the example from Seattle's 4-2 win over New York can be found by clicking here, and the screenshot above shows part of what is being discussed below with Chris Schlosser, general manager of MLS Digital:

Q: Why did the league make this statistical upgrade?CS: One of the key things that we always want to do is provide information and entertainment to the fans. And on of the things our fans have told us loud and clear is they’re very interested in the statistical side of soccer. And so our partnership this year with Opta has allowed us to bring significantly deeper statistical information to the fans. And the Chalkboards that we rolled out last night are just one example of that.

Q: Was there an announcement or users manual on at We’re letting fans just play with it. You’ll see our own editorial staff extensively using it as we roll into next week, and there will be all sorts of examples of the stats that we’re pulling out of it.

Q: What are some of its capabilities, and how are they accessed? CS: If you mouse over any of the Sounders players – I moused over Alvarez Fernandez, for example – you see a heat map come up. This does two things. It provides you with a map of anywhere a player touched the ball, and gives you a general sense of where that player was positioned during the course of the match. It also gives you an overlay that gives you a quick rundown of all of the stats for that particular player. You see in Fernandez’s case, successful and unsuccessful passes for example. Similar successful cross, blocked shots – you can get a sense for the player’s game.

So then if I click Fernandez – there’s that little checkbox on the left – and I go over to the menu on the right, and I’m going to click for this example “Distribution.” And if you expand that, you see on the field a map of all of his successful/unsuccessful passes in the game last night. You can get a sense for kind of what he was doing, and where he was passing. … The bluish green is success, and the redish is unsuccessful.

And then to finish up this example, if you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a timeline of when all these passes happened. One thing you can do is, let’s say you want just to see right at the end of the first half. So if you drag along the timeline, it will adjust and just show the passes from a particular time. One of the ways that this is used, if you wanted to diagram a goal and you selected the players that were involved the the play and then dragged along just at the time of the buildup, it would chart just that buildup.

One of the things that’s interesting is if you mouse over any shot – so I click “shots” for Fernandez, still – you’ll see on the top box it shows you one missed shot in the red color. And if you mouse over that, a little popup comes up, and if gives you a little information about the shot: It was a fastbreak, it was with his right foot, and then on the bottom if shows you the goal and where relative to the goal the shot went. So this was very high and a little bit to the right. Significantly high.

The goal is really to allow fans who are interested to really dive into the game and do analysis, not just on ‘Oh, Seattle had however many shots last night,’ but where were they taken, what was the result, who was creating the most actual dangerous chances, not just shooting 60 yards out over the goal.

Q: How are the statistics gathered?CS: We have a stats-gathering center set up in our digital office here in New York. And we have three Opta stats people on every game, and they collect literally every touch of the ball and the result of that touch: What happened. It’s amazing to watch these guys work. And that feeds into the system, and after that game we’ll make that data available in the Chalkboard for fans to play with. So this won’t update live, but after a match is over this will all get updates. …

(There also is one spotter in the stadium in case in-stadium help is needed.)

Anyway, thanks to this system, we now have access to an amazing treasure trove of statistical data from each MLS match. So much so, that I wondered what are some of the most important things that can be learned. To find that out, I went to some of the Sounders coaches today and asked them what statistics they use in game preparations and which are the most telling in the result of the game.

I'll have more on that in new posts later today. And then more still in tomorrow's paper.