Sounders Insider

What soccer stat is most predictive of victory?

The question was asked in light of all the new MLS statistical information that is now available to us through the "Chalkboard," outlined in the post below.

I also asked similar questions of Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, whose duties include understanding opponents tendencies and trying to devise tactics to exploit them. Here's part of that interview:

Schmetzer: The stats that I will use when I do the pregame editing is, when we got on Match Analysis I can find out the possession percentage for each player. So if there is a player that has a particularly weak possession percentage, then we’ll try and force the ball to him. Conversely, if there’s a guy who’s accurate on 80 percent of his passes, then we’ll make sure he doesn’t get the ball as often. But that’s an interesting little stat because forwards usually get the least amount of completed passes because they’re usually trying to score or play guys in. It’s usually the holding midfielder or the right back, those guys have the most completion percentage as far as teams just based on their positions. So there’s a lot of different nuances, but there certainly are little trends that I’ll look at. We also have a stat on Match Analysis where you can see the pattern of the teams. So they’ll compile, 'OK, how many passes went from the left-sided center back to the left midfielder?' And they’ll graph that. Say there’s 12 passes in a game: How many passes does the left-sided center back play to the right winger? And you can kind of see when you put it on a graph the tendencies of that team: Where they like to play, which player had a particularly good game where he had a lot of touches. So those are little things that you can use: 'OK, Dallas likes playing down the left-hand side; so let’s force them to their right.' A lot of it is just common-sense things. A lot is kind of in addition to doing our job as a team and making sure that we’re right, it’s pretty interesting.

Q: Is soccer an especially difficult game to quantify statistically?Schmetzer: Soccer’s such a funny game. There are games that you’ll watch where one side is just getting pounded, but they’ll have one shot or one shot on goal. The other team could end up having 12. You remember the game against Houston early in the year: What did we have – 20-odd shots – and it ended up being a draw. ... Team sports are in general a complicated thing because there are so many moving parts. Obviously a sport like baseball, where it’s more deliberate and there’s one pitcher/one batter, it kinds of narrows the focus. In football there’s so many set plays that it kind of narrows that a little bit. Basketball is a little more fluid, and hockey’s a little more fluid, soccer is fluid, so those sports are a little bit harder to narrow down and pinpoint ‘Look, if you do this, you’re going to win 60 percent of your games.’ It’s tough."