The Soccer Analytics panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has been hit-or-miss since it was included in 2011, but the organizers have made an effort to improve the quality of the panel with better selection of the facilitator and panelists. In my opinion they’ve continued to make positive progress with this year’s panel.
Returning to lead the panel for a third year is Andrew Wiebe of MLSSoccer.com. He has a knowledge of the professional game and an awareness of analytics that allows him to ask sharp questions that encourage the panelists to give substantive answers.
This year’s panel is composed of people who have worked in the professional game on both sides of the Atlantic at club and organizational levels. Ted Knutson — the founder of StatsBomb — worked in sports trading before he worked with a number of European clubs on player recruitment and match strategy. Daniel Stenz has extensive experience in German football and Major League Soccer. Padraig Smith helped implement a salary cap mechanism in the League of Ireland — the first European soccer league to do so — before he progressed to UEFA and eventually the Colorado Rapids of MLS. Hendrik Almstadt has left soccer altogether for the PGA Tour, but he has experience as football operations for Arsenal and sporting director for Aston Villa.
The twin themes of this panel, according to the description on the official website, will be an examination of player recruitment and match strategy using analytics. There is a lot of discussion of analytics for on-field performance assessment, which is exciting and gets page views but competes against the entrenched world of managers and coaches. However, there is an opportunity to apply analytics to problems that are no less important but of great financial interest to the front offices and boardrooms of these clubs. I’m hoping for a lively and substantive discussion of these topics.