Previewing the 2018 SSAC Soccer Panels

I was going to write a longish preview of the two soccer-related panels at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, but after a big night at the pre-SSAC Soccer Analytics Mixer (and you REALLY should have been there) and a late rise, I’m going to make this short.

I suppose I should be thankful to the SSAC organizers for choosing to have two soccer-related panels at the conference, or even for having a soccer panel at all. For me, the makeup of the panels underscores the fact that the SSAC is now a sports business conference that happens to discuss sports analytics.

This year there is one session on European soccer that will take place after the hour-long interview with President Obama. Called “The Beautiful Game’s Global Reach”, it will feature former US national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller as moderator, Jim Pallotta of AS Roma, Javier Sorbino of FC Barcelona, Charlie Stillitano (formerly of the MetroStars, now Relevent Sports – they organize the preseason International Champions Cups), and Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated. The panel abstract says that the panel will discuss “ownership, on-field strategy, partnerships, analytics, and more”.  Knowing that at least two members of the panel are actively hostile to analytics, I shouldn’t deceive myself as to the kind of reception it will have.

There will also be a session on Major League Soccer and the intersection between analytics and the league.  Called “Major League Data on the Pitch: The Evolution of Analytics in MLS”, the panel will have Devin Pleuler (Toronto FC), Jeff Agoos (MLS HQ), Luke Bornn (formerly AS Roma, now Sacramento Kings), Ravi Ramineni (Seattle Sounders FC), and Angus McNab (formerly Opta). I know all of the people on the panel and I know of their commitment to and involvement in the growth of analytics in soccer in general and Major League Soccer in particular.

Bottom line: if you are still hoping for a good discussion of analytics at the conference, go to the MLS session on Saturday.