Earlier today, Major League Soccer and sports statistics company Opta announced a multi-year deal to bring North American soccer statistics and records to a whole new level. If you're a fan of the Bundesliga, and have been impressed (even overwhelmed) by the shear amount of raw statistical data collected and published from each match, then you're going to be even more impressed to see that the fledgling North American League will have a comparable level of data collection starting this season.
It's rather remarkable just how much data Opta will collect — and it makes you feel bad for those who will get paid to watch soccer matches but must spend much of their time with their heads buried in their laptop recording every single thing that happens on the pitch instead of enjoying the greatness of the sport. Each play, be it an attempted pass, a completed pass or interception, a tackle, a challenge, a header, whatever, is considered what Opta calls an "event" and will be recorded. Being able to link this sort of data to players and teams is going to provide an incredible window inside matches and in trying to judge how individuals and clubs match up against one another, one which none of the other major professional sports leagues can match.
It can provide quantitative data and evidence for areas that have been, until now, more or less qualitative judgments. Think about it: "Gee, I feel like [insert player] does an abnormally good job at getting to headers at midfield." If you wanted to either validate or disprove that statement, your best bet was to ask other fans to see if they thought the same way, simply because no one was keeping official records for all matches about events so specific as headers played at midfield. Within the next few months, once regular season matches start to get underway and MLS and Opta begin to integrate, you'll be able to look on MLS's website and within a few clicks you'll get your answer. It can provide invaluable insight for team management about where their team is excelling and where it's struggling, and if there's a particular area that the team is doing poorly on, all the club will need to do is pull up a list of the league leaders in that area and perhaps use that as a starting point for trade talks. The more you think about it, the more MLS's Matthew Doyle might be right in his declaration of this agreement being revolutionary for the league.
The possibilities created by Opta's level of collection sure as heck makes the previous list of official statistics kept by MLS and Elias, goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, fouls committed, fouls suffered, cautions and ejections, sound pretty paltry, doesn't it? And doesn't it make you wonder why MLS didn't do this years ago?
If you want a taste for what Opta will be providing to MLS, its clubs, broadcasters and fans, give them a follow on their UK Twitter account and their relatively new US account. What are you looking most forward to seeing hard statistics for?