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An analytics lesson from Atlanta United's advanced statistics expert

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Atlanta United are going to be as advanced as possible when it comes to evaluating players.

There are many ways to evaluate players in the world of soccer. Many like to watch players play and judge them off the eye test. This method has been used ever since the sport was invented. For over a century it's the only tool scouts and evaluators of talent had.

Over the last few decades, statistical analysis and advanced analytics have swept the world of sports. Baseball is the first sport that truly accepted analytics at the top level of management. Ever since the statistical revolution took over in Major League Baseball every professional sports league has attempted to breach the statistical analysis realm.

Soccer seems to be lagging behind somewhat so far in their efforts to get the masses to accept advanced analytics as a proper form of player evaluation. Atlanta United's new Head of Technical Recruitment & Analysis, Lucy Rushton, is hoping to do her part in changing the scouting landscape in MLS. In an interview with the AJC, she laid out the details of her role with United and how statistical analysis should be used in conjunction with the old school visual evaluation we know and love.

"A good balance of the two ultimately helps to generate the full picture and serves to help reduce the risk of making a wrong signing," Rushton, said. "In the early stages of the process, however, data can be used to provide some direction to scouting, and/or to highlight some potential targets who may have otherwise gone under the radar."

Several different variables can affect how advanced stats are used to evaluate players she says. Competition seems to be the biggest factor in differentiating between players. A league a player plays in can drastically affect the numbers.

"What may be a successful player in one league may not be the same in another," she said. "And as a result the type of player that we are looking for may be different to what teams in other countries have to offer. It is always important to acknowledge the differences between leagues when analyzing the statistics of a player, or when comparing the statistics of several players from multiple leagues."

-Lucy Rushton; Source: AJC

For example, a player playing in the Dutch Eredivisie will have drastically inflated offensive statistics compared to a player who plays in the English Premier League or Championship because of the style of play and level of competition. Adjustments need to be made so that every player evaluated is on a level playing field. These are types of resources she brings to MLS and Atlanta United that will hopefully give the club a massive advantage in the transfer and player acquisition market.