Soccer analytics were always going to be part of Atlanta United’s plan for building their team. In an interview with MLSSoccer.com (which you are strongly encouraged to go read), AUFC President Darren Eales gave MLS and Atlanta supporters some insight as to how analytics will play a role in the formulation of the squad in 2017.
Over the next 11 months, Atlanta United will take part in the Waiver Draft, Re-Entry Draft, Expansion Draft, Super Draft and must navigate through the international player pool. This can all seem rather daunting for a small and limited front office. So, Eales hired Lucy Rushton, former senior performance analyst for eight years with English Championship club Reading FC. Her job will be to lead the club’s analytics department and work with Carlos Bocanegra to bring the best, affordable talent to Atlanta.
"Technical scouting and using analytics can help you to narrow down the field, particularly in soccer, which is a world sport. There are areas where we can look at what previous expansion teams have done in previous drafts," Eales said.
The front office as a whole has spent a great deal of time visiting and shadowing other MLS teams in attempt to learn from those organizations. They’ve cataloged many of their trips via Facebook and Twitter. It’s all in order to learn what works and what Eales and company could adapt to make better or more efficient. While details of specific discussions haven’t been made public, it wouldn’t surprise me if soccer analytics were a topic of conversation at some point with at least some of the clubs they’ve visited.
These conversations become important for those new to soccer in America. MLS is unique to most soccer leagues across the globe is the MLS salary cap. The type of player the Atlanta United front office scout and sign ultimately have to fit the budget constraints enforced by MLS. While the European leagues aren’t known for having a specific salary cap, Eales is no stranger to having to work within a budget.
"In the Premier League … you’re trying to get the most effective bang for your buck," Eales told MLSsoccer.com. "But there is always a ceiling because you can be as efficient as you like but if a team like Chelsea or Manchester City choose to spend four or five times your total salary, you are never going to be able to prove [somebody] wrong.
"Major League Soccer is different because you have that salary cap. It’s the same for everyone except for Designated Players. If you are more efficient, if you can find a way to build a roster more effectively, then you should be successful."
Success in MLS, especially for expansion teams, is rare. The league’s parity makes it an entertaining league overall, but can also drive a fan mad when the unlikely and inexplicable seem to happen at least once a week. But soccer is soccer, and ultimately the players on the field and the tactics employed make the ultimate difference. Giving Atlanta United the best chance right out of the gate is all Eales, and every AUFC supporter wants.
"We are just trying to use every edge we can to try and help us make the best selection we can to build the rosters," Eales told MLSSoccer.com.
"Hopefully we will [also] have a head coach that will make us competitive as possible from the start."