Analytics And Front Office Hirings / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Yesterday, MLSsoccer.com ran a story about new Houston Dynamo General Manger Matt Jordan and his intent on building a so called ‘attacking and very diverse group’ next season. Darrell Lovell, the writer of the article, mentioned Jordan’s task implimentation would come by the way of introducing data analytics in the effort to shape the future of the roster.

Now, first off, none of Jordan’s actual comments speak to his this newfangled approach and while it’s exciting in theory the actual implementation and use of analytics can actually take years to fully implement in regards to the data infrastructure that would be needed to influence decision making.

I’m not saying that Jordan isn’t intending to bring analytics to Texas Street rather I’m pointing out that it’s purely a positional expectation that has been placed upon him and unlike the hiring of Andrew Opatkiewicz, Jordan has no past experience or body of evidence that we can point to as having used data to support his decisions.

Jordan’s education in marketing does lend some credence to the idea that he has some understanding of the advanced disciplines that would be required to make this work. But the reality is for analytics to work and be effectual, he’s going to need a department that has invested time and effort in not just producing data sets but time identifying and outlining what is meaningful, useful and productive information that is contextualized in the effort to add value to Jordan’s decision making.

Throwing the word analytics around is flashy, hip and cool. But teams such as the Sounders, Sporting, Red Bulls and Quakes have all invested money in different aspects and relations of analytics with varied results and time lines that limited their effectiveness. Which in turn have seen very smart (*cough* Rui Xu *cough*) individuals to leave their posts far too early.

The mentality behind people in front office positions is that they want to see results or an immediate return on investment. The problem is that there isn’t an exact formula to where you can say: “do this” and then “do that”—and presto! You’re going to have a good team or even a team that is ready to win the Supporters’ Shield.

Honestly, the bigger highering within MLS in this very short off-season—disregarding Opatkiewicz election in USL Pro—was the lesser trumpeted Pádraig Smith by the Colorado Rapids. Who comes to MLS by way of UEAF and then before that Ireland. A former director of finance he has actual experience of dealing/applying financial fair play rules and the constraints that come as a product of that in player acquisition.

Colorado announced that Smith’s position within the team will be on the technical staff as Sporting Director. The article on MLSsoccer further explored this role stating “With the Rapids, Smith will focus on data analytics and performance analysis as they pertain to player acquisitions and scouting from a team performance, player and opposition perspective. He will also oversee strategic planning and management of the soccer operations budget, salary cap and ensure that the club is in compliance with all player collective bargaining agreements and FIFA regulations.”

This isn’t necessarily any deep seeded proof. But just looking at other sports hiring’s such as in the NBA or in Major League Baseball with backgrounds that preclude much if any top-level experience but include computer and political science major, applied economics and general outside the box minded individuals has shown reasonable and positive results. You can point to such examples as Jon Daniels, Theo Epstein, Daryl Morey and *Sam Presti. All have strong track records and outside of Presti, have no pro or top division college experience within the sport.  

*Presti did play D-III ball, but his role was limited and there isn’t much real experience that is point back to that.

Comparing Smith to Jordan is much like comparing apples to oranges (Dynamo reference!) in that their two unique situations with different things in which they are accountable for and working within different constructs, seeking different solutions.

It’s fair to say that ownership and/or whomever are making hiring determinations and placing the roles and expectations on these positions within the front office are starting to place a premium on the involvement of data driven analysis within the decisions making paradigm. Which is great, however it’s by no means indicative of teams becoming smarter in game and roster evaluation or identifying artifices within the construct of the current CBA and player acquisition mechanisms.

All this really means is that teams are starting to seek out individuals that in their determination can find these loopholes and exploit them while they exist. A generation of capologists that has seemingly invaded other from most  So, maybe, Houston and Colorado are two teams that we should watch this year as they restructure their roster through what we can only speculate as potential bold moves in an attempt to find their way back to the MLS playoffs next season.