by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)
Today is an exciting day. Later this afternoon we have the distinct privilege to unveil our first quarterly* Major League Soccer Top-50 player ranking. We sent out 40 ballots to team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. It is a diverse group that encapsulates all perspectives of MLS analysis; including those working behind-the-scenes trying to improve their clubs, players on the field, journalists and analytically focused writers. These are people that know the league better than anyone else, and it's because they live and breathe MLS.
Ranking anything is a delicate and sometimes obtuse task. We're not usually into doing things that are subjective and rather opaque in process but the results seemed to be worth stepping outside of our normal domain to achieve.
We set before our participants a listing of 346 unique individual players from around the league. The criteria for that pool was a minimum of 45 minutes played by April 15th, roughly 15% into the season. Because of our criteria, players such as Diego Valeri, Jermaine Jones and Mike Magee were not available for selection. Though, and this is purely based upon the amount of e-mails that I received from those submitting ballots, I'm pretty certain all would have ended up high on this list.
The hardest thing about trying to establish who is best when populating a list such as this is figuring out how you really define "best". I think this was the hardest thing for our group to really attempt to discern as they conducted their own ballot.
Instead of me trying to encapsulate the entire group's thought process behind how they filed their ballot, here are a few quotes behind various submissions.
"I put goal-scoring at a premium, and that includes setting up goals"
"My methodology in the rankings as I looked through the players was, "Would you rather have Player X or Player Y?" Then I would rank them accordingly."
"I fused production, expected production, raw talent and health. ... The game is still about goals, and the guys who create and or score them are the most talented players on the pitch."
"I imagined it as one giant MLS draft"
"This was me hunting through some of the stats I think are valuable and combining that with the eye test to this point in the season"
Our calculation of the rankings was simple. Each submission had 50 placements and each place corresponded with a reverse point score. First place earned 50 points, second place earned 49 points, ect, All counted, 176 of 346 individuals received at least a point, with 39 points needed to even break into the top-100.
Suffice to say this wasn't a clear cut journey. There was deliberation, time taken to think through each decision and in the end not everyone agrees on every player. I think that's okay as this isn't necessarily a fact based adventure but a conversation starter.
It's very hard and nearly impossible to come up with a single metric in this sport that properly measures all the events across the pitch to compare players. This endeavor can help us attempt to bridge this gap in identifying difference makers albeit in a bit of a crude manner. I think with the right people involved with this project, it helps push us towards at least identifying who those players are.
I want to thank all of those that participated in this project and were gracious with their time. I hope that this is just our first go round and that we can expect this to serve as a barometer for players in MLS in the future.
*Expect our next rankings to be released in August.