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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Grading Soccer Goalies

I read a blurb in SI's Faces in the Crowd Section about a young woman who made all-league or all-conference for her play as a goalie for her small-college soccer team. Sounds like a great kid, great school, and a great record. But then I asked myself, how do talent evaluators really know that it's the goalie who is great and not, for example, the team's defensive system or the team's overall play?

For example, a team could be so dominant from the midfield through the strikers that it controls the ball in its offensive zone and shuts out the other team because, well, the other team hardly ever has the ball. Or, the team might have an outstanding defensive midfield, a system that's designed to defend more than attack, and outstanding defenders. As a result, it shuts out opponents frequently. Finally, the team might have outstanding defenders, period, and those defenders constantly deprive the other team of scoring opportunities. In any of these examples, how can you tell whether it's the goalie who is outstanding versus the overall team play, the team's strategy or the team's defenders?

My guess is that the talent evaluators who identified a Brianna Scurry and Hope Solo did so through a variety of metrics and filmwork. How many save opportunities did they get? How many saves did they make? How athletic were the saves? How do they interact with their defenders? How do they position them? How strong is their leg? How good are they at throwing the ball? How good is their decisionmaking? That's my guess, but I'd like to hear from a few soccer experts as to what really goes on.

That's not to take anything away from the young woman from this small college, whom I trust is excellent. I'm just wondering about how transparent the process is, so that the fans really discern who the outstanding players are, as opposed to products of a system that draws them accolades even if they played the role of bystander more than catalyst.


Blogger Ironlion27 said...

Well of course the keeper who has 15 clean sheets in a season will get the attention but for most evaluators there really isnt a set system they use to evaluate a keeper. They'll hear the buzz and go to at least one of the player's games, usually more. At the game they can evaluate what the keeper is doing well and what she is doing poorly.

If she is a good shot blocker and makes poor decisions to claim crosses this may be okay for that teams system if they have defenders who are exceptional in the air and don't need the keep to come off the line.

It's usually about what is right for the team they already have, at least thats what the smart ones do. They see their team and try to find a player who will fit the mold they have a need for, rather than just go find the best keeper and try and plug them in. It's the best player for the team not just the best player.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

A team like the US Nationals are lucky in that they can develop talent from percieved potential.
That way they can lay out a chart where you practice fundamentals: tall crosses, quick reflexes, footwork, awareness and some others and every workout have the player practice up to what is expected within their team/system. By the end of a given preseason you can look back on the progress of each keeper and evaluate who to start with, who to back up and who to reserve.

Evaluating a goalie's talent without developing the keeper would be much harder but you could look at things like attitude and work ethic in a single practice (or game) and mix that with what you can tell of their athleticism.

All-star team selection is more subjective and the winningest goalie is going to get the starting nod.

8:02 PM  

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