Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Seattle vs Portland - July 13, 2014

There’s a reason why the MLS schedulers chose to pick this game as the follow-up to the World Cup final. It is one of the top rivalries in the league with two teams who were tipped as title challengers in pre-season. This one lived up to expectations: plenty of quality attacking play, the usual good atmosphere, and some great tactical battles.

The first half was a story about two teams who were very well prepared defensively to stifle how their opponents prefer to attack. The first half was described as “slow” by some. It was certainly slower than the second half, but I think a lot of that was down to a combination of being accustomed to the World Cup’s pace and also the defensive tactics employed by each coach.

Seattle’s defense

Seattle’s key defensive point was how narrow the wide midfielders played when Portland established possession. They simply cut off passing lanes. Portland likes to combine through the middle and Seattle’s plan was to force them to beat them 1v1 out wide. Zakuani was able to find a couple moments to cut inside with the ball, particularly when Neagle was first arriving as supporting defender, but ultimately only forced one save from Frei.

Portland was able to find Nagbe or Valeri in between the lines on occasion, but they were immediately closed down. Nagbe never had the opportunity to run with the ball to find the vein of success he had in the last MLS match between the two sides. Interestingly, it seemed like Anibaba was playing to protect width on defense and force Nagbe and Valeri back into supporting defenders of Scott, Pineda, and Alonso.

Portland’s defense

Portland’s key defensive tactic was how they chose to mark Pappa and Neagle out wide. When Seattle had established possession, the outside backs would push high to mark Seattle’s wide players. As a result, Pappa started to drift more and more centrally to collect the ball while Neagle simply pushed high into the forward line when Seattle were in possession. Typical behavior of both.

This differed from how Portland dealt with them in transition. The wingers drifted out wide and attempted to cut off the passing lanes and deny them service. That left Jewsbury and Johnson the task of marking Dempsey as he dropped off the line to collect the ball in transition, which they did adequately.

Martins comes into the game

The first half’s key tactics were all about gumming up the works for their opponent’s attack, the second half was all about Obafemi Martins. He made a lot of the same movements as Chad Barrett, but has additional technical ability to keep the ball where Barrett coughed it up. He ran into the channels. He dropped off the center backs when Jewsbury and Johnson were occupied with Deuce. His relative ability over Barrett was clearly on display with his clean touches, holding off defenders, then combining with the other attackers.

Seattle diversifies attacking space in second half

The following two images are the combined passing chalkboards for Dempsey and Pineda in the first half, then the second half. (Note: The general trend holds if you look at all of Seattle's attackers combined, but this image is just cleaner to make the point). Pretty obvious that Seattle’s plan in the first half was to try to go at Villafana and McKenzie. That all changed in the second half when Neagle and Pappa switched sides and continued in their usual mold of Pappa drifting in and Neagle staying higher and wider. This allowed Seattle to have width on both sides of the field with Neagle out left and Yedlin out right. As a result, Dempsey and Pineda both started finding space to collect the ball on the left high in the midfield.

This also caused the space for Portland’s wingbacks to switch from one side to the other. Marco Pappa isn’t exactly known for his defensive prowess (especially in transition) and Portland’s outside backs were clearly given the instruction to get forward if he was on their side. This is how Portland found width on the left in the second half.

The Will Johnson Problem

He’s been getting a lot of hate from my friends who are Timbers fans, so I was paying particular attention to him in this game. He’s moving fast instead of playing fast. He’s always in such a damn hurry to do everything that his touches and passing precision are letting him down. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s destroying Portland’s defensive shape. There were several times in the second half in particular where he didn’t recognize that his team shifted out of the “we’re in transition so pressure the ball” mode and he continued to step out of position to go pressure a ball and left gaps for the likes of Dempsey, Martins, and Pappa to exploit. The Timbers’ captain is clearly feeling the pressure of sitting out of the playoff places and he’s making mistakes trying to force things that aren’t on.


Seattle’s offensive rotations are the most interesting, intricate, and fluid of any MLS team that I can remember… when everyone is on the field together. If they can stay healthy, there is surely at least one trophy that will end up in Seattle. Portland, on the other hand, are making mistakes they don’t need to be making. They have the talent to still snag a playoff spot, especially if Ridgewell can help sort out the defensive positioning of everyone else.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tactical threads: USA through the group stage

Well, the United States did it. We eked our way out of group G, dubbed by many to be the group of death. This article is designed to look at some of the common tactical threads for the US side through the three group stage games.

1. Kyle Beckerman has been our most important player. Note that I'm not saying best. He is the most important because he understands how to play his role - which is to play simply, organize things when we transition to defense, and ultimately free up everyone else to play their game. His positioning has been nothing short of astounding. He frees the rest of our midfielders up to make challenges on defense. He sits in and allows us to get forward in transition and also once we've established possession. Beasley and Johnson are free to take risks in attack because Beckerman sorts us out against the counter and lets Jones just run to track down the ball because Beckerman keeps the shape for the team in the middle. I know it is cliche, but Beckerman's greatest strength is that he just makes everyone else better by adjusting to the situation to allow other players to take full advantage of their strengths.

2. We are most dangerous in attack when we are able to string more than two passes together and allow time for our outside backs to get forward. In almost all of our most dangerous forays into the attacking third, either Fabian Johnson or DaMarcus Beasley have been making runs to create overloads on the wings. Unfortunately, we've been so bad at keeping possession that we haven't been able to fully unleash the backs to unlock our opponents. This issue is compounded by the following two points.

3. Michael Bradley is clearly playing in a role he is uncomfortable in. He was downright bad against Ghana. He was merely mediocre against both Portugal and Germany. So what gives? It's all about the types of movement he is accustomed to making compared to the types of moves he's now expected to make.

Bradley has always been at his best at winning the ball, let other players make the dynamic transition from defense to offense, then float around and be an outlet to receive the ball without a ton of defensive pressure.  The problem, is that he is now expected to be the dynamic runner in transition. And he simply isn't. I've seen a lot of the US media talk about how Bradley is putting in the workrate because he's covered more ground than anyone else in the tournament. That is exactly the problem - he's running too much. His runs have all been the moderately-paced floating that he's used to making in the deeper position. He isn't making the dynamic 10-yard sprints to pull defenders out of position or to receive the ball in-between the lines.

4. Our wide midfielders are primarily playing to just keep our shape. There's no creativity in the movement. They aren't switching positions on runs to force defenders to make decisions. They are basically standing around trying to make the field big as if we have already established possession. Except we have rarely established possession. So we haven't been able to transition on a counter attack successfully. Davis was invisible. Bedoya was pretty unremarkable. Zusi was serviceable, but not going to be a consistent threat on his own. They're all static and easy to defend.

The lone exception has been DeAndre Yedlin. He certainly doesn't have the best technical ability of the bunch, and his decision making is questionable at times, but he is dynamic in his offball movement. The kid sees space in front of him and he attacks it, whether he has the ball or not. Oh, and his recovery speed and experience playing at right back should also allow Johnson to get forward more often without as much fear of getting punished if we cough the ball up.

5. We are daring teams to beat us via the cross. We are concentrated on not getting beat through the middle. Our central midfielders are staying central when the other team has established possession. Our wide midfielders are sometimes giving help to the outside backs, but it is often late to arrive. That results in our outside backs defending 1v1 out wide and shaping their bodies to invite the attackers toward the endline to serve a ball in. This is the reason why the big noticeable mistakes on goals are mental lapses by our center backs. We're allowing ball after ball to be served into the box and eventually, we've turned off and made a mistake. It looks like Jurgen's instructions for the outside backs are mostly just don't let the opponents play from wide into zone 14 on top of the box. So far, that is job well done.

Ultimately, we're playing very reactive soccer. Our players either don't understand where they're supposed to be moving off the ball or their teammates don't understand the visual cues that tell them where their teammates are going to be moving to. Something has to change if we want to advance on something other than a lucky goal. We aren't a possession team and we aren't a counter team. We don't have an identity and we don't have a style of play in attack. That's on Klinnsman.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Seattle vs. Philadelphia 05/04/2014

I've been waiting for this game for weeks now, in anticipation of how the tactics would play out. This season has been two different tales for these teams. Seattle has been able to capitalize on their good combination play in their opponents half. Philly haven't. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have been on an absolute tear over the last couple weeks, combining with ease in the attacking third. Philly knew they'd have to stop that from happening if they hoped to have a chance in this game.

Final result: Seattle 2 - Philly 1

Philly center backs don't step with Deuce

Clint Dempsey has been dropping into the hole all season long to collect the ball, provide an easy outlet, and bring the midfielders into the attack. It was, quite frankly, amazing how much space he was able to find all game. Philly's center backs were simply letting him go and collect the ball so often that I lost count. Add on that Edu and Carroll were stepping high to Pineda and Alonso which gave even more gaps for Deuce to find the ball.

It seemed like Hackworth's instructions were to prevent Seattle's attackers from combining to get in behind the center backs. For the most part they accomplished this. However, Evans and Neagle (who was particularly poor on the night) gave the ball away so cheaply in the first half, that Seattle were killing their own chances more than Philly were stopping them.

Dempsey was involved in 112 actions according to the chalkboards. That is an absolutely ridiculous number for a forward. Those are defensive midfielder numbers. He happened to have more actions than anyone on Philly's team, but lagged slightly behind teammates Yedlin and Pineda.

Seattle's plan B is to find Martins in the channels

There were a few times where Seattle wasn't able to find Dempsey early because Philly's midfielders were applying adequate pressure in Seattle's half after losing the ball. When that happened, Seattle's strategy was to play the ball wide to Neagle, Yedlin, or Evans. When that ball was played, Martins would then run into the channels because Philly's outside backs had to step to the ball. The offball movement saw a shift from Seattle's outside mids to push up and play in the space a forward traditionally occupies, as well as Dempsey returning to play as a center forward.

It seemed like Seattle was often building up the right through this fashion, pushing Neagle up high. He's played as a forward plenty of times for Seattle and it seemed like Dempsey was comfortable dropping off into space again to collect the ball as Oba held the ball and allowed Seattle's mids to get forward.

Once Seattle had the ball in the attacking third, the attackers playing right on the defensive line almost always had their backs to goal. They looked to combine in zone 14 (the area right on top of the box) then make a run after releasing the ball. This is the meat and potatoes of how Oba and Dempsey have been combining all season and bringing in midfielders to distribute to wide before making runs toward the mouth of goal.

Nogueira finds space out right

The last game I previewed also included Philly and I highlighted how Nogueira was sliding out right to collect the ball in transition. The exact same thing happened against Seattle. With Neagle pushing up high in the attack and Remick providing balance to the defensive shape while Yedlin also pushed high, there was a giant chasm for Nogueira to exploit. He's been the key piece all season for Philly, but all season they've struggled to create and finish quality chances.

Philly looked like they wanted to counter when they won the ball, but once they got forward, the urgency of runs died. They were able to find the ball on top of the box plenty in this game after building through Nogueira on the right, but ultimately settled to blast it into Chad Marshall and rarely tried to penetrate Seattle's defensive line.

Just to compare to Dempsey, Nogueira had the most actions for his team at 105.

Edu a complete non-factor

Honestly, I hardly noticed he was out there. The announcers hardly mentioned his name. He generally looked in no-man's land in the middle of Seattle's empty bucket. He saw the ball far less than any of the other starting midfielders in this game and just didn't seem to be making those dangerous delayed runs to the top of the box like he was early in the season. If he's going to hang out in the middle, he's got to do a better job of cutting off passing lanes against teams who try to find the feet of the forwards like Seattle does.

Remick out injured, Pappa on, Evans to left back

A major key to the second half was how high Seattle's left back played defensively. We can't tell if Sigi gave those instructions at half time (I'd hope he did), or if it was Evans' intuition telling him to step higher. However, what we can tell is that it prevented Philly from building so easily down that side. Seattle dominated possession for long stretches in the second half. Evans stepping higher forced Philly to try to play through other channels, rather unsuccessfully.

The other piece of this was bringing Marco Pappa on. This took Evans out of the attacking positions (where Williams was doing an excellent job of pressuring him into making mistakes) and into an outside back position where you have more time and space. Pappa did his own part, finding opportunities to open up the field with a good switch or some simple combination play.


Don't let Dempsey run free or Seattle will win the possession and chance-creation battles. Because Seattle pushes so many players so high, there's plenty of gaps to exploit on the counter. Philly just weren't good enough (and haven't been all season) to do anything in the attacking third after finding the gaps in the middle third to spring a counter. They don't have excessive speed up top and they don't really try all that hard to play a possession game.

The Union kind of have an identity crisis in what exactly they want to be doing in the attack and they won't get many results until Hackworth picks a set of tactics and runs with it. Seattle, on the other hand, will just continue to keep throwing men forward to benefit from the combination play of Oba and Deuce and dare their opponents to outscore them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union - 03/08/2014

The Portland Timbers are the favorite of many to win some silverware this year. Last year's complete overhaul by Caleb Porter changed the playing identity of the Timbers to a possession-based side with a high line of defensive confrontation. Philadelphia Union, on the other hand, played very direct last season. They brought in several new players who look to put their stamp on the Union brand of soccer and get them back to the playoffs this season.

Final score: Portland 1 : Philadelphia 1

Philly attack up the right

The entire first half, Philadelphia was finding plenty of success attacking up the right side. Nogueira would frequently drift out wide to combine with both Le Toux and Gaddis. All three seemed to be trying to exploit the space between Fernandez, who was often pushed high or inside in possession, and Harrington. They were successful on their overloads, combining out wide before finding someone up the line or Edu in the middle. During the first half it seemed as though Philly was intentionally keeping the ball on their right side, rarely looking to swing the ball across the back to change the point of attack. Berry and Okugo were particularly guilty in not finding players out left as they would frequently ignore open players on the left (primarily Fabinho) and opt to play central or right.

In the second half, Maidana switched the the right. As much possession and space as Philly found there in the first half, they could have been a lot more dangerous from that area. Le Toux simply doesn't have a precise enough touch on the dribble or incisive passing to be the difference maker there. Maidana looks like he can be that player and the switch was a great move by Hackworth to attempt to exploit Gaston's lacking defense. 

Portland slow to transition to defense

This was a major factor in Philly's chance creation in the first half. Portland simply stunk at their transition after losing the ball. With Portland's possession style, they get plenty of players forward in attack. Last season, they were able to mitigate a lot of potential counter-attacks by doing two things simultaneously: place immediate pressure on the ball, and have their weak-side players and holding-mid pivot drop off. In the first half, they were ineffective at both.

Nogueira touched the ball more than anyone else on the field. That simply shouldn't happen against a team playing three central midfielders, especially when one of them is Diego Chara. The lack of immediate pressure on the ball allowed Nogueira to find gaps in the center of the field. It was exceptionally notable that there were yards of space for Philly to receive the ball in transition between the centerbacks and the holding mids. The centerbacks were correct in their decisions to drop off and leave that space because there was inadequate pressure put on the ball, which means the player in possession can find a ball over the top much easier.

Portland lack penetrating movement and urgency

Last year, Portland were known for their patience on the ball, waiting for an opportunity to find someone making a run in behind to slip a simple through ball to. They had the first part of this down, but there weren't many runs in behind. There was just no urgency anywhere on the field to penetrate lines.

Nagbe, in particular, was guilty of lack of energy. He seemed completely disinterested for most of the first half and was content to hang out 5-10 yards off the Union defenders. In the second half, he was switched to the left with the introduction of Alhassan for Urruti. He suddenly looked like he wanted to score. He made lots of good runs in behind and combined well in the second half.


Philly looked a lot better than I think they probably are in this one because Portland lacked intensity for large portions of the game. Their signings all look to be good pickups and should push them into playoff contention this year, at a bare minimum. Caleb Porter won't let Portland come out that flat next week and Portland's tactical awareness and technical ability will shine through.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PRESEASON: Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes - 02/05/2014

Both of these teams have a lot of new faces that have a shot at locking down starting roles or first-choice subs. The first half saw lineups that were very different from what these teams put out last year. Both teams looked like they were playing the same general style as last year.

Final score: Seattle 2 - San Jose 1
Full stream available here 


This should come as a surprise to no one who watched San Jose over the last two years. They look to get the ball forward, cutting out as many defenders as possible with one pass. Lenhart was his typical self, moving around to be a target forward and knocking balls down for his midfielders to run on to. However, that seemed to be the second option for San Jose to move the ball from the back 6 to their forwards. Billy Schuler was dropping deep into the hole created from San Jose's empty bucket midfield. They tried to find his feet early and then allow him to lay the ball off for a midfielder. Don't expect him to start as Wondo is just away on international duty.

Seattle allowed San Jose's defenders and holding midfielders to ping the ball around the back until they could find Lenhart or Schuler in a favorable situation. Pierazzi and Martinez kept the ball well by playing simply. Seattle had absolutely no urgency to try to win the ball until it was within their own half. That allowed San Jose to render Seattle's forwards useless by penetrating that first line of defense with a pass. Seattle was already up 2-0 halfway through the first half, so I imagine the urgency would increase if the scoreline was flipped.


Kenny Cooper looked like a straight up baller in this half. He was the focal point of Seattle's build up as he was the one usually dropping into the midfield to collect the ball. He simply looked to combine with the midfielders and always presented himself as an option after playing the ball. I'm not sure how Dempsey's presence might change the way Cooper is deployed. It should be interesting to see if we play a diamond midfield, an empty bucket like we've seen for years, or maybe a switch to 4-2-3-1 is in order. Time will tell.

Martins also dropped into the midfield to collect the ball when Cooper was electing to stay high. The two of them did a good job coordinating who would stay high and who would go low. Martins would also just look to combine with the midfielders and found some success doing so with Neagle out left and also an overlapping Dylan Remick, who put in a great cross for Rose to head back across the face of goal for Oba's second goal.


The two teams utilized their outside backs in two completely different styles. San Jose's stayed relatively deep, as the Quakes weren't trying to combine their way up the field. This ultimately made it more difficult for Neagle and Bowen to get involved in the game as they weren't able to exploit space behind an over-committed outside back.

Seattle's outside backs got forward and tried to overload San Jose's outside backs 2v1. Remick tended to get higher on overlapping runs than Anibaba, who tended to just be a wide passing option. The space was often there for him to run into as Bowen tended to drift high and inside much like we saw Rosales do last season to allow Yedlin to bomb forward. Anibaba didn't have any glaring mistakes, but I imagine Yedlin would have put himself in more dangerous positions.


The second half was full of reserves, substitutes, and rookies just trying to make the squad. Lots of sloppy play, misplayed balls, and miscommunication. Interestingly, San Jose played the second half completely different from the first and were actually looking to string passes together instead of just longballs to a target forward. They were much more dangerous in this half. They had a stand out performance from Colombian trialiast, Baena. I thought he was the best player on the field in the second half and was more effective than anyone else for San Jose on the day. If he plays like that consistently, I'd give him a contract. For Seattle, Long Tan had a couple decent opportunities. Other than those two, no one really stood out that much.


Seattle look like they will be a playoff team again this year, provided Obafemi Martins is healthy enough to play 3/4 of the games. The midfielders should have plenty of opportunities to get into the attack and score some goals. San Jose will be an interesting squad this season, and much of their success will rest on how well Lenhart/Gordon/Jahn can knock down balls for their teammates. Their wingers look like they will struggle to create much on their own. I'd place them just on the bubble of making the playoffs.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

PRESEASON: Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City 2/1/2014

Preseason is underway! Lots of new faces in many teams and lots of guys still trying to make their squads. These two teams kept their core intact, so there won't be a whole lot of changes for either this season. Kansas City, in particular, will look very similar to last year. Portland will be a bit different with the addition of Villafana (who I expect to start at left back with Harrington at right back for the season), Gaston Fernandez, and Norberto Paparatto.

Both of these coaches are system coaches who look to employ the same core tactics, regardless of opponent. SKC's starting 11 should already be familiar with how Vermes wants them to play. For the few new players Portland brought in for the season, Porter went and found players who fit the system (something I'm a huge proponent of), instead of finding players and then altering the system to fit them.

Final score: Portland 1 : Kansas City 1
Full game stream


If you watched either team play much last season, this should come as no surprise to you. It is a tactic that worked well for both teams last year, as they were the two best defenses in the league. Both teams try to win the ball as high up the field as possible and spring an attack from there. Any time SKC cleared the ball away from their penalty area you could hear a coach screaming "UP!" or "STEP!" to make Portland work to break into the attacking third again. Both teams use their center forward to cut the field in half and try to keep play on one side of the field. That allows for the rest of the team to pack that side of the field to make it difficult for their opponents to find space to work in.


 Both coaches encourage their outside backs to get forward and join the attack. In the first half, the left backs were especially attacking. However, they did it in very different styles. SKC had Sapong drift inside or try to get in behind, which allowed for Sinovic to run the line as he pleased. Several times, the SKC center backs tried to pick him out with diagonal balls unsuccessfully, despite the huge amount of space he often found himself in.

For Portland, Villafana saw fewer opportunities to get forward than his counterpart. When he did get forward, he looked to combine instead of looking to cross the ball and find someone for a header. In the latter part of the half, Alhassan (who had very little impact on the game) switched sides with Nagbe. When that happened, the Portland attacks switched from primarily the right half of the field to the left half of the field and Villafana pushed forward a bit more often.


Vermes employed Bieler as a CAM for the first half. This was one of the few surprises of the game for me. Bieler did fine in combination play, as would be expected with someone of his technical ability. However, his workrate remains a concern as he didn't find the ball all that often. I'd also be very nervous as an SKC fan if Bieler gets locked into this role, as it ruined the high pressure that SKC was using. He looked very uncomfortable defensively and didn't understand where he was supposed to be. Portland found lots of simple passes (Gaston moved to collect the ball then combine very well) to break the first and second lines of SKC's defense, who responded by conceding plenty of fouls. Expect SKC to repeat as the fouling champions of the league this season.


The second half was full of draft picks, reserves, and trialists. And it looked like it. The play was sloppy, and often looked like a high-level Sunday league game. There really weren't that many talking points about tactics in this half, as both teams often resorted to trying to send a long ball over the top for someone to run on to. Portland's speed of play was very slow and there wasn't much movement up top to receive the ball from the back. SKC were less patient than Portland and tried to find Sapong early and often. Neither teams were very effective in the second half.

Schillo Tshuma was the steal of the draft, in my book, and I was surprised he fell that far. I think he would fit better elsewhere (Colorado, Columbus, or Montreal) but he should see some minutes for Portland this year. He played the wide role differently than Nagbe and Alhassan did in the first half, choosing to stay wide almost the entire time. Portland tried to find him on through balls, and eventually found him on a brilliant, perfectly-weighted chip from Long (who also had a decent game as a calming presence who simply kept the ball for Portland) for a goal. Aside from those two, Peay looked competent despite his slow speed of play, and Kotlov had a few flashes of individual skill.

Kansas City played the second half with 10 men, after Collin was sent off for a second yellow, both for denying opportunities after he got beat. No one from Kansas City really stood out to me as having more than just a decent half.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Comparing MLS height bias to European leagues

Earlier this week I started to look at the issue of bias within the US soccer system based on a player’s height. While it was clear that tall players are favored over short players, it wasn’t clear whether that was true globally and to what extent. To do that, we'd have to look at other leagues around the world.


I examined players playing within the league of their nationality to remove the potential issue of a league transferring in a bunch of short or tall players from abroad. It is widely accepted that height within a specific region (like a country) is normally distributed. So, I found average heights and standard deviations for 10 different nations in Europe to compare the US to so we can see if this is just an American issue. By using standard deviations, we normalized the data across nations to account for that particular nation’s height profile so it makes sense to compare different nations. For those who are unfamiliar with normal distribution and standard deviation or need a refresher, click here.

What I’ve done is created a category for players within one standard deviation of the mean in each direction and then another category for players who are more than one standard deviation from the mean. What we should see is about 68% of players should be within one standard deviation from the mean. We’ll call them “average players” in terms of their height. This was pretty close to true across the leagues. Where it becomes interesting is when we look at players that are more than one standard deviation from the mean.

Again, I will be using location quotients to compare the US to the European leagues. Smaller values (less than one) mean there are fewer players in that height group than should be expected. Values close to one mean there are about as many players in that category as would be expected. Large values (greater than one) mean there are more players in that category than should be expected.


The results show that, pretty much across the board, there is some bias toward choosing taller players (more than one standard deviation from the mean). This shouldn’t be that surprising as there are obviously some positions (mainly keeper and, to a lesser extent, center back) where it is advantageous to have a bit of height. Interestingly, Portugal and Italy have a pretty strong favor for tall players whereas Finland, Belgium, Austria, and Sweden don’t seem to care all that much about player height.


Alright, so many readers peppered me with questions wondering about how USA stacked up against foreign leagues. Here it is: we have a higher likelihood to see tall Americans in MLS than what is experienced from these ten European nations, on average. On the flip side, we see a much lower likelihood of short players in MLS than in Europe. If we combine all 10 European countries into a single group, we see that it is roughly three times less likely to have a short player in the US than it is in Europe. Even with the inclusion of the relatively more tall-favoring leagues of Italy and Portugal, the USA had a higher concentration of tall players than Europe

Pretty damning evidence that the qualities valued in the US soccer environment are based more on physical characteristics than they are on soccer abilities.

In the next post in this series (likely sometime next week), I’ll be looking at where exactly the short players get weeded out from becoming pros in the top domestic league in the US.

Note: the leagues chosen for this examination were purely based on which nations had the necessary height data available and that I found.