During almost every ECNL match of the season, the FC Wisconsin Eclipse staff tracks and records a variety of statistics and performance indicators. The type of statistic or indicator being tracked in the game is chosen by the staff based on the current developmental needs of the team, and the pieces of information that will most help teach or reinforce the tactical concepts or ideas related to that need.
At the February 2014 ECNL National Event in Ft. Worth, TX, the staff recorded a variety of information in each game that was designed to show attacking tendencies, how a team’s ability to retain possession leads to goal scoring chances, and the quality and frequency of involvement of players in the attacking third.
While this sounds like a lot, the information was recorded in a very simple and easily reviewed one-page game report. In the nightly team meetings with each team, the staff went through the report to discuss the overall performance and areas to focus on in the next game. The game report in Texas measured 5 key areas:
- Entries Into the Attacking Third: This statistic tracks any pass or dribble into our attacking third, and where the penetration came from. This provides a sense of where the team is effectively breaking down the opposition, and where chances are being created.
- Shots and Crosses: This statistic tracks how many goal-scoring chances were created, where they came from, and how successfully the team converted entries into the attacking third into actual chances. For crosses, there is a rough estimate of the quality of the cross based on whether a teammate successfully got the first attacking touch on the cross in the box.
- Passing Sequences: This statistic tracks the length of possession (by number of passes) each time the team had the ball and completed at least 1 pass. It also tracks the number of unwarranted and panicked clearances that concede possession. This provides a rough estimate of skill and composure in keeping the ball and making the opponent defend for extended periods.
- Forward Touches and Danger: This statistic has two components. First, it tracks the number of touches by the forwards in each half – helping to see the degree of their involvement in play and where they received the ball on the field. Second, it tracks how many of these involvements were “key” – touches that created a dangerous opportunity to penetrate or score.
- Switches Through the Thirds: This statistic shows how many times the team successfully switched the ball from one vertical half to another, and where on the field that switch took place. This provides insight on the team’s success in possession.
So what did the game reports look like? Below is the report from the U16 game vs. Atlanta Fire on February 23, a 2-0 win for FC Wisconsin Eclipse.
There are several insights available from the report:
- Right Side Attacking Dominance: With 18 combined entries into the final third in the right wide channel (compared to 11 on the left), it was clear that the team was more ambitious and effective in creating chances on the right side of the field. This opens discussion as to how and why this occurred: Did the right midfielder push forward more dynamically? Did the right back support and overlap more effectively? Were we more successful and ambitious in 1 vs. 1 situations on the right side?
- Limited Central Penetration and Danger: With only 5 entries into the final third, and very few shots, there was little attacking presence in the middle of the field. Again, this opens discussion: Were forwards too quick to play negatively instead of turning? Did we not look for penetration in this area, or was the opposition very compact? Were central midfielders providing good attacking support and looking to penetrate off the run?
- Improve Crossing and Finishing Quality: Of 10 crosses into the penalty box during the game, the team got the first touch on only 2 of them (1 of which was the first goal). Was this because crosses were inaccurate or poorly hit, or because runners were hesitant or in the wrong spaces? Is this a sign of a need for technical improvement, better decision-making, or more courage?
- Average Possession Quality: The team was only able to connect 6 or more passes 8 times during the game. (Note: What is not clear from the report but was true in the game was that there were many possessions of 4-5 passes; far more than the possessions of 2-3 passes.) We would like to see the number of “high pass possessions” be higher – and a look at the number of switches from one vertical half to another indicates one reason it was not. With a very limited number of switches of play, it is difficult to establish sustained possession. These facts provide hard evidence of the need for the central players (backs and midfield especially) to do a better job connecting the right and left side of the field.
The purpose of a game report, and the analytics that come with it, are to provide another piece of information to help players perform better, and learn faster. The team discussion of the report helps the group understand how they can work together more, and see objective evidence of what they are collectively doing well or where they need to focus more intently. The game report also provides specific information for individual players and positions on areas of success and improvement.
Players learn in different ways, and instruction can occur effectively on and off the field. To maximize your potential, you need a club and staff that can do both, and provide insight in new and different ways.