World Cup advances soccer stats 

July, 15, 2010

Today's winners in Stats & Analytics:

La Liga, Thomas Muller, Juan Veron

Today's losers:

Alex Gonzalez, Algeria, white sprinters

With the World Cup over, soccer is already sliding back down the depth chart of the sports most of us are interested in. But wait! When it comes to the statistics of soccer, there's a lot to look forward to.

These are the kinds of stats that FIFA has put out this week:

• 145 goals were scored at South Africa 2010, the fewest ever for a 64-game format.

• Despite the awful final, just 261 fouls were called, down from 346 four years ago. (Behind the Net counted only six for dives.) Refs handed out just 17 red cards, down from 26 in 2006.

• Xavi (Spain) attempted 669 passes, 104 more than second-place Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany). Xavi's teammate Sergio Ramos dribbled on 31 solo runs, the most of any player in the tournament.

• Players from La Liga (the first division of Spanish soccer) scored 29 goals at the Cup, the most of any pro league. Bayern Munich players led all clubs with 12 goals.

These are all pretty cool factoids, good for dropping into discussions whether you're a fan or a sports writer. But as I've argued in a piece just out in ESPN The Magazine, "advanced" soccer stats are generally incomplete and lacking in context. What we really need are comprehensive measures of individual performance in categories that correlate strongly with team success.

Fortunately, we're starting to get those, too.

Peter Keating

ESPN Senior Writer
Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. His column, The Numbers, appears in every issue.