Insider Series, Part One: The Role of the Scout in MLS

Jamie Squire

We know what they do is important. Very few of us know what or how they do it, until now.

Talk to any scout and they will tell you that there are two Superbowls. One is the result of years of hard work and dedication culminating in one glorious moment in front of live fans, social media users and live television viewers. The other involves an NFL game.

The 2013 Major League Soccer Superdraft will take place on January 17 in Indianapolis, Indiana. For scouts across the world, the day a team selects a player a scout recommended is the scout's chance to shine; even if they are shining behind the scenes.

It is a world that the average fan knows very little about. However, you'd be hard pressed to find someone that doesn't believe in the importance of having a great scouting staff. Seeking to unlock the mysteries of how scouting works in the MLS, I had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Martin, a Regional Scout with Sporting Kansas City and Instructor with Sports Management Worldwide.

What follows is a multipart look at how the business of scouting works in Major League Soccer. We will look at the current and future roles of the scout, resources at their disposal, and the role for Academies and the NCAA and the growing number of impactful foreign acquisitions.

Matt Martin is a Regional Scout with Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer. He joined Sporting KC in August of 2011 and scouted the Eastern seaboard before relocating to the West Coast (July 2012). He has covered collegiate, USL, and MLS matches for recruitment and advanced scouting purposes. Matt joined Sporting Kansas City after scouting for the New York Red Bulls for two and a half years. He began professionally scouting with The Scouting Network (TSN) of Birmingham, England after completion of SMWW's Soccer Scouting and Management Course in 2007. Matt is a graduate of the University of Washington, has a background in coaching athletics and has assisted at the collegiate, youth and intramural levels while attending college and while serving on as an officer in the US Air Force.

I had some questions about this whole business of scouting and Matt was more than willing to talk about what he does, why he does it and perhaps why you might want to do it too.

Can you describe a typical management structure within MLS?

We will start with the basics:

Like most sports franchises, the typical MLS club has a Business or Operations side and a Technical or "Team" side. The Business side is overarching in most clubs and includes a President or CEO and has direct connection to the respective ownership...this is "obvious".

But what gets complicated - too complicated for a simple article, is how the Clubs interface with MLS in the single entity system. Let's look briefly at a couple of aspects of that.

Operations could be incorporated like "Sporting Club" which allows a team to handle affairs that deal with income above and beyond/outside television rights, ticket and merchandise sales and all the things the league would have say over. Case in point, "Sporting Club" can sign a deal with Admiral or Nike for some sporting aspect outside the soccer side (a Sporting Club Rugby team?) while the "soccer" side or team side would be restricted to Adidas due to the league's exclusive contract with them. So these lines are very important.

The business side for every club still works closely with the league because stadium operations and investment in facilities is a core value of the league - in fact Soccer Specific Stadiums (SSS) are one of the many requirements for entering MLS. You do not have to have an SSS but you have to have PLANS to do so. Our ownership at Sporting Kansas City are all local to Kansas City and committed to the team and the community and that falls in line with the vision of MLS where each team adds a unique experience to the fan and the league. The 5 owners formed an LLC, "OnGoal" that not only provides stability for the soccer club, Sporting KC, but a high standard for facilities and operations in a vast array of sports and entertainment realms.

MLS is unique worldwide in the "single entity" aspect of its combined operations approach: the ownership of each team is independent but All players are signed "to the league" and paid through a complex system through which the clubs revenue share, and report all transactions and salaries to the league. The accounting is mind numbing.

The Technical staff of MLS teams are not unlike those around the world, with full support staff with a kit man, fitness trainer(s) as well as nutritionists and strength coaches, set up somewhat like a tree with the Technical Director parallel to or at the top and the Head Coach, Manager, or Gaffer directly underneath him and the Assistant Coaches underneath the gaffer. Division of labour varies and a lot of positions are lateral rather than subservient but coaching staff is the trunk or core of the Technical Staff.

On the technical side teams have variations - some are like Europe and have a Technical Director who works parallel to or under the General (or business) Manager (depending on the side). The coach often works directly under the Technical Director. On some sides the General Manager and Technical Director are one and the same and in some the Technical side is headed like it is by Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes, who is both the Technical Director AND the Coach. It is not about cost cutting - it is about vision and direction.

On the pitch we (Sporting KC) have great continuity because we have the work of many fulfilling the Vision of One! I think continuity develops because a team STICKS TO a playing style or system and what that system is ends up being less important than whether or not everyone "buys in". This brings us to how scouting fits into the structure of the soccer side of things.


In general terms, how do scouts fit within this structure?

Scouts fit into MLS sides differently at every club. The "Status Quo" from just a few years ago where the Coaching Staff accomplished ALL SCOUTING (along with their coaching responsibilities) is rapidly evolving. More and more teams are hiring Head Scouts and those Head Scouts are working directly for the Technical Director and/or the Coaching staff. They will also work with the half dozen scouting products or agencies that are utilized across the league: Opta Stats, ProZone, Scout7, EXACT Sports, Wyscout, The Scouting Network, IMScouting, etc.

The MLS's Technical Director of Competition is Jeff Agoos who was Technical Director at NYRB when he built MLS' first actual external scouting staff for the Red Bulls in 2009. He hired former players and known scouts (I was hired in December 2008) spread out regionally across the country to accomplish the two main disciplines of scouting: Recruitment and Advanced Scouting.

Prior to that the first team to establish an external or devoted Head Scout, was Mo Johnston's Toronto FC. Mo hired a former player he worked with at two of his stops in Tim Regan to be in charge of scouting the US colleges and accomplishing advanced scouting reports via live attendance and/or video review. It was/is common practice in Europe (South America and Mexico for that matter) to have a Head Scout who overseas scouting products and Tim was someone whose judgment was trusted from inside the organization and who had proven to Mo he understood both the philosophy of the team and what it took to make it in the league.

Before I came to Sporting Kansas City I worked for 2.5 years as a scout for The New York Red Bulls. I was hired by the Technical Director, Jeff Agoos with whom I had a very direct working relationship. Jeff Agoos was moved to Head of Scouting when Erik Soler was brought in by Red Bulls' management in Austria.

Roughly one year after Soler's hiring, Jeff Agoos moved to MLS' league offices and my relationship with management shifted again. "Distant" would be a simple description. At the start of 2011, Erik Soler chose not to emphasize the staff of 5 external scouts that Jeff Agoos had assembled; we were not fired, we just were no longer funded for activities that had been part of our day to day job requirement. The Red Bulls chose at that time to continue with a fully funded Head Scout, Cris da Silva and Performance and Video Analyst, David Lee. They continued to devote resources towards scouting but in a different way. Every club has to make these choices based upon what they value most. I left New York's staff three months after Jeff Agoos left although I had a great relationship with Head of Scouting, Cris da Silva.

Today I work for Sporting Kansas City in a role defined by Peter Vermes, whose vision of scouting predates my arrival and involves a balanced approach that combines all disciplines and methodology available: External Scouts, Video and Performance Analysis, Self Scouting, Scouting Agencies with their software, hardware and video solutions and direct influence, and most importantly engagement and guidance from the coaching staff on all aspects of scouting.

A number of MLS teams (excluding Toronto FC) appear to use a resource you referenced called wyscout.com from a networking perspective. Can you comment on this network and why a team might want to be a part of it? Are there other resources?

Wyscout performs a number of tasks for its clients and it all depends upon what you the club wants and how much you are willing to pay. It is not just about networking - it can include commissioning them to find a player in a certain price range to perform a particular role for your team. They can go to their database and do a search to provide a list of names who fit general or more exacting criteria:

"Naturally left footed left sided player who can take on defenders, provide good service, link up in the final third and score the odd goal; above all great work rate and two way ability is a must"....like a want ad.

Then Wyscout or any number of Scouting Orgs similar to them: Scout7, The Scouting Network, Brown Owl Scouting, IMScouting, ProZone, EXACT Sports, etc ... have a whole battery of services they can provide to help you find the guy you are looking for including statistical breakdowns, video, and physio reports, test times, and very detailed assessments. Most of these companies do employ scouts or analysts who perform a scout's role. They therefore can provide more than just Performance or Video Analysis which are sciences in and of themselves.

What about Agents?

Agencies and agents also fill a role here and it varies by team and by agency just how much work will be done to find the right fit for a player or for a team. Like any marriage, the joining of a player and team can generate emotion that carries a lot of weight versus fact and data gathering, assessment and vetting and ultimately decision making. We scouts note the emotions but try to provide more data and more educated opinion so that decision making is not conducted in a vacuum.

"This player is PERFECT for you!" Sounds like your favorite restaurant's "Special of the Day" which I used to think was the best thing on the menu only to find out it is generally what the restaurant needs "TO GET RID OF" before it goes bad. In MLS we don't want to order Europe's "Special of the Day" on a regular basis.

Up next: Part Two - Academies, NCAA and Discovery Signings



Matt Martin is a Regional Scout with Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer. He joined Sporting KC in August of 2011 and scouted the Eastern seaboard before relocating to the West Coast (July 2012). He has covered collegiate, USL, and MLS matches for recruitment and advanced scouting purposes. Matt joined Sporting Kansas City after scouting for the New York Red Bulls for two and a half years. He began professionally scouting with The Scouting Network (TSN) of Birmingham, England after completion of SMWW's Soccer Scouting and Management Course in 2007. Matt is a graduate of the University of Washington, has a background in coaching athletics and has assisted at the collegiate, youth and intramural levels while attending college and while serving on as an officer in the US Air Force.

For more information on scouting and the course that Matt references, check out http://www.sportsmanagementworldwide.com/courses/soccer-management

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