This edition looks at the role of the scout in trades, advanced scouting as well as what the future holds in store. All these and more as I revisit my conversation with Matt Martin, Regional Scout for Sporting Kansas City and Instructor with Sports Management Worldwide.
Can you walk me through a typical trade scenario within the MLS and how that might involve scouting resources?
For every advanced scouting effort there is a breakdown of the opposition's roster focusing on the starting players observed and the possible combinations of players who may step in in the event of an injury or card accumulation or just because of poor form, plus any substitutions that occur.
I have attended MLS Reserve and US Open Cup matches and determined who was playing well and predicted their eventual inclusion in the first team for an MLS Regular Season match in the future. In evaluating opposition we typically look at several matches and not just one and try to cover at least two or three matches live in the run up to a match on our schedule.
The Scouting Staff builds a profile of the opponent and the players on it and in addition to trying to defeat the opposition, we (Scout Staff PLUS Technical Staff) concurrently develop a list of players we like, who we think could play in our system. It is like a depth chart and if contract expiry, agent contact or the implosion of a team creates a diaspora, disintegration of, or huge changes to an opposition roster, we want to be ready to act. Or maybe it is just a one off opportunity to grab a player who doesn't fit one system but may fit another.
Scouting provides a detailed profile of a player, how he is playing and why we think he would work in our system. We may have scouted the player for a couple years in college before acquiring him through a trade. Our team's acquisition of former Notre Dame midfielder, Michael Thomas would be an example of that.
Michael played youth and High School soccer in the Kansas City area, attended college at Notre Dame (Indiana) and after graduating went to Sweden where he played for Swedish side, Ljungskile. He started 47 matches in their midfield over two seasons and scored 8 goals. Our scouting and awareness of the player was based upon our technical staff's familiarity with the player in college and their awareness of where he was and how he was doing. Even if it was not a scouting staff exercise, it still involved the principles of scouting that I can carry over to my scouting routine. We value Kansas City kids.
We try to be aware of talented players from Kansas City who would be interested in returning or playing for Sporting KC. That awareness and scouting allowed us the comfort to choose a player with European experience, a KC background and motivation, and yet still young enough to develop further with and add to our depth. He was added to Sporting KC after a trade with the San Jose Earthquakes gave us his rights. They had drafted the player in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft before he moved to Sweden.
Internationally speaking, how would a team generally become aware of potential players available via trade?
A combination of research by the coaching staff and scouting staff, and a certain amount from contacts and inquiries with scouting agencies, agents, and their firms and contacts: former coaches, long standing relationships - people one knows around the world who know their market and the depth in it. Scouting a particular part of the world via review of statistics and scouting data is a start - eventually video is shared and a player is invited in for a trial. Sometimes its an opponent traveling for a friendly or a curious pro who saw your side on TV or heard what fantastic facilities the club has.
We have focused on player acquisition, what is the role of a scout with respect to in-season games (ie. scouting future opponents within MLS)? Is this becoming a bigger part of the role of a scout?
I referenced Advanced Scouting earlier and it is important because without winning we don't get to keep our jobs long! The tactical understanding and expression of an opponent is very dependent upon the staff.
With ProZone and other scouting resources, MLS clubs get useful video and are able to understand their opponents from a macro down to a micro level and when one dovetails that with or factors in the live scout aspect the depth of understanding the Coaching or Technical Staff can gain prior to taking on an opponent can be quite in depth. Being able to describe a system of play and relate how the player being evaluated works within it is the core of a player report - so there is an intertwining or overlap between these two disciplines under the heading of Scouting.
Understanding the league one scouts for is also part of understanding how to recruit for your side, so scouting opponents is crucial in building a good scout.
Matches should begin about a month to 6 weeks before and run up to within a week or two before you play the side. LOGISTICS is huge in scouting because you have to choose which match to attend based upon where you can help your team the most. Also, a by-product of this is that you can go a month or two at a time without seeing your own team play - you are always at an opponent's match or scouting future players - you find out how your side did at halftime or after the match.
If a person with a keen interest in soccer is thinking of scouting as a career option, what advice would you have for him/her?
Thankfully I have a good friend, Tim Regan who I can point to so this part doesn't seem so "self serving". Both Tim and I are instructors for an on-line course and the subject is "Soccer Operations and Scouting".
Be ready to work hard for very little pay and to cut your teeth attending dozens of matches, learning how to be a professional long before anyone gives you the time of day - but if you love the game and persevere there are positions out there and the good news is the game is growing rapidly in the Western Hemisphere and in North America in particular.
The Canadian clubs are a bit more progressive but I fully expect what Sporting KC is doing to catch on around the league even if it is with slightly less ambition. Scouting in MLS used to be Tim Regan at Toronto FC and a year later Jeff Agoos' group at the New York Red Bulls...Now all MLS clubs utilize scouting tools with their Coaching staff and most MLS Clubs have a Head Scout and more are developing relationships with external agencies, to use more than just software, database solutions or templates.
In his recent State of the League address, MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, spoke briefly on the future establishment of a league Scouting Network. That can be useful in a single entity system to reduce errors in offering young players big contracts, but for competitive reasons I do not feel threatened by this move. It is one more sign that the league is growing up and acknowledging the importance of scouting.
The goal for scouting long term is to act quickly on the best players for their team at a moment's notice because they have the data they need in real time. When scouting an opponent, one wants the most important data to flow quickly as well. It is Information Operations just like in the military - Information is POWER and Information Dominance is what the well-heeled scout delivers to the Technical Director, the Coach and his staff.
The team makes better decisions because mistakes are minimized...its Money Ball and Future Shock brought to you by Soccer Geeks.
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