Editor’s Note: This blog features an interview between Asa Whillock, Vice President and General Manager of Alteryx Machine Learning, and international soccer star, Tim Howard.
Tim Howard holds more caps and wins than any other goalkeeper in U.S. soccer history. An American who’s also been a member of the world-famous British team Manchester United, Tim has played in three World Cups and holds the title of MLS All-Star, as well as the record for most saves in a single game. He’s currently the Sporting Director and minority owner of Memphis 901FC, an NBC Sports analyst, and a very active soccer dad.
Recently I caught up with Tim to chat about how analytics have helped him plan, win, and rise to the top of this highly competitive worldwide sport. Along the way, we looked at the role of analytics in team recruitment, strategy formulation, match prep, and more. We also touched on the power of machine learning and the cloud and how they add a welcome boost to modern analytics.
One key moment for Tim was a penalty shootout against Manchester United. With 90,000 people watching the semifinals at England’s Wembley Stadium, Tim compares it to slaying a dragon. “[Before the game] my goalkeeping coach and I would sit in a dark lecture theater to go over all the shooters and stats,” he remembered. “Sometimes they use substitutes, so we had to analyze every player: Did they take penalties for their national team? For former clubs? Did they go left or right? We had every single angle covered.”
Tim was hoping for a tiebreaker because, thanks to his analysis, he knew roughly which players Manchester would pick to be their first five or ten shooters and how they would play. When the shootout did indeed happen, he said, “I felt so incredibly confident that I was gonna save two, and with two out of five, [we’d probably win]. I remember cracking this wry smile thinking, wow, I had a feeling we got that right…the analytics really came through.”
And Tim has put analytics to work countless other times in his goalkeeping career. “Everyone in sports is looking for that extra one percent,” he says. “For me, it was studying strikers and their tendencies. I looked at the angles they liked and also what kind of combinations they liked: near post runs, far post runs. Coaches would design training sessions based on those stats, and the confidence I got from that gave me an extra advantage.” Other key stats Tim has used in his analysis include expected goals, possession time, and “heat maps” showing activity on the field.
Tim also prizes analytics in his more recent role as a team minority owner and Sporting Director: “In player recruitment and scouting, analytics and statistics are probably 90% of the job.” He adds: “You do have to use your gut, but you’re spending so much money on these contracts, and when you get it wrong, you’re on the hook. So we talk about high-intensity running stats, injuries, prolonged injuries, goals and assists, and penalty area entries: How often is a player getting crosses in, in a dangerous area?”
After I chatted with Tim, our own Monica Cisneros jumped in with a quick demo showing how analytics can predict soccer outcomes. She used the Alteryx Analytics Cloud to find the most important features that can influence the outcome of a game. She found team’s chances of winning drastically increased when they maintained possession more than 50% of the time, with accuracy, the number of successful passes by the opposing team, and the percentage of time they had the ball in their possession being the top 3 predictors of success.
To pass the prepared data to Alteryx Machine Learning, she used the Shared Data Library – an upcoming feature – in Alteryx Analytics Cloud. “Alteryx Machine learning lets us automatically create models without having any data science expertise,” Monica explained. Monica took a dataset from raw data to a prepared machine learning model without technical expertise using Alteryx Analytics Cloud – a perfect fit for non-technical users.
Get the predictive power of analytics on your team by watching the on-demand. And if you’re still using spreadsheets for analytics, don’t get stuck in the amateur leagues. If you want to learn how to manage your winning strategy, come talk to us for a free Alteryx Machine Learning Demo.
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