If an assist falls in the woods and no one is there to record it, does it count as a point?
Pop quiz, hotshot, who is the MASL’s all-time leading scorer? Who scored the most goals in an MASL game? Who is the MASL all-time leader in wins? If you want the answer to any of these questions you likely have to scour MASLsoccer.com and Pointstreak and do some back-breaking research because the MASL doesn’t have a record book.
Full disclosure, I was once responsible for the PASL and MASL stats from 2008 to 2015. I compiled a record book that was no Elias Sports Bureau, but it included records for goals, assists, and points in a game, and in a season, every instance of a player scoring five or more goals, most power play goals, most game-winning goals, longest winning and losing streaks, and a few other things. Shortly after I left that was abandoned and removed from the league’s website.
Now in Year 6 of the MASL there is no record book and the player profiles on the league’s website only include stats from the last four seasons. Every time a league changes websites (and this has happened with the PASL, too), a lot of the history is lost in the transition.
Things have changed since I first handled stats. The first three years in the PASL teams did stats on an excel spreadsheet and I manually compiled each team’s cumulative stats and league leaders. In 2011 we went to Pointstreak, which automated a lot of things. Still we didn’t have reliable video to check anything and the ref sheets often didn’t match what the scorekeepers had.
Many teams have not properly staffed their scorekeeping departments. Ideally, you want to have three or more people on your crew. Some teams have had one. Some teams even have even tasked the responsibilities to teenagers (although one year the Harrisburg Heat had a 15-year old girl doing the data entry on Pointstreak and she was fantastic) or whoever shows up that day.
What has changed is the quality of video. With YouTube you can, at bare minimum, check every goal and assist with the utmost precision in about 10 minutes. Some teams do this. The St. Louis Ambush, Kansas City Comets, and Ontario Fury are particularly adept at statkeeping.
Other teams are not so good. One Florida Tropics game last year had 14 mistakes, just on the goals and assists. Assists are a big casualty in the MASL’s stat wars (more on that later).
Another recurring issue is shots, blocks, and saves. This is harder to catch in real time, and harder to check without slowly going through two hours of footage after the game.
The formula is shots should equal blocks, plus saves, plus goals, but some teams insist on counting off-target attempts as shots and it’s a constant battle. Sometimes you would see a game where 11 shots were credited and some games it would be 75. A typical indoor game should be in the 20-40 range, with exceptions.
Sometimes you’ll see a goalkeeper credited with 0 saves, or a similarly preposterous low number. The only remedy was for players to keep their own stats. One goalie would meticulously send me a list of his saves, the timestamps, and the opposing player who took the shot.
On January 25, 2019 neither goalkeeper was credited with a save in the St. Louis Ambush’s 7-6 win over the Orlando SeaWolves. If the MASL had a record book, this poor bit of scorekeeping would be forever memorialized as a record for fewest saves by one goalkeeper and fewest combined saves.
And then there was Blockgate two years ago where a player won a major award because his stats were thoroughly tracked and adjusted by his team, but other teams didn’t tabulate their stats correctly.
In the MASL you have to take the blocks and saves (and save percentage) numbers with huge grains of salt. I will not even vouch for those numbers the seven years I did stats.
And don’t get me wrong, statkeeping is incredibly difficult. I couldn’t do it. The game is too fast and you have to have an intense concentration to record a shot and the shooter’s number and a block and the blocker’s number that happen simultaneously. And there are times when there might be three or four shots in a volley that are alternately saved and blocked.
Batting average, HRs, and RBIs are touchstones in baseball, like goals and assists are in arena soccer. Baseball has wins, losses, and ERA and arena soccer has wins, losses, and GAA. Baseball has evolved into more analytic metrics, but arena soccer realistically only has the resources to master these basics.
Which is why it’s so frustrating that the MASL isn’t even getting the goals and assists right. I worked the last couple seasons as an unrecognized stat vigilante. Last year along I probably sent MASL statistican Alan Balthrop 200 goal and assist corrections. Then things changed and Balthrop created a cumbersome process for appealing stats and changed a 40 year definition of what even constituted an assist.
Indoor soccer has always been scored like hockey, except with one assist given per goal instead of a potential two in hockey. The common definition of an assist is the last player to touch the ball before a goal is scored, as long as there is no change of possession. It doesn’t have to be an intentional pass. It doesn’t matter how long the goal scorer dribbled. It doesn’t matter if it deflected off a defender on the way to the goal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rebound off the boards or off the goalie as long as there is no change of possession. The only exception is there is no assist awarded on an own goal, but a ball that deflects off someone on its way to the goal is not considered an own goal.
Balthrop, however, decided that a rebound off the boards negates an assist, that a save by the goalkeeper negates an assist, that dribbling negates the assist, that any deflection off a defensive player negates an assist. But if you watch any game you’ll see that scorekeepers still give credit for these assists all the time. If Balthrop was checking any of the games he would have to remove dozens of assists, according to his new definition (which would be even more infuriating than the current state of neglect).
Instead players still contact me from around the league to get credit for missed assists.
Out of sheer frustration I tried to avoid checking any games this year, but on a whim I checked the goals in the 17-4 Rochester Lancers home loss on January 3 and found five mistakes. Balthrop would only make three corrections.
So let’s check some other random games and see what we come up with. Keep in mind you can pull almost any MASL game and find similar issues.
December 14, 2019 Orlando at Florida
Tropics 2nd goal add assist to Carvalho
Tropics 6th goal add assists to Ruggles
January 24, 2020 Monterrey at Tacoma
Flash 1st goal correct assist to Flores
Flash 3rd goal add assist to Garcia
Flash 4th goal add assist to Reynoso
February 3, 2020 San Diego at Monterrey
Flash 2nd goal add assist to Valdovinos
Flash 5th goal add assist to Vallejo
Flash 7th goal should be marked as PP
Sockers 7th goal add assist to Bond
Flash 8th goal is not VS6 so the goalkeeper times are wrong
February 10, 2020 Dallas at Monterrey
Sidekicks 1st goal add assist to Molano
Flash 1st goal add assist to Pichardo
Flash 3rd goal add assist to Ponce
Flash 4th goal add assist to Escalante
Flash 6th goal add assist to Gonzalez
Flash 7th goal add assist to Quiroz
Flash 11th goal add assist to Garay
Flash 12th goal add assist to Rosas
Goalkeeper times show 30:55 for Valdovinos to 29:05 for Reynoso but Reynoso started and ended the second half
Also on January 6 Diego Reynoso played the whole second half, so he should be credited with 30 minutes and the win in their 6-3 win over Turlock.
All year the Sonora Soles and Turlock Express have been posting bogus attendance numbers like 3000 and 400, but no one has adjusted them along the way.
Last year the MASL was in serious talks about doing a fantasy sports app, but imagine if you were in a fantasy league and they changed an assist two days later or didn’t give credit for an assist, or credited the wrong goal scorer.
The MASL needs to improve its scorekeeping, implement oversight for accuracy and revisions, and develop a record book before its too late. It’s a lot harder to compile six years of numbers than it would have been to compile one year of numbers six times (or continuously).
All of these numbers matter. Awards are given based on stats. Players sign contracts based on stats. Fans follow the game based on stats. People understand and contextualize what they watch based on stats. Stats are history. Your story. Period.
I have noticed other irregularities in MASL boxscores. I usually check the boxscores of games that I go to. I have gone to games where the goalkeeper gets a blue card and a teammate serves the penalty for the goalkeeper. However, on the boxscore on the MASL site, the teammate is listed as getting the penalty, not the goalkeeper!
Stat inconsistencies between buildings is nothing new. In hockey, it is hits and shots (by extension blocked shots and saves). Some goalies have inflated save percentages because the home building counts a dump in from center ice as a shot while another doesn’t. That may give them an edge for a Vezina trophy.
Given the financial difficulties of the sport, does it make sense to hire 2 additional heads per team to get assists right? Does it make a team closer to profitable if Leo Gibson has 20 assists or 15? Will the Sockers low ball Chiles because he gets gypped on some points?
Even if the stats are perfect, they just don’t tell the whole story. Is an empty netter against the Sidekicks (to make it 9-3) as valuable to a team as a late, tying goal against the Flash? Is a 20 goal scorer someone awesome to build around? What if 15 were against the Lancers? As you know, it takes even more work to build out the situational stats like that.
We’re at the point were refs might have to keep game time on their watches in Mesquite. We have little idea what teams will even be around 2 years from any given season. I don’t see teams wanting to spend more to make the stat quality good, let alone great.
Maybe it makes sense to have a single Balthrop style statistician at a game and a dedicated team at the league level to watch tape for more detailed shots/blocks/assists. The goal scorer and fouls/penalties are the only thing that really matters live. The dedicated team could spend the offseason going through neglected seasons. Call them sports analytics interns. The main issue I see with that though is quality of the video. Is there archived video? Is the camera panning the crowd while events like shots/goals occur?
I can’t get worked up about the definition of an assist changing when rule changes are common, even within a season. 3 line rule. No 3 line rule. x number of fouls for a penalty. No, you can’t change players at that stoppage. Drop ball. Single point scoring, no wait, multi point scoring, oops, only in certain buildings. Goalies can cross midfield in the 4th quarter. Who knows how much the rules will change next year? Financial realities focused the sport on regional play. Overworked stat monkeys caused the change to assist definitions. Life goes on (for most teams).