By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Sep 19, 2016) US Soccer Players – Let’s imagine what the MLS Cup Final could look like in the year 2026. Los Angeles FC, featuring 31-year-old superstar Jordan Morris, prepare to host the New York Red Bulls. They're playing in a state-of-the-art downtown LA stadium. Coaches for both teams pace the sidelines with the ability to pull up data on a device. The referee has quick access to video technology to review plays. Fans in the stadium and those watching at home can monitor player data and biometrics in real time. That would include such things as heart rate and number of yards covered in a match.
This is the future of soccer. Tech surrounds us these days. From smart phones to the proliferation of the internet, it’s everywhere. Technology is also rapidly changing. From the device you are reading this article on to the ability to pull up your favorite highlights whenever you want, soccer has not been immune to such innovations. While this technology has made it easier to read about and watch your favorite teams and players, it has taken some time for it to actually become part of the game itself.
That’s no longer true. The technology that has permeated every part of our lives will someday soon be a very normal part of the beautiful game.
“All of our clubs are doing some data analysis (on players),” Jeff Agoos, who serves as Vice-President for Competition at MLS, said in July during the All-Star break in a roundtable discussion titled “Future of Soccer” in San Jose. "Wearables are a big part of that.”
Wearables, similar to ones used by joggers, can track a player’s movements, allowing MLS teams to scout talent and even help to prevent injuries. The data obtained could also help coaches make decisions and help players improve any weaknesses.
“We see data as inevitable coming into the game,” said Agoos.
For example, the league’s partnership with car maker Audi to create the Audi Player Index. That's a new way for fans to quantify a players’ performance. At a recent pick-up game in New York City, Philadelphia Union players CJ Sapong and Maurice Edu coached two teams demonstrating soccer technology. Audi showed off what it could look like if the Audi Player Index happened in real time, using OPTA data, and displayed on a players jersey. It was just another technological innovation that could make its way to fans when they watch a game on TV.
Goal-line technology for major FIFA tournaments started in 2013. On the lower tech side, refs now use vanishing spray to mark for free kicks. FIFA has been working to bring innovations to the sport. It’s slow going, and not always in ways purists would like. Major League Soccer has become the place for experimentation. It may appear to be low risk for FIFA to conduct such experiments in North America. Then again, what happens here might become the new normal everywhere else.
Off the field, things are changing as well. Sports fans like their smart phones. Avaya Stadium in San Jose has taken that one step forward. The stadium’s app allows fans during games the ability to get player stats as well as buy tickets and connect to social media. This is part of a broader trend in "smart stadiums." It's a matter of time where that same cloud technology can become the norm at all MLS venues.
Then there's implementing instant replay. The International Football Association Board held two workshops this summer at Red Bull Arena on the use of a video assistant referee. What they're calling the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) would review goals, penalties, and red cards. The system would work like the National Football League's. There will be another screen near the fourth official on the sidelines that the main referee can consult. The match referee and his two assistants can also communicate with the VAR via headsets. Earlier this month, the system was in place for the Italy vs France friendly.
“These are just for clear errors in certain match-changing situations,” Elleray told reporters in July at Red Bull Arena. “It’s not to make sure every decision in every football match is correct.”
The technology was available during a USL game between Red Bulls II and Orlando City B on August 12 at Red Bull Arena. That's one of five matches at that venue that would test VAR technology.
“It's a credit to MLS and to USL that they want to be on the front foot as far as technology and the game of soccer, advancing the game of soccer and advancing the product,” said Red Bulls II coach John Wolyniec. “I’m all for that and I'm glad to be a part of it because we consider ourselves an innovative, aggressive and advanced team.… It’s certainly not perfect, but I think that it went well. If those decisions go against me, maybe I'm a little more against it, but overall I think it went pretty well and it didn't affect the (flow of the) game.”
Based in New York City, Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He covers all topics relating to American soccer, including Major League Soccer. He has covered the last two World Cups for the site. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Clemente began writing for our site in July 2007. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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