Investments in analytics pay off for Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders

It’s no secret what got Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders to Saturday night’s MLS Cup final (8 pm ET; FOX and UniMás in US | TSN and RDS in Canada).

The front offices acquired the right players, the coaches made game plans to defeat their opponents and the players performed at a level that was greater than their opponents'.

One other smaller factor that helped the two teams succeed was their respective investments in analytics.

If you don’t know what analytics are and how they can help teams win games, you can learn more by reading MLSsoccer.com’s series from earlier this year, with articles discussing how five teams use this tool to their advantage.

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One of the teams that was profiled were the Sounders, who have a robust sports science department headed by Dave Tenney that measures every movement all the players make in practices, helping to ensure their bodies are ready to go on gameday.

Earlier this week on ExtraTime Radio, Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey discussed how that department gives the Sounders an advantage over their opponents.

“Give credit to Adrian Hanauer because he launched the very first analytics department, going back five years ago, maybe even more than that. We have Dave Tenney, who I think is the best in the business anywhere in this country or in Europe or North America,” said Lagerwey. “When you have a really cool resource like that [and] an analyst named [sports science data analyst] Ravi Ramineni, who is also amazing. You get talented people and you give them the tools and they can do some really cool stuff and they are doing some really cool stuff and giving us some really cool information.”

Toronto FC have also invested in analytics to help give their club an advantage.

The Sounders mainly focus on sports science to ensure players are at their physical peaks and to prevent injuries; Jim Liston does similar work as Toronto’s director of sports science.

But they also do more than that with resources invested in data analysis, employing a manager of analytics, which focuses more on what happens on the field during games. That kind of work helps prepare players for what they will be facing on gameday.

“I think it’s been tremendous for us this year. I think it’s something that the coaches definitely pay attention to and portray to us in different ways because I’m sure they gather more information than what they give to us but at the same time there’s been a lot of useful information on the way teams play and what they are looking for,” said defender Eriq Zavaleta told MLSsoccer.com when asked about analytics. “Ultimately we try to do our best to eliminate those situations through those numbers and I think it’s been an important thing for us.”

Zavaleta, who spent the 2013 season with the Sounders, sees the two clubs in the MLS Cup final as standard-bearers in MLS.

“I think what compares really is that they are two teams that are pushing the envelope in two specific areas. I think that’s important for [the teams] specifically and the league. I think the league has a long way to go to match teams in Europe with those kind of things, and I think that two teams being successful in what they’ve done in pushing the envelope to get them there will maybe prove to other teams that it’s something they need to look into.”

Many other MLS teams have sunk resources into similar work and this kind of analysis will only grow in the future.

“It’s something we’re going to double down on going forward,” Lagerwey said when discussing the Sounders’ work in the field. “We are going to try and invest in some next-generation software that we believe is going to be the next step for our club.”

ExtraTime Radio Podcast

LISTEN: Sigi Schmid joins the guys to preview MLS Cup in Toronto. First up, a big-picture look at what Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders have accomplished to get to this point and what's at stake, then a comprehensive tactical breakdown ahead of the big game.

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