SCANNING THE SOCCER UNIVERSE FROM AN OFFICE CHAIR: A SPOTLIGHT ON SCOUT7, LANE UNITED’S TECH-BASED COACHING AND RECRUITING TOOL
Where is a club like Lane United supposed to start?
As a first-year club in soccer’s Premier Development League (PDL), Lane United FC has been presented with a unique challenge by the standards of sport. Not only is the club trying to amass a winning team of talented young players—most under 23 years of age—from all over the country and the globe, from scratch, but it needs to aid in the growth and development of each member of the squad over the three months of the PDL season. “The end goal,” according to head coach John Galas, “is that these guys are better off for the experience when they return to their colleges or home countries at the end of the summer.”
This is a somewhat unusual role to fill, especially in regards to recruitment. Expansion teams in other major American sports are allowed to draft known talents from around the league and the highly scrutinized college ranks. Meanwhile, at the minor-league or even scholastic level of baseball, basketball, football and hockey, there are official and unofficial networks of scouts with eyes on seemingly every high-school diamond or middle-school playground who can report back to the top, wherever that may be.
In American soccer, however, those networks have rarely been very extensive or solidified. Some youth soccer academies have been able to integrate their intra-club scouting structure at all age and skill levels, and even send out scouts into the broader reaches of their local communities, but until recently there has not been a good way for organizations at the lower levels of U.S. adult soccer to get a close look at a wide geographical range of prospects. The ubiquity and ease of web-based video has certainly helped in this regard, but YouTube is a vast and chaotic landscape of personal highlight reels that a club of Lane United’s proportions would never have the time or resources to adequately scan through. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that, unlike an established college program, the brand-new Lane United is rarely contacted by players on their own initiative—the club has to search for players within the high school and college ranks by itself.
Lane United’s technological partner and scouting and development paradigm, Scout7, has been “invaluable” in providing clarity and structure to the recruiting picture, said coach John Galas. Galas said he was introduced to the service—whose clients include Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and approximately 150 other clubs around the world—through a colleague in England about two years ago. He then experimented with a demo version of the program at the Real Salt Lake Academy, his long-time coaching appointment before he moved to Eugene in 2013 to direct Lane United, and said that “everyone at the Academy loved it and found it incredibly useful.”
He called Scout7 “instrumental” this year in focusing his attention on players from the college ranks and some of the mid-stature club academies in Europe and South America. “In the past, there was no way to watch video of most of the players you heard about, especially video that multiple users could access. Now when I get a recommendation from a college coach, I go and pull up complete matches that the guy played in, scan his stats and so on, and so does Conner (Cappelletti, the Reds’ assistant coach).” He added that “the database of NCAA and PDL players will be fully populated and functional by next year, which will be great once we’re operating a USL-Pro club on a larger scale.”
“We haven’t even been able to utilize a lot of Scout7’s potential so far, because we don’t have most of our players physically in front of us yet,” Galas continued. “Once we begin training and playing matches as a team, that’s when we can use (Scout7) to transition from recruiting these guys to helping them improve, and really make this a positive experience for everyone involved.”
Andy Cooper, a spokesman for Scout7, explained some of the player-development capabilities of the service by saying, “Over the course of the season, Lane United’s Intelligent Sports Framework (ISF) will store a wide range of information centrally and securely, including every match report, coaching session and fitness test made by every player, as well as all the scouting reports and player recommendations that came in when the player was recruited. By the end of the season, every facet of their development will have been managed intelligently using the Scout7 ISF.”
Galas concedes that in the absence of such comprehensive technology, it would be considerably more difficult to start and succeed with a team in Lane United’s position. “I’m not going to say it wouldn’t be possible, because I’ve been part of it before—relying on word-of-mouth and the occasionally inconsistent communication between all the coaches and staff and scouts, and using all that to build a squad—but the new way with this type of technology is so much more reliable and efficient if you really want to achieve something with you and the players.”