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June 13, 2011
Stats not always what they seem

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Sportswriters, broadcasters, publicists and fans love and even live on statistics. How many points did LeBron have in last nightís game? How many hits away from 3,000 is Derek Jeter? Which sports records are unassailable? Wilt Chamberlainís 100 point game? Joe DiMaggioís 56 game hitting streak?

Soccer, well, that maybe has been one of the knocks on the sport not ingratiating itself to the American sports fans. No stats to argue over. After all, a 2-0 game is considered by many to be high scoring.

But there are some stats kept in soccer, however rudimentary. Shots, shots on goal, saves, corner kicks and offside violations are all accounted for.

And maybe that is where the argument begins. There donít appear to be any official numbers. Not really. Although most high -evel games do have a stat crew assigned to keep track, depending on where you look at the stats, the number could vary.

Frank Zintl, a member of a stat crew in the New York/New Jersey area that works both Red Bulls and Sky Blue games, as well as a variety of college and other pro sports, pointed out the oddities from Fridayís USA-Panama game in the Gold Cup.

CONCACAFís web site had the United States outshooting Panama 12 to 7. Fox Soccer had it and 7-4. Even U.S. Soccer had conflicting numbers, with their web site giving the Canaleros a 17-9 edge, and the postgame press release tabbing it at 20-12. Four sources, including two from the same organization, with different numbers. Similarly, the fouls, shots on goals, corner kicks and offsides were all different.

While itís true that some things that take place in-game could be left open to interpretation, such as was it really a shot or a pass, or an overly aggressive dribble that went wide, other things like corners, fouls and offside (the number of them, not if the official was correct) are not interpretive stats, so it seems odd that all the numbers are askew.

Its not unusual to watch an MLS game and have the halftime stats on the broadcast differ from what is on the league website. Count the shots on the match tracker, you are likely to get yet a different number. Most team press releases that include a box score indicate that the stats are unofficial. They become official when they are reviewed at the league level, and itís not unusual for assists or even credit on goals to be changed at some later date. So Sundayís game story may say someone set up a goal, but the stats issued on a later date wonít indicate that to be the case.

Even the organizations serving as league statistical services canít seem to figure out what and how to keep things. The software developed by STATS for keeping Womenís Professional Soccer stats had a major flaw in it according to Ian Flamm, another member of the Red Bulls/Sky Blue stat crew. The computerized system feeds the play-by-play account on the league web site, as well as the stat program. It is set to coincide with the 90-minute game time. While a goal scored at 31:02 would be in the 32nd minute, the program rounds the number down if it is the first 30 seconds and up if it is in the last 30 seconds of a minute, therefore recording the goal as in the 31st.

A small bit of minutia, perhaps, but when you are trying to be accurate, as the first tenet of journalism states, important never the less.

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