What exactly is an assist in soccer?

The greatest contribution of the US to soccer aka football is the bowdlerization of ‘association football’ to soccer. The US being the prime arbiter of popular culture soccer is now universally recognized as an interchangeable term for football. To sticklers across the pond, it signifies ignorance of the global game. But soccer serves a practical purpose of nomenclature distinguishing it from American football.
However, there is an even more insidious word creep taking place in soccer and this is assist. It got thrust into the international stage when David Beckham provided three assists in the LA Galaxy vs NY Red Bulls game. There it was flashing on FSC as Becks was being interviewed.
As far as I can see assist is purely a statistical term that is bandied about in the US but seems to be picking up steam through newswire agencies that keep match reports brief. It cuts short descriptions such as “Beckham’s lovely swerving freekick curled up and across the human wall, that moved nary a muscle, as the ball moved from right to left, and settled gently on the forehead of Pavon who flicked it in effortlessly. Vintage Beckham ” Or some such thing that the Guardian columnists can do better.
The word was highlighted in the LA Galaxy vs Red Bulls match but it has been in existence for a while in this country. Do you know that Landon Donovan is the all time assist leader in the national team with 23 breaking Cobi Jones record in April 2006? I have my doubts whether Beckham’s statistics were recorded that closely when playing in England or Spain. But that is all about to change.
Is the term assist a measure of a meritocratic society or a national obsession with individual statistics? After all, it does make a difference as to who set up the goal and why their contributions shouldn’t be recognized more fully. Or is it an effort to make a game more palatable to a larger audience?
A trip to the statistics zone at www.ussoccer.com is a revealing one. Compare that to the FA website, the world’s oldest archive of player records, which is downright threadbare. The same set is used to describe greats like Stanley Matthews and contemporaries like Ashley Cole. It pretty much amounts to caps and goals scored. The entry on Landon Donovan is a veritable excel spreadsheet of numbers with categories on assists. There is a interestingly enough, a category on points scored which is an aggregate of goals and assists made.
Donovan leads with 21 (9 goals, 3 assists). Statistics like assists and points scored highlight how invaluable a player is to the national squad but it also suggests the ethos of an underlying individuality in US team sports, even one as soccer, with its unparalleled global connections. These categories are not anomalies. I think they are part of the US rubric. I can almost hear myself saying “Donovan is a good player” in a conversation and another person shooting back with ” Do you have the numbers to back you up?”
The downside to descriptives like assists and points scored is that they make for convenient record keeping and newswire reports but they do not necessarily make for good soccer journalism. Which is why I think a Yank’s commentary on a match is received with much more skepticism. After all what exactly is an assist in soccer? Its jargon.

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9 comments on “What exactly is an assist in soccer?
  1. I believe an assisst is a valuable statistic to keep track of. After all, without that perfect cross into the box, the diving header into the top left corner would never happen, and therefore is as equally important as the final touch itself. Now, you could use this argument to regress the play back and give credit to everyone who touched the ball on the build up to the goal, and this would probably be a legitimate method of tracking contribution. I feel that this doesn’t happen mostly due to humans’ limited ability to see cause and effect.
    I guess the point is, in alot of goals, the real legwork is done by one player to set someone else up. Fabregas is a perfect example. He sets up so many Arsenal goals, it’d be criminal if he didn’t get any statistical credit for it.
    An a totally unrelated note, we need some other way of increasing our fantasy team scores, rather than just goals!

  2. Man, you can push my buttons. It is clear that “assists” is a ruse concocted by an Israeli.
    Okay, kidding aside. If you have not, you really should read “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis. While about baseball, it will give you a different perspective on stats.
    Let’s take Sunderland or Derby County. These teams do not have the money to keep up with Man U or Chelsea or even Everton. When they are looking at players they need to be very smart about who they pick and pay for.
    An assist is the last touch before a goal. Statistically, a goal in today’s Premiership give an insane advantage. (The leaders in the EPL have only a +3 CG or less then a goal a game.) If you can find someone with a knack for putting the ball on the foot of a scorer, he may be worth something to you.
    Better yet, if you can find a stat that no one is paying attention to that does have a real cause and effect on goal scoring, you can find undervalued players that will keep you from relegation.

  3. Lol, Tilam
    I don’t doubt the value of recording an assist. In fact,I think stats like these actually serve as a corrective in an overheated transfer market. You have a objective way of evaluating a player’s worth.
    But it seems that this contribution to the soccer lexicon/stats has not permeated to the FA/Premiership. I think it has to do with traditional soccer journalism that describes the ‘assist’as a free kick, a corner, or a rebound….. these are never recorded as assists.

  4. football is also called soccer in ireland, where football can refer to gaelic football and in australia where football can refer to aussie rules football or to rugby.

  5. So Tilam, you mean to tell me that Zionists control the US government, the media, Hollywood AND the FA? What DON’T they control?

  6. Not all Zionists. Just eleven. :)
    Now you guys have got me thinking about what would be some good stats. Again, since one goal has such an impact on the game, increasing the chances of that goal is critical.
    At the core of a soccer game is possession. If I control possession, I control the game and the CHANCES of scoring go up. So Time of Possesion, Touches and Turnovers seem to me an area worth looking into.
    One stat I would love to see is turnovers per touch or turnovers per time of possession. You would like that that is an intuitive stat, but I am not so sure.
    Does anyone know of a good source for soccer stats?

  7. I often feel pissed off about the lack of good statistics for football. I don’t have to know how many headers a player won, or how many tackles he attempted, but it would be good to have a good source of information for goals, assists, maybe (just maybe) shots, shots on target etc.
    However the difference between US Soccer’s stats and FA’s lack thereof can be explained to a large extent by US’s obsession with statistics. I remember that last world cup, ESPN would show stats like Germany national team is 23-0-1 all time when leading at half time (failing to take into account, that stat spans over 50 years, and players from klose to beckenbauer).
    Anyway, as conclusion, I agree that football lacks decent stats but then again, football players cannot be measured with just statistics, so let’s not overdo it.

  8. Now that was one player whose worth is immeasurable….. even his verbal outbursts and fisticuffs would establish some sort of statistical record.

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