The Canadian Premier League joined a number of top footballing organizations from around the world on Wednesday at the Soccerex Connected virtual conference, which featured panel discussions with top executives, coaches, and analysts in the game. The CPL was an institutional partner of the event alongside such organizations as Major League Soccer, Bundesliga International, and many, many others. As part of a discussion titled "Waiting for Moneyball," the CPL's Director of Football Oliver Gage was a guest speaker on a panel about analytics in football and the place of data in the future of the sport. Gage joined Koen Veenstra (Head of Technical Scouting, AZ Alkmaar), Mat Pearson (Head of Performance and Research, Wolverhampton Wanderers), Mike Jacobs (General Manager, Nashville SC), and host Oliver Seitz of the Johan Cruyff Institute for a lengthy discussion. Gage provided some insight into how data-driven decision-making has helped fast-forward the CPL's emergence into the global football community over the past couple of years. "I think what we have been able to do is benefit very quickly and catch up with the rest of the world much more quickly than we would’ve done naturally," he explained, adding that the CPL has been able to piggyback off some analytical knowledge already available in football in order to grow quickly.
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With the CPL coming into a Canadian setting without much prior infrastructure for the professional game, Gage explained that one of his Football Department's key goals was to help coaches and even fans across the country become more familiar with things such as data in football. For instance, the public release of Centre Circle Data during CPL seasons was intended to give regular fans the tools to experiment and create their own data models -- something that no other soccer league does. "Fans might not have traditional football upbringing, but it was important that we provided them with as much as possible," Gage said. "If we want someone in 10 years' time to be a head of recruitment, or an analyst, or a coach at one of our clubs and we want them to be able to use data, we have to provide them with the right tools now." As well, Gage explained that his department has already had an impact on CPL clubs as well as grassroots football in Canada; since the league's inception, they've paid to have a wide array of youth matches analyzed and broken down into data, which has helped compile an internal scouting list for all eight pro teams to use to their advantage. Ultimately, the panel concluded that there's plenty of value in analytics in football, as the industry continues to grow -- might teams put more effort into set-piece training due to their goal value, for instance? Or, are there ways to quantify characteristics like culture and leadership in footballers? Whatever the future of soccer data is, it seems the Canadian Premier League will be at the forefront.