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MLS X.0: Identifying Major League Soccer generations


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From the signing of players such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Miguel Almirón, to the entry of franchises such as Toronto FC, Portland Timbers FC, Atlanta United FC, and Los Angeles Football Club, there has been considerable debate on the current iteration of Major League Soccer -- is the league in MLS 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, or something else? Using a unique database of historical player acquisitions in MLS and player performance statistics, I apply a constrained k-means clustering technique to identify the generations of MLS players and describe their distinguishing characteristics.

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MLS X.0: Identifying Major League Soccer generations

  1. 1. MLS X.0 Identifying the generations of Major League SoccerIdentifying the generations of Major League Soccer Howard Hamilton Soccermetrics
  2. 2. 1996 2001 2006 2011 2016 2019 The (Plausible) Generations of MLS Inaugural Match End of Shootout Era Beckham arrives Designated Player Era ☠ Miami Fusion ☠ Tampa Bay Mutiny First SuperDraft Homegrown Player Rule Post- Beckham Cascadia Rivals Enter MLS ☼ Orlando City SC ☼ Atlanta United FC ☼ Los Angeles FC ☼ FC Cincinnati ☼ New York City FC MLS 1.0? MLS 2.0? MLS 3.0? What do the data tell us about MLS generations?
  3. 3. 1996 2001 2006 2011 2016 2019 Constrained k-means Clustering Feature Vector: Country/Region Acquisition Paths Entry Age Minimize intracluster variance, maximize intercluster distance Cluster Boundaries: Constrained along time axis Must be integers T0 TFξ1 ξ2
  4. 4. Four Clusters Sufficient?
  5. 5. The MLS Generations MLS 1.0 1996-1999 The original generation, predominately from the Americas Players were allocated (22%) or drafted (58%) to a team Highest proportion of newcomers aged 30 and older MLS 2.0 2000-2009 Golden era of the SuperDraft – 60-70% of incoming players 78% of players from CONCACAF region Fewer South Americans (8%) Highest proportion of newcomers aged 21-29 (86%) MLS 3.0 2009-present Fewer incoming players from CONCACAF More players from South America and – for first time – Europe More players signed via loan or free/paid transfer Significantly fewer drafted players (38%) Significantly more homegrown players (10%) Highest proportion of newcomers under 20 (9%)
  6. 6. Thank you!Thank you! Howard H. Hamilton,Howard H. Hamilton, Ph.D.Ph.D. @soccermetrics@soccermetrics