Are there "tools" in soccer?

SEATTLE - JULY 11: Nathan Sturgis #12 of the Seattle Sounders FC heads the ball against Dax McCarty #13 of FC Dallas on July 11 2010 at Qwest Field in Seattle Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Baseball talks about five tool players. Hitting for Average, Hitting for Power, Speed, Defense and Arm. The tools really don't make sense as they are certainly not co-equal. While there are certainly tweaks that are needed to the baseball tools system, almost every baseball fan knows what those tools mean. Ken Griffey Jr in the 90s was a five tool player, and known as a great talent.

For soccer there is not a universal scouting system though. There's talk about player X being "special" or having "an eye for goal" or "good ideas." These are rather amorphous statements, and don't really tell you what a player can do. Can we say a player has a specialness of 70 (on a 100 point scale)? Or good ideas of a C+ (on A to F scale)?

Absolutely not.

Scale matters. When we see post-game player ratings scattered around the internet there is so little context that they become nearly meaningless. What's a 6 mean? If every player on 1 team had a 6 and every team on the other a 4 would team A have won? Does winning/drawing/losing matter?

Here at Sounder at Heart we're going to try and establish a tools system that at the least will be internally consistent. It has some basis in the tools that 3four3 uses (Technique, Soccer IQ and Physical). I have added two tools, partly because I have a baseball-ish background, but also because I think physical tools are less than 1/3 of the game.

The Tools that we will be using are Technical Ability, Tactical Judgement, Offensive Skills, Defensive Skills and Physique. The Scale we will be using are based on an MLS League Average player being straight sixes. Replacement level would be straight fives.

Technical Ability - This encompasses what is done ON-ball. Things like dribbling, passing, man-on-man defense and shooting skills.

Tactical Judgement - This is about awareness of shape of both sides, off-ball runs, zonal defense, passing into runs.

Offensive Skills - How the player's tools translate when the team HAS the ball.

Defensive Skills - How the player's tools translate when the team LACKS the ball.

Physique - Size, Strength, Speed, Stamina are all in this one tool. How a player uses their strengths and minimize their weaknesses here is also important.

Set-play and aerial work were deemed to be captured in the other tools, but if a player has a particular strength in these we would obviously mention them. As we start to do backwards looking 2010 Sounders player profiles the ratings would be based on past performance NOT projection.

But, as we refine our meaning/language we will be using this in forward looking manner as well.

By including the Offense and Defense Skills it also let's us look at how players can be used in roles where we have yet to see them.

As the writer's here did some quick thoughts on this we put forward Nathan Sturgis as a league average starter with roughly straight sixes. Remember this is league average for MLS. Maybe some day we'll translate these forward to other leagues or national matches, but for now let's focus on what we see the most.

One of the things that I didn't make clear at first is that these are subjective ratings, not objective. At the same time I have experience working with objectified subjective ratings in my normal work (rating coffee for quality), and with calibrating across a group. As we work through this I'm hoping that we can use these ratings as another way to look at players, and that every reader and author will know exactly what we mean when we talk about a player.

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