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Does Brian Schmetzer have a shorter bench than Sigi Schmid?

The data suggests he might, but it’s not yet conclusive.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Philadelphia Union Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How does Brian Schmetzer use his players, in comparison to Sigi Schmid?

This is a fair point of controversy, following a 0-2 road loss in which Joevin Jones played out of his best position and Cristian Roldan played through a broken arm. Soccer management may choose to rotate players in and out of the lineup, or it may be forced to do so through injury or unavailability of preferred starters. There isn’t any reliable database of the latter reason, and certainly no record of the former – so there isn’t really any way to tease apart the two factors from player minutes (so much so that I’ve presented minutes data to analyze both unavailability and coach’s discretion while admitting I can’t separate them in the numbers, here and here). Still, we can hope that injury and unavailability will even out for different coaches over enough time.

So… let’s take a look at Schmetzer’s player minutes in 2017 vs. Sigi Schmid’s 3 years with Seattle from 2013-2015.

In this chart, Sounders are sorted in descending order of playing time from left to right. Playing time is normalized to the sum of all minutes played. The trend of 2017 is nearest to that of the Supporters’ Shield season of 2014, but here’s a fair bit of overlap between all 4 seasons. Now take the difference at every ‘n’th player from the average of the 3 seasons under Sigi.

1% of minutes over the course of a full season amounts to roughly 4 full games on the field. There’s a fair case to be made that Schmetzer is riding his most healthy regulars a bit more (and rotating in the first couple bench options a bit less) than Sigi did, by a non-trivial amount. The closest comparison of the 3 is an exceptionally healthy 2014, when the main rotations were a performance rotation of Zach Scott, Djimi Traore and Jalil Anibaba and a tactical rotation of Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa. The 2014 Sounders also averaged 1.88 ppg… and, as I’ve noted in the past, it’s hard to say whether playing well leads to lineup consistency or vice versa. Brian Schmetzer’s 2017 hasn’t involved a particularly healthy team, and he has had available some relatively high-quality “depth” players. It’s unusual just how strongly Schmetzer has kept Nico Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan and – ironically – Gustav Svensson in the lineup when rotational alternatives could be brought in at need.

All that having been said, one very strange season (particularly strange in the pattern of key players at the rotation level and above coming and going) is not enough to establish a clear argument that Schmetzer uses his roster differently than Sigi (let alone the argument that his management is better or worse). But if ever he needs another reason to wonder whether a player could use a little rest, the numbers are perhaps worth considering.

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