Major League Soccer is taking an innovative approach to scouting. The league has partnered with ai.io, the makers of the mobile phone scouting app aiScout, in an effort to discover new soccer talent across the North American continent.
All MLS first-team clubs, as well as MLS Next Pro and MLS Next teams, are expected to have access to the AI-powered platform. Player videos and metrics can be quickly and easily uploaded to the app.
The app will be available at no cost, making it accessible to millions of potential players. MLS senior vice president of startups Chris Schlosser said the technology will be a useful tool for players hoping to gain MLS attention.
«This technology is so powerful because all you need is this [phone],” Schlosser said in a press release, “and suddenly, it can be explored anywhere at no cost. You can go do drills in your backyard or on your driveway or at the local park and that would put you on MLS’s radar.»
WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)?
The app will be able to assess the physical abilities of a soccer player, as well as a variety of their technical skills. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Burnley are research and development partners.
Recently retired NFL defensive lineman JJ Watt and his wife and American soccer player Kealia Watt own a minority stake in Burnley. The club is set to return to the Premier League next season.
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Later this year, MLS and ai.io will begin a data collection process to determine the ideal benchmarks for evaluating athletes. All players are expected to have access to aiScout in early 2024.
A player can upload videos and will be evaluated in three different categories: physical, technical and cognitive. Athletes’ physical tools typically include how high they can jump or how fast they can run.
Meanwhile, technical skills are more specific to what a player does on the soccer field.
«Technical is anything related to the ball … what you actually do as a soccer player … pass, dribble, shoot,» Richard Felton-Thomas, aiScout’s COO and director of science at the aiScout, told Fox News Digital. sport.
«The player can go [outside]a parent or a friend will hold the phone and they’ll just mimic the stuff they’re supposed to do,» Felton-Thomas said. «That video goes to our cloud and runs all the analytics on top of it, comes back to the phone and you’ll get a video with trace lines throughout the body to show how movement occurs.»
Athletes are expected to have three opportunities to upload a video in the Physical, Technical, and Cognitive categories before submitting their best attempt. But the number of attempts they receive is subject to change.
«They may be fine with a player taking five Tests. They may want to average everything out. Or they may want to take the best or the last one,» Felton-Thomas said.
MLS franchises often face obstacles on multiple fronts when trying to acquire talent internationally. Clubs must comply with numerous regulations related to a given country and are usually required to obtain a visa before a player can officially join their team.
The new app will give teams the ability to scout talent around the world, but players in North America will likely get some priority.
«[The MLS] wants him to be at the forefront of talent identification, and he saw very early on that the way to do that is to be able to make sure we can look at everyone in the country simultaneously and fairly,» Felton-Thomas said of MLS. The next technical director Fred Lipka, who pioneered technology that helped remove barriers like cost and geography from the talent identification process.
Following a series of validation tests in the UK, a refreshed version of the aiScout app was introduced in 2022.
The revised version of the app allowed for more player development-based content, which was a pivot from evaluation-focused content.
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The app was also part of FIFA’s innovation program. Eventually, all Major League Soccer teams will have the ability to customize the way they use the app. While the platform is technology-focused, as it begins to roll out, one of the customizations could include some sort of human component.