How US Soccer develops the superstars of tomorrow using tech


Before these can be used by professional teams, IFAB has certain requirements that need to be met for certification. According to the Laws of the Game 17/18, which were updated on June 1st, 2018, to include EPTS, these tracking technologies “must not be dangerous” and “information and data transmitted from the devices/systems is not permitted to be received or used in the technical area during the match.” The latter requirement is subjective, however, meaning it’s up to competition organizers (like the MLS) to decide whether or not they want to allow teams to use wearable tracking systems in a game, not just in training.

While EPTS are primarily intended to track player and ball positions, IFAB has also approved them to be used in tandem with sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes, as well as heart-rate monitors. Atlanta United players, for instance, wear a black strap underneath their Apex Athlete Monitoring vests with an embedded heart-rate sensor. But that device isn’t made by STATSports; it’s from a US-based company called Polar. Ultimately, it’s up to each club and its coaching staff to choose the system that best fits its needs.

Along with STATSports, there are five other companies licensed by FIFA to produce EPTS wearables. Among them is Catapult Sports, whose technology is used by over 2,000 teams, including major soccer clubs like Chelsea, Bayern Munich and the Dallas Mavericks and Pittsburgh Steelers in the NBA and NFL, respectively. Meanwhile, STATSports’ Apex Athlete Monitoring systems are used by Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Juventus and, outside soccer, the NBA’s Washington Wizards, among others.

“It’s a great, great tool, but it still is a tool, and it still requires other aspects of performance, other aspects of coaching and other aspects of medicine to be layered in on that decision-making process.”

For US Soccer, using STATSports’ system is about ensuring there’s a data set standard for club and national teams to follow. The partnership means youth academies in the US get free Apex GPS units, but it’s also about educating coaches and helping them understand the data that’s going to available to them. James Bunce, High Performance Director at US Soccer, said there’s no value in data without context, so his job is to make sure that clubs and coaches in the country are on the same page.

He said wearable GPS devices are “a massive step in science in the last ten years” because previously all coaches could rely on was using either heart-rate sensors or their eyes only. “Now you get to the point we can measure this internal and external load from this device and at a high accuracy,” said Bunce. “It’s a great, great tool, but it still is a tool, and it still requires other aspects of performance, other aspects of coaching and other aspects of medicine to be layered in on that decision-making process.”

Having a standard in place will allow for easier player-data management, too. Say a youth player from Atlanta United goes to a US Soccer training camp for a few weeks, there won’t be a gap in their progress sheet because everything they did with the national team can be transferred to their club’s records. Atlanta United’s coaching staff will know everything they did while they were away, from how fast (or slow) they ran to how much distance they covered on the pitch in training or during a match. And if a player transfers to another MLS team, they’re allowed to take their own data with them.

Technically, this could also apply to a scenario in which a player makes a move to a European club. But that would depend on whether the new team uses STATSports’ hardware and software technology and, most importantly perhaps, whether there’s approval from the coaching and medical staffs of the teams involved. At the moment, it’s not set in stone who owns the data collected from EPTS wearable and video systems. And that’s something FIFA and IFAB are going to have to figure out soon, especially as the topic of data privacy becomes increasingly important in today’s society.

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