Major League Soccer is taking an innovative approach to scouting. The league has partnered with ai.io, the makers of mobile phone scouting app aiScout, in an effort to discover new soccer talent across the North American continent.
Every MLS first team clubs, as well as MLS Next Pro and MLS Next teams, are expected to have access to the AI-powered platform. Videos and player’s metrics can be quickly and easily up uploaded to the app.
The app will be available at no-cost, making it accessible to millions of prospective players. MLS Senior Vice President of Emerging Ventures Chris Schlosser said the technology will be a useful tool for players who are hoping to draw the attention of the MLS.
“This technology is so powerful because all you need is this [phone],” Schlosser said in a news release, “and suddenly, you can be scouted anywhere at zero cost. You can go do drills in your backyard or your driveway or local park and that would allow you to get on MLS’s radar.”
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The app will be able to evaluate a soccer player’s physical skills 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 J.J. Watt and his wife and American soccer player, Kealia Watt, own 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 start a data-collecting process to determine the ideal benchmarks for evaluating athletes. All players are expected to have access to aiScout by early 2024.
A player can upload videos and will be evaluated in three distinct 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 … passing, dribbling, shooting,” Richard Felton-Thomas, aiScout’s COO and director of sport sciences, told Fox News Digital.
“The player can go [outside], a parent or friend will hold the phone, and they’ll just mimic the material they’re supposed to be doing,” Felton-Thomas said. “That video goes off to our cloud and runs all the analysis over the top, comes back down to the phone, and they’ll get a video back with tracking lines all over the body to show how the movement happens.”
Athletes are expected to have three chances to upload a video in the physical, technical and cognitive categories before they submit their best attempt. But the amount of attempts they are given is subject to change.
“They might be fine with a player doing five tests. They might want it all averaging out. Or they might just want to take the best one or the last one,” Felton-Thomas said.
MLS franchises often face roadblocks on multiple fronts when they attempt to acquire talent on the international level. Clubs must adhere to numerous regulations as it relates to a given country and usually have to secure a visa before a player can officially join their team.
The new app will give teams the ability to search for talent across the globe, but the players in North America will likely be given somewhat of a priority.
“[The MLS] want it to be at the forefront of talent identification, and he very early saw that the way to do this is to be able to make sure we can look at everybody in the country simultaneously and fairly.” Felton-Thomas said in reference to MLS Next Technical Director Fred Lipka, who pushed for technology that helped remove the barriers such as cost and geography from the talent identification process.
Following a series of validation tests in the United Kingdom, a revamped version of the aiScout app was introduced in 2022.
The revised version of the app allowed for more player development-driven content, which was a pivot from the evaluation-centric content.
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The app was also part of FIFA’s innovation program. Eventually, every single Major League Soccer team will have the ability to customize how they use the app. Although the platform is focused on technology, as it begins to roll out, one of the customizations could include some type of human component.