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Examining Parity and Predictability Across Sports — American Soccer Analysis

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Across a 16 game season, the Big Five is about as predictable as basketball and football, while baseball ends up the least predictable. Soccer sure isn’t baseball, Bruce was right about that. 

As it turns out, across a short span of games, trying to swing a piece of wood at a ball the size of a fist moving incredibly fast is more chaotic than soccer, especially compared to the Big Five. It makes sense when you think about it – the difference between the batting average of your Average Joe and Shoeless Joe makes little difference over the course of 16 games, and a batting average over 16 games is not very stable. But over the course of a 162 game season, a batting average is informative and it makes a huge difference to the team. 

Hockey is similar – it is in many ways very soccer-like. It’s low-scoring, team-oriented chaos, on par with MLS unpredictability over the course of a short stretch of games. But an 82 (and now 95) game season means there’s enough of a sample for patterns to emerge that allow for past results to better predict future results. 

Also notable is that, across the American leagues, the higher scoring sports – basketball and football – are the ones that are the most predictable based on previous results when season length is controlled for. Lower scoring sports seem generally more chaotic and less predictable based just on score lines. The Big Five leagues, though, buck that trend hard.

So soccer isn’t baseball, or basketball, or football, or even hockey. The biggest European leagues end up far more predictable than MLS, so soccer isn’t even always soccer when it comes to this kind of thing. There’s more to it than just the sport itself. 

In our past article, we linked the predictability of a league to the disparity in team strength within a league, operationalized with the Gini coefficient. The idea is simple, at its heart. In a league where teams are of similar strength, past score lines don’t always tell us who the ‘better’ team was, because the games are closer and the margins are finer, so it’s less likely that the ‘better’ team wins the game. In leagues where some teams are clearly more dominant than others, it’s easier to see the patterns emerge from past performance.

We found that this is the reason why the Big Five are so much more predictable than MLS – the gap between the haves and the have-nots is so much wider that it becomes much easier to tell how the rest of the season will pan out. Here, we can see that’s true even over a 16 game span.

We took another look at this idea, first to replicate our original results over a longer span of seasons, and second to see if this pattern exists in other sports.



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The trading card boom is a big deal for the NWSL, too – Equalizer Soccer

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There’s no question about it: Trading cards are back and more popular than ever thanks to a resurgence sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic

Stuck at home with many sports shut down for significant portions of 2020, these cards provided a simple, stay-at-home hobby that kept people connected to the teams and players they loved. As a result, sports cards have been flying off the shelves and analysts are now predicting the market will grow by nearly $7 billion between 2021 and 2026.

For growing sports entities like the National Women’s Soccer League, the trading cards market is also a major opportunity. One of women’s soccer’s biggest selling points is its high level of engagement with fans. In a digital world, physical trading cards satisfy an innate human desire to own a tangible piece of history around the teams and the players they support.  

“It’s romantic,” Parkside Collectibles co-founder Matt Peek tells The Equalizer about the experiences surrounding trading cards. “It is one of the most pure and wonderful exchanges that can happen.” 

In 2020, Parkside Collectibles became the first company to produce a series of cards dedicated solely to women’s soccer when the company released a limited run commemorating the inaugural NWSL Challenge Cup. Companies like Topps and Upper Deck had included special inserts for major U.S. women’s national team players in runs of men’s soccer cards over the years, but no one had ever attempted anything to the scale or with the singular focus that Parkside did.

All 3,000 sets of that original Challenge Cup run sold out quickly despite only being available on the fledgling company’s website. Once Parkside proved the market existed, the company followed up with vastly expanded series in 2021 and 2022, each featuring hundreds of player base cards and numerous special inserts like glossy and signature cards. New distribution deals with Amazon, Walmart and Target also massively increased accessibility. 

The fact that these cards can now be found in major retailers all over the United States, hanging next to huge brands like Topps and Pokémon, is unprecedented. Despite exponential growth in recent years, women’s soccer merchandise remains hard to find. What little is made is often extremely limited in variety, like the U.S. women’s national team Funko Pops featuring only four players. Products are also limited in quantity as manufacturers perpetually underestimate demand

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The Equalizer Podcast: Mailbag – Equalizer Soccer

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Mallory Pugh and three U.S. women's national team teammates celebrate a goal.


Photo credit: Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

Jeff Kassouf answers your burning questions about the U.S. women’s national team, next year’s World Cup, NWSL free agency, NWSL expansion, and more.

Listen to this pod on:  Apple  |  Spotify  |  Google Podcasts  |  Stitcher  |  Anchor  |  PodBean  |  Pocket Casts  |  Breaker  |  Overcast  |  RadioPublic

Subscribers: Click below for the ad-free version.

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Real Madrid’s centerpiece – Equalizer Soccer

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Caroline Weir knows how to make an impact. In the 15th minute of her second start for Real Madrid, at home against her old club Manchester City, she immaculately controlled a bouncing ball on the turn in City’s penalty box. Working a shot on her favored left foot, she found the top corner to send her former teammates out of the Champions League before the group stage.

Watching Weir run to her new fans to celebrate must have been painful for the Manchester City contingent, but not surprising. The 27-year-old Scotland international midfielder has done this sort of thing before.

Playing in the first professional Manchester derby in September 2019, Weir scored the game’s only goal with a laser-like shot from outside of the box. The next season, she scored an even more audacious attempt in the same fixture. A drag-back took her past a defender before she beat goalkeeper Mary Earps with a sumptuous long-range chip. Earps — England’s No. 1 — was beaten again in similar fashion last term, Weir lobbing the ball into the far corner from distance to ensure another City victory over United.

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