Nikos Overheul will be joining the Vancouver Whitecaps as the new head of recruiting.

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Analytics aren’t the answer, but they do provide the framework for finding one.

While a deep dive into statistics won’t tell you if a player is necessarily good, they will tell you if a player is objectively bad; a waste of time and money. And that savings, both financially and planning-wise, is hugely valuable in the world of soccer.

It was with that in mind that the Vancouver Whitecaps finally landed on a man who can help provide a path out of their scouting hinterlands: Nikos Overheul, who was named the team’s director of recruitment Friday.

Overheul was most recently the head of technical scouting for StatsBomb, the leading football analytics company. The Dutchman was also a team analyst and first-team scout with English Championship-side Brentford FC and Danish Superliga side FC Midtjylland, two clubs noted for their innovative use of analytics.

“Nikos’s main quality, beside a lot of other qualities, is to interpret data. You need somebody who’s very good at that. Data is available for everybody in this world. A lot of data is free. But the question is, ‘How do you interpret data?’ ” Axel Schuster, the Caps’ CEO and sporting director, said in a one-on-one with Postmedia News on Friday. “We were looking for guys who were doing this job already. We had a clear profile how the person should look like, and Nikos was, from the very first beginning, somebody who was very high on the list. StatsBomb is one of the best organizations in the world doing this.

“(But) first … it is a recruitment department because scouting for us is only one part. So there’s much, much more behind that.”


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The calls for a proper acquisition department even predate coach Marc Dos Santos, who promised to develop one in 2018. A year later, when Schuster was hired as sporting director, it was still an amorphous exercise in philosophy.

Three months after taking over, Schuster began the process. Saturday will mark 365 days since he first wrote an email to Overheul, broaching the idea of him joining the club. A meeting at a restaurant in Heathrow Airport last March, just a few days before the travel freeze — Schuster jokes he’s the last person he’s seen in person outside the team and his family since then — led to Overheul being hired as a consultant in October. He’ll now lead a six-man department which, if you include the branches into other silos — performance, coaching and medical — sees its numbers bump up well into double-digits.

The club also announced the return of Dave Dir, who was the team’s chief scout in its first two MLS seasons, along with the addition of Kevin Antunes, who had been a first-team scout with the Montreal Impact.

Longtime staffer Steve Meadley, who’s held numerous roles and titles with the Caps since 2005, was named the college scout and Homegrown player manager.

There is also an external network of scouts whose identities are a closely kept secret within the club.

“It’s not only one guy,” Schuster said of Friday’s announcement. “Finally we have a total system, a total structure in place, (for) how we do scouting and recruitment.”


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Part of the process has been establishing the team’s identity and style of play. From there, they’ve built metrics from which they measure the desired qualities for each position. A simple example Schuster gave was wingers who are fast, strong dribblers and goal-scorers, or attacking midfielders who can make progressive passes in the final third, but is also a tireless pressing player.

“The obvious one is, everybody would say, ‘Hey, you want to have an attacking midfielder that has plenty of assists?’ No, I want to have an attacking midfielder who is playing a lot of last, key passes before somebody has a shot on goal,” he said. “An assist means that you play a very good key pass … but that means that the striker scores. You can be a very good attacking midfielder with a lot of good key passes, but your striker is not finishing good.”

StatsBomb has data on things like expected goals or ball progression, but the Whitecaps are also working with another, unnamed company that provides deeper, performance analytics, from average and top speed, to resilience — how often he sprints, how often he hits top speed.

They have also built a database of players from which to compare their player metrics with, allowing them to be the initiators in player transfers, instead of weeding through the hundreds of players they get offered by agents.

“Déiber Caicedo is a perfect example of that. Déiber was never offered to us from anybody — not his agent or his club — before we said, ‘This is the guy we want to have,’” Schuster said of the team’s last acquisition.


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“If a player doesn’t have any metrics, in whatever league he plays in — he could play for Bayern Munich, the best team in the world — he will not have that here either, because this is general behaviour that has nothing to do with quality.”

The traditional scouting process begins after that, with their network of scouts or the coaching staff watching a player’s games for the metrics that are hard to measure: character or how he interacts with his teammates and coaches. Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, that currently means lots of Zoom calls and video, but the Caps also have a staff member dedicated to developing a background profile.

Gone are the days of Wikipedia scouting; this staffer will, for instance, spend hours translating media reports from Romania or tracking down former teammates or coaches to paint a fuller picture of them.

Another staffer works the financial picture; how much similar players have sold for, what his market value is currently or what it might be in two years’ time.

Throw in a two-day medical check, and when all is said and done, a 20-page report on each prospective player is created. When looking at an average of three players per position, it’s a mountain of work.

For expensive transfers like new Designated Players, Schuster takes the report and presents it to owners. For “nominal-cap” players, he will meet with Dos Santos and Overheul to decide their main target.

“A lot of different pieces, and a huge group of people are working there,” said Schuster. “And all of that has been combined and put into place within the last year.”


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