This is my first post to the message board, and I have searched the archives.

Basically, what I’m looking for here is someone to provide a sound statistical argument that the scoring in soccer is almost useless in determing which team is better. I don’t care whether soccer is a good sport or not, and I don’t care whether it’s fun or not fun to watch because of the low scores. I’m only interested in whether the scores can be a meaningful indicator of which team is better.

I really know very little about soccer, but my thinking goes basically like this: each scoring drive in soccer has a small chance of success. In order for a team’s actual score to represent their ability, there has to be a large number of scoring drives, but in soccer there usually isn’t a large number of scoring drives. And this is exacerbated if you further expect the score to indicate the better team. Now, in addition to needing a large number of drives to even accurately represent a team’s ability, what you really need is enough drives to reflect one team’s slight edge over the other, which dramatically drives up the number of scoring drives needed for an accurate result.

Suppose we had a special coin that would only show heads in 10% of tosses and another that would show heads in 20% of tosses. Believe me, I’m no stat major and I labored over this quite a bit, but my results show that if you flipped each coin 5 times, the 20% coin would have only about a 49% chance of yielding a higher number of heads than the 10% coin. This is to say that the 20% coin would be more likely to lose or tie than to win the game of five tosses.

Now if the two coins were instead two soccer teams, and each team gets to make 5 scoring drives during the game, then we essentially have the coin toss scenario above. We can say that the team that is twice as good as the other team is still not even *likely* to win. A tie or a loss is actually more likely for the vastly better team than a win.

Besides the basic soundness of my coin toss probability math (and I implore people who don’t have a solid background in math to resist the urge to throw up some simple calculations because probabilities are beguiling complicated), we’d need to define “scoring drive” and address what the real-world average number of “scoring drives” is in a soccer game, and what the real-world average probabilities are to score before we could really work this out. But all this should be more-or-less available in the annals of soccer stats if they’re anything like baseball or basketball stats.

My gut feel is that my assertion will be born out and here’s why: soccer is the only international sport. If soccer’s scoring more accurately represented the better team, there wouldn’t be so many competitive countries. There would be a handful of “superpower” teams and everyone else wouldn’t have a chance, ever. But in soccer it seems like any country can have a shot at the big dance. Why? Because it’s pretty much a lottery or a crapshoot and the scoring guarantees that. A team has to be enormously better than another team to have a reasonably sure shot of winning.

If soccer’s scoring more accurately reflected the better team, we’d see scores more like 15-2 instead of this perpetual (and highly suspicious) 0-1. The little countries wouldn’t be able to compete and we’d see a lot less soccer rioting. I mean, who wants to riot when your team loses by 10 or 20 points instead of 1 point?

So, come on stat-boys-and-girls. Enlighten us!