By Anna Allen, '16
Since the age of five, Hannah Holub, '16, has played soccer. Today she’s part of the Richmond women’s soccer team. As a student-athlete, Holub must carefully balance her time on the field with her double major in mathematics and economics. But this summer, soccer and academics came together in an exciting way.
Holub interned with Toronto Football Club (FC), a Canada-based team that is part of the Major League Soccer (MLS) organization. “Both the general manager, Tim Bezbatchenko, '04, and my supervisor, Bret Myers, '02, went to Richmond and played soccer on the men’s team together,” she says. “My coach put me in contact with them and I was able to create this internship for myself.”
Holub was tasked with looking for trends in the rosters of successful MLS teams and then comparing those teams to Toronto to see if any differences existed. “Toronto is trying to be better, to get better players, and to figure out what they’re missing,” says Holub. “I analyzed 18 different teams over the course of the summer, looking to see what, statistically speaking, can have an effect on making a better team.” Holub’s research was primarily for the use of the Director of Scouting Jack Dodd and his staff, as they look for new players to bring onto the team. Dodd and staff will use Holub’s report to supplement their research and work on building a dangerous roster and successful Toronto FC team.
Holub turned to her math background to gather data for categories she thought would be useful. The number of years a player spent with the same team was one category — and it proved to be one of her most interesting findings. “It’s not always the greatest players on a team that can make them successful; it’s having a foundation of returning players,” she says. “It might not be someone who steps onto the field every game, but if a team has someone who has been on the team for 10 years, the numbers say it can make a huge difference.”
Although Holub’s research was a new experience for her, the process behind it was not. “I think this type of research is extremely similar to the analytic thought process we learn in math and economics about how variables and unseen variables can affect a result,” she says.
While the mathematician in Holub recognizes the value of good data, the athlete knows there is still plenty to learn from watching a team perform on the field. She had the chance to do just that when Toronto FC faced Montreal Impact for the second leg of the Canadian Cup. “I got to sit in the statistics boxes with all the other team staff,” she says. “It was a really interesting perspective on the game.”
Amidst the statistics and data trends, Holub’s internship revealed something else — the possibility of a career working in the analytical side of soccer. “Numbers and soccer are two things that make sense to me, and the fact that this internship showed me how you could combine them together and create a job blew my mind.”