Cheap Seats: Johns Hopkins Grad Ranks Soccer Teams For Bleacher ReportPosted on May 14, 2013
By Michael Page
As a student at Johns Hopkins University, Frank Wagner majored in math and music. During his free time, he had a passion for soccer. Trying to follow soccer internationally, Wagner realized it was difficult to gauge which international squads were as good as FIFA rankings would indicate. So Wagner decided to take matters into his own hands. Using his advanced math background, Wagner devised a plan.
"I made a system which ranks the teams head to head and says which teams are doing the best and goes down and tells you how your team is doing right now," Wagner said. "There's always like hundreds of games on at one time. With the NFL, you can follow everything and see every game once a week and know who is better than who.
"With soccer, there is just too many teams and you just can't follow it. So I started trying to figure out ways to tell who is doing better at certain times, and that's when I started coming up with metrics to tell me who would win at certain times."
Wagner went to work devising a way to rank the international soccer teams when another light bulb came on. With graduation approaching in 2011, Wagner decided to see whether he could take his homegrown soccer-ranking system to the next level. That's when he contacted Bleacher Report.
"I needed to find a place to get paid [after college]," Wagner said. "So I went to them and starting writing a few articles, and they started paying me for my work."
Wagner, 23, is now a featured writer for Bleacher Report and is working to take his ranking system again to another level.
"Right now they have the FIFA rankings," Wagner said. "They have the top teams, and every time they come out, there are flaws all over them. So I hope to get my work the credibility to replace that."
Wagner said he thought flaws occurred because the World Cup is played every four years, and, in his opinion, the rankings don't keep up during the down time.
"Just because a team won the World Cup three years ago and has lost all their players, doesn't mean that they are the best now," Wagner said. "So I began to weight the games."
Wagner's system is proving to be accurate. His recent success during major tournaments tells the story.
"I've been picking the right major-tournament winners and the runner-up for the last three major tournaments," he said. "It's based on the last four years of competition, and I also weight the game based on importance."
Wagner is now back home in Cherry Hill, N.J., where he is working to perfect his ranking, while teaching math and awaiting graduate school in the fall. But he said he had his eye on taking over the soccer-ranking world.
"I'm looking for this thing to be the go-to ranking for all of international soccer," Wagner said.
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Issue 185: May 2013