What to make of last minute additions to / subtractions from World Cup rosters

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For the US, it was Brian Ching. For England, it was Theo Walcott. World Cup teams are releasing their final 23-man rosters for next week’s kickoff, and there’s plenty of controversy about who’s being left off (and on) the list.

But does it matter that Robbie Findley was put on the US’s roster over Brian Ching? I looked at the 2006 World Cup rosters for all 32 teams to find which players didn’t play a minute of their team’s 3 group stage matches (excludes keepers, which each team carries 3 but usually only plays 1).

All teams except Spain left at least 1 position player on the bench, and Spain was different because they had clinched advancement and were able to rest players in the final match of the opening round. Expanding this analysis to future rounds came to similar conclusions: only 5 additional players saw action in round 2, 3 in round 3, and none after that (excluding the 3rd place game). Clearly, the last man added to the team is not a critical selection.

But what about these particular last men added? Will they play? It’s difficult to know which was the last player added – that 23rd man – for each team because coaches don’t rank their players. However, from expert rankings, we can surmise that Findley was the last guy for the US this year. For England, Forward Shawn Wright-Phillips was probably the last man to make the squad.

To answer this question, I looked by position at the probability of playing in the first rounds of the 2006 World Cup…

Forwards were the most likely to play, with 90% of roster spots seeing some playing time in the opening round of 2006. Defenders were much less likely, at 78%, and backup goalies are merely spectators, with over half of all keepers not seeing any action.

So, for forwards Findley and Wright-Phillips, there’s a great chance they’ll play, which is good news for them. And, the head coaches will find out if their selections (and omissions) were wise after all.

Follow all my World Cup statistical analysis here.

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