Lucy Rushton, Atlanta United’s unsung hero

  • Lucy Rushton is the Head of Recruitment and Analysis for Atlanta United

  • She's been at the club since day one and helped them to MLS Cup 2018 triumph

  • "Women can excel here"

Lucy Rushton is the only woman on the 20-person technical staff of Major League Soccer side Atlanta United, and she works as the head of recruitment and analysis.

There wasn’t always a 20-person staff, either. Rushton was a foundational part of the club when it was basically herself and technical director Carlos Bocanegra – the former USA captain – who formed their scouting department.

In only United’s second season of existence, it lifted the MLS Cup, the top prize in the league, defeating Portland Timbers in the 2018 final. Many components came together to lead to that success, but it’s unmistakable that countless smart decisions were being made regarding player recruitment.

“My role involves both the objective, data side of things and doing the subjective things,” Rushton told FIFA.com. “I also watch and purely scout players with the mindset of identifying them and continuing to monitor and assess them and ultimately present them to Carlos [Bocanegra] or to the senior staff to make a decision if it’s a player we want to pursue.”

Since expanding their technical staff, Rushton has been able to focus more on the analytical side of things, with the scouting of players left to others. “Data’s my background, that’s where I came from, so it’s been nice for me and something I hope to continue doing.”

Rushton produces data lists for players who match Atlanta United’s playing style, isolating them based on position, age, and even contract status and transfer value.

Data gives us direction. Data doesn’t necessarily answer the questions, but it actually asks them.

Lucy Rushton

“Data gives us direction,” she said. “I’ve seen numerous times where the data doesn’t necessarily answer the questions, but it actually asks them. We’ll see something in the data and it will make us go and watch the footage to investigate why the data was showing that. It helps us analyse and go in depth that little bit more, and into areas we didn’t first notice.”

Rushton’s focus is not only on player recruitment, though. She’s also in charge of the coordination of the myriad of analysis that takes place for every Atlanta match.

“During the game I’ll be coding lots of actions like principles of play and things we’ve identified as a club as our targets,” she said. “Post-match I’ll go back and really notate those events in depth and produce statistical reports.

“For me, matchday pretty much gets crazy at kick-off and in the ten to 12 hours after it. If it’s a 3pm kick-off on a Sunday then Sunday night and all day Monday I’m pretty much looking at post-match coding and notating of events and producing reports and going through video.

“I know people can be sceptical and I think that’s because they think data is trying to take over the game, but all we’re trying to do is complement and actually work alongside all the tools we already have. Being able to combine the subjective (watching matches with our own eyes) with the objective gives us a much fuller sense of the game.”

Lucy Rushton, Atlanta United Head of Recruitment and Analysis

Just as data can work in tandem with the subjective, the truth is that a gender balance is needed in technical staffs all around the globe. It’s an anomaly for a woman to be working as a director of scouting at the top level of the men’s professional game.

“I know there are a lot of negative stereotypes out there about women in football, but my experiences have been really positive,” Rushton said. “I’ve been welcomed by the clubs and all the people and shown the same level of respect that any guy has been given. For a woman even considering going down this route, sometimes you can think it’s not worth it and there’s too many boundaries to break down. That’s totally not the case and hasn’t been for me.

“The more women that other women and young girls see in these roles, the more it’s going to show them that these boundaries and barriers don’t exist. These are viable career paths for them. At the moment, there are so few people to look up to and say, ‘Oh, wow, there’s actually somebody doing that job who’s in my position and is a woman, so I can do it, too.’”

Images courtesy of Atlanta United