For Copa América soccer tourney, US men's team uses tech to reach its 'goool!'
The squad is using heart monitors from Polar Team 2 and GPS sensors from Stats Sports to train before it faces its tournament rivals, starting with Colombia on Friday.
Claudia CruzReporter / CNET en Español
Claudia Cruz is a reporter for CNET en Español. Previously she served as the local editor and social media manager for Mountain View and Palo Alto, Patch.com. Prior to that, editor at El Correo de Queens and contributed as a staff reporter to The Queens Courier in New York City. She has a Masters degree from the City University of New York's (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism in business and entrepreneurial journalism, and a Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Claudia's a native New Yorker, daughter of Dominican parents. She loves baseball, yoga and tasting the abundant microbrews in California.
The tools the United States men's national soccer team uses to improve its game are stitched into its jerseys.
For nearly two and a half years, Jürgen Klinsmann and his coaching staff have measured the fatigue and physical preparation of the team's players with two high-tech devices: heart monitors from Polar Team 2 and GPS sensors made by Stats Sports.
The devices are only a few of the high-tech gadgets being used in training for, and transmission of, the Copa América 2016 tournament, a regional soccer contest that's rivaled only by the World Cup. The tourney, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is being hosted by the US for the first time. It starts Friday with a match between Colombia and the US in Santa Clara, California (here's how to watch).
Organizers know that not all fans will be able to snag tickets for the 32-game tournament, which is taking place in 10 different stadiums. So they're capturing the action with high-tech cameras.
To improve the fan experience, US Soccer hired StriVR, a company that produces virtual-reality training videos for athletes, to create several 360-degree highlight videos of the tournament. The final match, set for June 26, will be broadcast in 4K, which means fans with cutting-edge TVs will see sharper images, more-brilliant colors and improved slow-motion and rapid-action replays.
The technology will also be on the field. The regional body organizing Copa América, CONCACAF, is deploying goal-line technology by Hawk-Eye, a division of Sony Corporation, to automatically detect if the ball has crossed the line for a score.
Of course, none of this will matter if the players aren't in tip-top shape to perform on the pitch.
Ryan Alexander is the US Soccer sports scientist responsible for the technology used to train the male and female teams, and he's also the person who helps analyze the data gathered on players. In an interview at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California, (home to Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes), Alexander went into more detail about the tech the US men's national team uses to whip itself into shape.
The Polar Team 2 is mounted on a fitted elastic belt players wear around the chest. Using a Bluetooth sensor, the monitor communicates with a Stats Sports GPS sensor woven into a training shirt or tucked into a sports bra located on the nape below a player's neck. (Yes, there are sports bras for men.) US Soccer said it chose both devices because they won't restrict an athlete's training, aren't invasive and are simple.
The Stats Sports GPS sensor communicates with between three to six satellites to calculate and track the positions of players on the field. The GPS measures a player's speed, the distance he covers and how he moves around in different zones.
Simultaneously, the heart monitor measures how much physical effort each player exerts and how his body recovers after each sprint.
"This way we know where [each player] may fit in tactically into the lineup for Jürgen," Alexander said. "We can give him as much information from their physical aspect as possible so that he can be as informed as possible."
FIFA, international soccer's governing body, doesn't prohibit the use of wearable tech on the pitch unless it may injure a player or is used to communicate between players. Regional governing bodies and tournament organizing committees, however, must approve their use.
During Copa América the US team won't wear any devices. However, US Soccer will still gather data using a match analysis system that employs cameras that synchronize with the dimensions of the field. The information gathered is sent up to the cloud, where algorithms calculate the players' movements on the field.
"The data that you are collecting may all look the same, but it's your interpretation of how you can apply that data into the next [training] program -- that's how you will maximize the gains that you can get out of your players," Alexander said. "The way that we are able to apply this information and the data that we are collecting -- we are seeing positive returns."