It’s often said that no two goals in soccer are quite the same, as the sequence of actions that leads to a score is always unique. In some cases, a goal might be the product of individual brilliance, but more often it results from the collaboration between multiple offensive players. A well-timed pass can put a player in a perfect position to strike the net, but the scorer alone will collect all the glory for the goal.
This is why it’s important to understand what is an assist in soccer and how important this statistical parameter is when assessing the quality of play. While assists are not as widely known as goals scored or shots within the frame, they are quite valuable and often require a lot of foresight and ball control skills to make. To explain how this element is tracked and what is and isn’t an assist, we need to take a closer look at the formal definition of this term in soccer.
Definition of assist in soccer
The essence of the soccer assist definition is very similar to basketball, ice hockey, and other sports. The player who makes the final pass before a goal is scored is credited with an assist. The type of pass in question is irrelevant – it can be a long cross, a short tap, a head strike, or even an inadvertent touch, but if it leads directly to a successful shot on goal, it will be counted as an assist. The logic is that the final pass is setting up the scorer and this feat deserves to be acknowledged with a separate statistic. The scorer is allowed to run with the ball, dribble, or feign shots, for as long as he ultimately puts the ball in the goal, the passer gets an assist.
An interesting case is a pass that’s been deflected by a defender and still reached the intended offensive player who promptly proceeded to score a goal. If there has been only one touch by the defender (hence, no ball control), the assist will still be awarded. The touch must not alter the path of the ball too much, and it must still reach the player to whom the original pass was directed.
Another situation is a free kick or penalty kick that was taken by a different player than the one that was fouled. In some leagues, the fouled player receives an assist if the goal is scored directly from stoppage. Shots deflected off the goal post or a defender can also lead to assists if another attacker reacts to them and puts them immediately back in. The player who took the first shot receives an assist in this case.
How many goals are assisted and how important is this stat?
While there are many ways to assist on a goal, it’s also quite possible to score unassisted goals. For example, if a player receives the ball from an opponent before shooting, there won’t be any assist recorded on that goal. A player going on a solo run could also score without any help from teammates. This is why the number of goals in a game doesn’t help to predict the number of assists, and the percentage of assisted goals varies from one competition to the next.
Still, more goals in professional football are assisted than not, and it’s common to see one or more assists in a game. Most assists in soccer are meaningful in terms that the pass actually helped to set up the goal, but in some cases, an assist can be almost an accident. That’s why experts and fans often debate the true merit of this stat, some claiming that it rewards unselfish and creative play and others believing it to be overrated and misleading.
Which players hold the records for most assists?
It is indicative that some of the best players in the world also tend to dominate the record lists for assists. On the level of an entire career, Lionel Messi is the undisputed assist king as he collected an eye-popping 358 so far, with fellow legends Luis Suares (277) and Cristiano Ronaldo (272) following him from afar. However, Ronaldo has the edge in the Champions League, where he leads Messi 42-36 in all-time assists. If we consider who has the most assists in soccer tournaments, Pele’s record with 10 World Cup assists is a feat that no modern player has come close to matching.
Looking at national leagues, the record for the English Premier League is 162, held by Ryan Gigs. Interestingly, the record for most assists by a goalie in EPL is 5, and it was set by Paul Robinson. Messi has the highest all-time total in the Spanish Primera Division with 193, while Thomas Muller holds the record for the German Bundesliga with a total of 164 career assists.
Can fans reliably recognize what is an assist in a soccer game?
Since many fans play fantasy sports and want to know the exact statistics as soon as possible, it’s fair to ask how reliably it’s possible to tell what is and isn’t an assist in soccer from a TV broadcast. Since the rules are pretty clear, experienced soccer enthusiasts will have no problem recognizing which player will be credited with an assist on any given goal. While some cases when the ball was deflected can be tricky to judge, the correct answer is usually obvious.
New fans may fail to track where the last pass came from, but that’s easy to fix by watching the replay carefully and paying attention to the assisting player. Tracking assists soon becomes a habit, and it becomes very easy to notice them in real-time. Once you do, you might develop a deeper appreciation for playmakers that are great creators, even better passers, and display exemplary teamwork on the field. A beautiful pass can be even more admirable than a thunderous shot on the goal, and assists are the only metric we have that rewards sharing the ball.