In association football, an assist is a contribution by a player which helps to score a goal. Statistics for assists made by players may be kept officially by the organisers of a competition, or unofficially by, for example, journalists or organisers of fantasy football competitions. Recording assists is not part of the official Laws of the Game and the criteria for an assist to be awarded may vary. Record of assists was virtually not kept at all until the end of the 20th century, although reports of matches commonly described a player as having "made" one or more goals. Since the 1990s, some leagues have kept official record of assists and based awards on them.
Most commonly, an assist is credited to a player for passing or crossing the ball to the scorer. It may also be awarded to a player whose shot rebounds (off a defender, goalkeeper or goalpost) to a teammate who scores. Some systems may credit an assist to a player who wins a penalty kick for another player to convert, or to an attacking player for contributing to an own goal. A goal may be unassisted, or have one assist; some systems allow for two assists.
FIFA's Technical Study Group is responsible for awarding assist points at the FIFA World Cup. In the Technical Study Group's report on the 1986 World Cup, the authors calculated for the first time unofficial statistics for assists, developing the following criteria:
- An assist was awarded to the player who had given the last pass to the goalscorer.
- In addition, also the last but two holder of the ball could get an assist provided that his action had decisive importance for the goal .
- After goals from rebounds those players were awarded an assist who had shot on target.
- After goals scored on penalty or by a directly converted free-kick the fouled player received a point.
- In case that the goalscorer had laid on the goal for himself (dribble, solo run), no assists were awarded.
- No assists were awarded, either, if the goalscorer took advantage of a missed pass by an opponent.
- Where goals resulting from penalties are concerned, the player who is fouled in the area receives an assist point (unless, that is, the player who is fouled subsequently executes the penalty himself).
FIFA started officially keeping track of assists in World Cup tournaments at the 1994 edition. This was popularly ascribed to the popularity of detailed sports statistics among American fans. 1994 was also the first World Cup in which assists were used as a tie-breaker in determining the Golden Shoe award for top scorer. In the event, both Hristo Stoichkov and Oleg Salenko tied with 19 points, from 6 goals and 1 assist.
The North American Soccer League kept assist statistics from its foundation in 1968, as its forebears the United Soccer Association and National Professional Soccer League had done the previous year. Analogous statistics were already being kept in basketball and in ice hockey, both established North American sports.
Major League Soccer formerly awarded the MLS Golden Boot based on 2 points per goal scored and one per assist. The all-time leader in assists in Major League Soccer is midfielder Steve Ralston, with 135 assists as of August 2011.
The NCAA makes regulations for statistics, including assists, in college soccer in the U.S. Two players may be credited with assists if the second did not have to beat a defender before passing to the scorer. No assist is awarded for winning a penalty. If a goal is scored after a save, block, or rebound from the goal frame, the first shooter gets an assist.
In Britain, official game statistics, including assists, for the Premier League, the Scottish Premier League and the Football League are provided by PA Sport under the Actim brand. Since the 2006–07 season, assists have been factored into the Actim Index of Premier League player performance. The assist statistics provided by fantasy football competitions may differ from the Actim data; some uniformly credit an assist to whichever teammate last touched the ball before the scorer, regardless of other circumstances of the play.
The French league, Ligue 1, awards the Trophée de Meilleur Passeur ("best passer trophy") to the player with most "decisive passes" in a season, the 2013–14 champion being James Rodríguez with 12. The French league's Commission des Compétitions includes blocked shots as a subset of "decisive passes". In 2012–13, Mathieu Valbuena and Dimitri Payet finished with 12 assists, Valbuena winning the trophy by having fewer blocked shots (3 against 5) among his total.
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- Bryan, Rebecca (11 July 1994). "Football by the numbers". Los Angeles: Agence France Presse. "the assist has gained enough ground to earn a place in the calculations for the Golden Boot award, which in every previous World Cup has been awarded solely on the basis of goals scored. Under the formula, players get three points for a goal, and one point for an assist. "We made a two-point difference because we do not want someone who did not score winning the award," a FIFA official said."
- "Romario is voted the top player of World Cup '94 and winner of the FIFA/adidas Golden Ball award; Salenko and Stoichkov tie as leading scorers for World Cup USA '94". Business Wire. 17 July 1994. "[FIFA] has announced Oleg Salenko (Russia) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) as [...] winners of the prestigious adidas Golden Shoe award [...] who made six goals and one assist each. Kennet Andersson (Sweden) with 5 goals and 3 assists, will receive a Bronze replica of the Predator [...] Throughout World Cup '94, three points were awarded for each goal scored and one point for each assist leading to a goal, with a maximum of two assists per goal. Assists are only taken into account if two or more players scored the same number of goals."
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