What Is an Assist in Soccer?

In soccer, an assist is a pass made by a player that directly leads to a goal being scored by a teammate. This pass can be made using any part of the body except the hands and arms, which are reserved for the goalkeeper. An assist is a key part of the game, as it involves not only the player making the pass but also the teammate who finishes the play by scoring the goal.

Are Assists Important in Soccer?

Soccer players can all contribute to the team in different ways, depending on their position on the field. Strikers and attacking players tend to get the majority of the praise, as they are the players that usually score the goals. However, most goals are scored after some good build-up play and a final pass from a teammate. For this reason, assists can be used to try to measure a player's ability to create scoring opportunities for the team.

"I've never scored a goal in my life without getting a pass from someone else."

- Abby Wambach (National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee)

Players with the most assists are usually known as 'playmakers', and are known for their great passing ability and creativity. These players can most often be found in the central attacking midfield area, or on the wings, delivering crosses into the penalty area.

What Qualifies as an Assist in Soccer?

The rules for what classes as an assist will vary depending on who is recording the statistics. Different governing bodies and competitions will each use their own definitions. For example, some sources may only award an assist to the player who makes the final pass before a goal is scored, while others may also credit earlier passes that set up the scoring opportunity.

In the Premier League, they outsource their statistic capturing to a company named Opta, who will award an assist under the following conditions:

  • A player's final touch leads to the recipient of the ball scoring a goal. The touch can be a pass, a pass-come-shot, or any other touch.
  • If the final touch is deflected off an opposition player, then an assist will still be awarded if the recipient was the likely intended target when the initial touch was made.
  • If there is a shot on goal that is blocked by an opposition player, hits the frame of the goal, or is saved by the opposition goalkeeper, an assist will be awarded if a goal is subsequently scored from the rebound.
  • If a player shoots or passes the ball, and subsequently forces an opposition player to put the ball into their own goal, an assist will be awarded.
  • If a player wins a free-kick or a penalty, an assist will be awarded if a goal is directly scored as a result, but only if the player does not also score the resulting goal.

What Is a Shot Assist?

A shot assist is a pass made by a player that directly leads to a shot on goal. A regular assist requires the shot to result in a goal, but a shot assist will also include all unsuccessful shot attempts. The shot assist is not a commonly referenced statistic in soccer.

Limitations of Assist Statistics

One of the challenges of recording the number of assists that a player makes is that it can be very subjective, and may not always accurately reflect a player's contribution to the game. For example, a player may be awarded a number of assists during a game, but we have no way of knowing if the assists were due to some brilliant passes, or if they were simply unintentional deflections that led to the goals. We also have no way of knowing how many assist attempts were successful, and how many times the ball was given away to the opposition. The observer's perspective and potential bias will also influence what is considered to be a good assist. For these reasons, assist statistics should not be considered to be a definitive way of determining a player's creativity and contributions to the team.

Who Has the Most Assists in Soccer?

The definition of an assist may vary between governing bodies and statistic providers, so the following records should not be used as direct comparisons.

Most soccer assists in a single season per competition
MLS2000Carlos ValderramaTampa Bay Mutiny26
La Liga2019-20Lionel MessiBarcelona21
Bundesliga2019-20Thomas MüllerBayern Munich21
Premier League2002-03Thierry HenryArsenal20
Premier League2019-20Kevin De BruyneMan City20
Ligue 12015-16Ángel Di MaríaPSG18
Serie A2009-10RonaldinhoAC Milan18
Champions League1999-00Luis FigoBarcelona9
Champions League2017-18James MilnerLiverpool9
World cup1970PeléBrazil6
Most soccer assists of all time per competition
CompetitionRecords beganPlayerClubAssists
La Liga1990Lionel MessiBarcelona192
Premier League1992Ryan GiggsManchester United162
Serie A1986Francesco TottiRoma152
MLS1996Landon DonovanSan Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy136
Bundesliga2004Thomas MüllerBayern Munich134
Ligue 12001Dimitri PayetNantes, Saint-Étienne, Lille, Marseille92
Champions League2003Cristiano RonaldoManchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus42
World cup1954PeléBrazil10

History of Assist Statistics

Recording the number of assists is a relatively new concept, with most competitions not logging any data until the 1990s. The first competition to record assists was the original North American Soccer League, who have records starting in 1968. This was most likely because assist statistics were already being collected in basketball and ice hockey In America at this time.

The Premier League began recording assists in the 2006-07 season and began giving an award to the player with the most assists in the 2017-18 season. This award is known as the Premier League Playmaker of the Season, and has been won twice by Kevin De Bruyne since its inauguration.

The French league also started its records at a similar time (2007-08), and has an award known as the Trophée de Meilleur Passeur ("best passer trophy").

Fantasy Football Assists

An assist is one of the main ways of scoring points when playing in a fantasy football league. The definitions for an assist will be similar to those used by real-world competitions but tend to be a bit more relaxed, meaning more assists are awarded. This is usually achieved by awarding assists to whichever teammate last touched the ball before the goal, regardless of any other circumstances of the play.