Calm Down and Play On

This is to clarify my tweet to NWSL about smoke at Portland Thorns’ home games.

I sent the tweet to NWSL because by the shots shown on Portland’s YouTube broadcast it appeared that the smoke was in the stands with fans. It was a simple question about the rules, which state flares/smoke by fans is strictly prohibited.

Their reply was that it was part of Portland’s game day atmosphere, under the control of Portland. I mistakenly took that as Portland was choosing to violate the rules. If you follow Merritt Paulson on twitter, you might understand why I thought this to be the case. As it turns out that is not the case. The smoke is set off from a capo stand by the supporters group. It is not set off by a fan and is not in the stands.

I know this to be the case because some level-headed members of their supporters group, Rose City Riveters, took the time to explain it to me. Unfortunately, all the snark and “Portland hater” tweets and subtweets did not explain the process to me.

I don’t hate on teams/players/supporters groups. I have my favorites and I have those I do not like. If I don’t like something I usually state that fact and leave it at that. Occasionally I digress into snark, but not very often.

To me this whole experience is just indicative of how quick people are to look for the worst on twitter. I’ve been guilty of it a time or two, but I try not to be that way. I support the league and the teams in it. I don’t always like the league and I have teams I don’t like, but I hate neither.

I hope this helps some to understand that my question did not arise out of hate, but a concern for safety and adhering to the rules.

If you’d like to discuss this further, please feel free to use the comments.

Blue Crew Ticket Combo Pack

Diane:

Good value, better experience!

Originally posted on KC Blue Crew:

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The World Cup Experiment

Originally posted on A Foreign Language:

Over the past month the world has erupted in a football (soccer) frenzy. As an avid supporter of the sport, and an ex park player, I couldn’t be happier about it! Every four years FIFA blesses each of its football faithful with one month where living, breathing and talking non-stop football is acceptable even to those outside of the sporting religion.

The World Cup tournament attracts all sorts; those who have been counting down the days since the Spanish packed the trophy in their overhead luggage upon departing South Africa to those who insist on trawling through hours of strategic, tactical, team and individual brilliance to find the negatives (enter diving and Luis Suarez). The World Cup month invites all sorts to get amongst the atmosphere, to ooh and to aah and to behave as self-appointed football analysts.. That is unless of course you are a woman.

Before I continue…

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A Little Something To Chew On

Yup. I went there. This IS about Luis Suarez and his apparent inability to control his mouth and Hope Solo and her apparent inability to control..I don’t know – drinking maybe? Anger?

These two people have more in common than you might first think. Suarez is a repeat offender having bitten people at least 2 times prior to his World Cup snack. Solo has a history of involvement in a domestic violence situation, on the night before her wedding – although not as the alleged aggressor – prior to her arrest this past weekend. Suarez is a very good soccer player. Solo is a very good soccer player. Both play for club and country. Both have been disciplined by their respective teams, Suarez for club and Solo for country. Both have brought their share of glory and negativity to the sport.

There are also glaring differences. The most obvious is that Suarez is male and Solo is female. Suarez plays for a prestigious men’s side with all the advantages that provides. Solo plays for one of nine teams in a U.S. women’s league trying survive in a pro sports environment. Suarez is being investigated by FIFA and Solo is being charged by Municipal authorities. Suarez faces a fine and suspension, Solo faces a fine and jail time.

Before I go further let me say with no ambiguity that I do not condone violence, domestic or otherwise and I do not condone biting an opponent during a soccer game, but having said that, I do have issues with the way people, journalists and just Janes and Joes, are treating the two offenses and the two players involved.

Suarez’s is the most recent, so I’ll start there. The man bit another player, blatantly, unapologetically and then blamed it on the other guy. This is not the first time or the second, but the third. Twice for club and now once for country. If it was done off the pitch to a family member he could be charged with domestic violence. See where I’m going with this? He has been fined and suspended for both the 1st and 2nd offenses and is now being investigated for the 3rd. Chances are they will give him another fine and suspension, bigger and longer than the first two. He has been given 2 chances to change his behavior and likely will get a third. Is it because of his gender and his ability and his celebrity? Yes and yes and yes. If he was not a talented male sports star he probably would have seen jail time. Not a lot, but the law does not look kindly on repeat offenders. Journalists and Janes and Joes are all over the board on this. Some say ban him from the game. Some say give him a break, he’s under a lot of stress. Some think it’s funny, some don’t. At the end of the day, Suarez hasn’t changed his behavior. He’s a role model, you say? The little boys, and girls, look up to him? All the more reason to make this a teaching moment of what not to do and how to recover if you do happen to go down this path. Too often we want to keep “offenders” for our own selfish pleasure, but what does that teach? That you are allowed unlimited mistakes? That you don’t have to change? That if you are a talented male sports star you get a pass because we like to see you play? If we truly are concerned about the message we send the kids who look up to him, we have to be willing to be tough and consistent. We have to look past gender and talent and celebrity and deal with the offenses fairly, based on the facts. The facts with Suarez are that he has had 2 chances to change already and hasn’t. He is a repeat offender. Should he be banned from playing? Maybe. If he was on the streets and didn’t change his behavior after the first two offenses he might end up in jail. At the very least he would have a “no contact order”. No contact with the game might be a just sentence.

And now to Solo. Worst case scenario: She is guilty of both counts. She did it, hit her nephew and her sister, was drunk and reacted in anger to taunts thrown at her, was pissed and pissed off. I know everyone cannot related to this scenario, but I have gotten into a drunken disagreement with a family member and if the police had been called I might have ended up in Solo’s shoes. In this scenario she is dead wrong, no excuses. So she’s sentenced, 364 days in jail or $5000, per count, (first time offenders with no criminal record typically don’t get jail time, a fine, counseling and time served usually is the norm, however her nephew is a minor and that may change things). Once she pays her fine and does her court ordered counseling she has paid her debt to society and that should be the end of it, but that’s only in a perfect world. There are also all the personal consequences for her actions; alienated friends and family, lost endorsements, sanction from her job, negative reactions from fans and pundits. And our society’s inability to accept that people are human. They make mistakes and have poor judgement, they violate our codes of conduct and our sensibilities. They also can change and often do when presented with their shortcomings.

People are equating her statements made during the 2007 World Cup with her current charges..not the same people. One has nothing to do with the other and shows no pattern, no matter how hard you look. They also want to throw in her comments on Twitter to Brandi Chastain during the 2012 Olympics..also not the same. Being outspoken does not predict violent behavior. Is it possible she has a problem when she drinks? Absolutely. Is it possible she has a problem controlling her anger when she drinks? Absolutely. Is this a reason to throw her out of the sport? Absolutely not. If she had committed these offenses on the pitch she would likely face a fine and suspension. She most likely would not be thrown off a team, based on the treatment her male counterparts have received. Everyone deserves the chance to change and if they must be judged they deserve to be judged fairly, based on the facts. If she successfully fulfills the requirements of the court, accepts and complies with the sanctions of her employers and does not engage in violent behavior going forward, why shouldn’t she be allowed in the sport? She’s a role model, you say? Little girls, and boys, look up to her? All the more reason to make this a teaching moment of what not to do and how to recover if you do happen to go down this path. Too often we want to get rid of “offenders” to make ourselves feel better, but what does that teach? That you aren’t allowed any mistakes? That you can’t recover from them? That you have to be perfect? If Solo doesn’t comply and does re-offend, have at her. But until that time we owe it to those kids we say we are so concerned about not to send a message of failure, but hope.

 

 

Red Card the Refs

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If bad calls by referees were rewarded with yellow cards the accumulation would have red-carded most Professional Referee Organization-provided officials just six weeks into the 2014 NWSL season.

In only the first six week of the 2014 season the refs have given 61 yellow cards and 2 straight reds (2 more reds for same game accumulation of yellows) and 18 PK’s. To put this in perspective here are some 2013/2014 comparisons:

                                                                           2013      2014 (through 6 weeks)
Regular season games:     88          35
Yellow cards:                       33          61
Red cards:                             4           4
Penalty kicks:                       27         18

I think the problem is twofold. First, the message was sent from someone; the league, the owners, the players, fans in tinfoil hats, that refs had to crack down and call the games tighter to improve level of play (in which case they’ve really lost the plot). Second, the refs are so badly trained they couldn’t make a call for pizza and get it right.

Last season saw many fouls go uncalled that allowed some games to get out of control with physical play and made the league look less than professional. A call to tighten things up would make the game more enjoyable to watch from a purely “beautiful game” perspective and also might serve to avoid player injuries. Good in theory, poor in application. Even with an average 20 fouls called a game referees still don’t seem to be in control of some games. The increase in PK’s alone is alarming. PK’s are being awarded at six times the rate of 2013. In 2013 PK’s were awarded at a rate of 0.29/game and in 2014 at 1.9 per game, so far. Since I can’t find any statistics about how many PK’s are for the ugly “handball” (clearly not applied according to the rule) I’ll just go with my observation and say a lot.

My belief is that the referees are not sufficiently trained to call games at this level. I do not think all referees fall into this category, but more than just a few and that includes AR’s. From really bad offside calls to the previously mentioned “handball”, referees and AR’s are getting it wrong. I’ll admit that I have the benefit of replaying the video most times and refs don’t, (although they may have at least one AR with eyes on the play) but usually my initial reaction is borne out by the replay. NWSL has to demand better. Referees are paid and not doing this on a lark and as such are professional referees (see PRO Referees). Even though PRO general manager, Peter Walton, sees the referees improving for MLS, I’d have to say that’s not the case for NWSL. And it begs the question, if MLS refs are sent down to lower levels when they need more experience/education, which level is NWSL?

Everyone complains about the refs, I get it, but it’s gotten to a point that way too often the referees are negatively impacting the results of the game. That negatively impacts the perception people have of the league. And that ultimately impacts the leagues ability to attract and retain valuable fans.

It’s time NWSL steps up and does the right thing for players and fans and tells PRO they won’t settle for the frequently substandard refereeing. It should not have to come to a coach being fined for speaking out for action to be taken. If U.S.Soccer is the front office, then they should act like it and address this situation immediately.

 

 

WoSo Pros – Where Are You?

I just spent 8 hours following or watching (yes, I watch those streams) women’s football from Europe. Four hours of that was consumed by UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals. I also managed to multitask Liverpool v Chelsea in EPL play during that time.

During that time I saw one, count it, one tweet from a player I follow (no I don’t follow them all, but I do follow all USWNT/FC Kansas City/Boston Breakers players) about UWCL – or any women’s soccer. I did see lots of tweets from women players about men’s soccer. Do you see where I’m going with this?

If women’s soccer is ever to be taken seriously by fans and supporters it has to also be taken seriously by the players. It is HARD to follow women’s soccer, but that’s no excuse, As easily as you can pick a men’s team or league to follow you can pick a women’s team or league to follow. Picking is the easy part, following is the hard part. Following is the part that takes dedication and effort. Following is what makes a fan and eventually a supporter. Players say they want to lead by example, well that has to extend to what happens in WoSo elsewhere in the world. American professional women’s soccer does not happen in a vacuum. International players bring a lot to the American professional game and international leagues cultivate those players. International leagues also provide some very good American league coaches. And I’d bet you that many (read most) of the women in NWSL had no idea about Laura Harvey or what she’d done at Arsenal Ladies, until she came to America. I could be wrong about that, but nothing in interviews or on social media shows anything to the contrary.

The simple truth is women’s professional soccer in the U.S. needs professional women soccer players to be a fan of their own game around the world. And to convey that interest to fans in the U.S.

If any players want tips or links to watch games I, and many fans, would be more than happy to share what we’ve learned about the trials and tribulations of following women’s soccer around the world. It IS the world’s game and that includes the approximately 50% that are women.

Step up WoSo Pros, step up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Were They Thinking?

Weeks have passed and I think I’ve finally processed Tom Sermanni’s untimely firing by USSF from his USWNT coaching job. I think. At first I was highly upset and bewildered. Oh, hell let’s face it, I’m still highly upset and bewildered.

I liked Tom as the selection to succeed Pia and I bought into his experimentation and willingness to vet many new players. I liked that he used different line ups and different formations. I liked that he was pushing the team in a direction they’ve needed to go in for some time now. I liked that the players, all of them, were not comfortable in their spot on the team. I liked that none of this seemed to bother him when questioned by media, even after Algarve.

Ah, Algarve and the Cup and the USWNT’s seemingly poor result. No one wants to finish in 7th place, in anything, but especially not in a tournament they’ve dominated recently. Did I expect a better result? Yes, I did. Was I disappointed with the way the team played? Not, really. Every game had a different starting XI and subs, but they were in every game. No matter the final score, they were competitive in every game. Did they lose our “American” fighting spirit? No. Did they stop attacking? No. Did they give up? No. Did they lose to teams they’ve beaten under the old style? Yes. But honestly, that old style is what wasn’t working anymore and what Tom was mandated by USSF to change. Algarve was a positive on so many levels I am hard-pressed to find fault with our result. I think I am in the minority opinion, though.

Moving on from Algarve was hard for many fans and apparently for USSF, too. With little to no contact with Tom after Algarve and with some (no one knows how much or little, or who or when) input from players, USSF in the form of Sunil Gulati sacked Tom after an international friendly win against China. Just showed up and sacked him with the only explanation being USSF wanted to go in another direction. This only demonstrates why I have such contempt for USSF and TPTB. To be so rude as not to even give a performance review so that an employee knows what his employer is dissatisfied with is not only bad business practice, but down right rude. And if any conversations were had behind the scenes between Tom and USSF, no one will admit to them. Tom has said emphatically that he was not spoken to after the Algarve Cup and he has never given me any reason to doubt his honesty. I am doubly disgusted that they lured Tom away from a successful stint with Australia’s women’s national team, The Matildas,  to change the program here in the U.S. to more possession-oriented, attacking football and to re-invigorate a team in transition and then not had the guts to stick out the transformation. If you ask me, USSF lost the “American” fighting spirit. They knew what they were getting when they hired him and didn’t have the confidence in their own decision to see it through. Way to go USSF.

The other part that I spent a lot of time thinking about was why fans were/are so quick to point the finger at a player(s) as the culprit in Tom’s firing. I have no doubt the players were consulted or might even have sought out USSF to express their opinion about how things were going under Tom. I would expect that. I would also expect USSF to take it all in perspective. My employer surveys the employees every quarter about how they feel the company/leadership is doing. I am also 100% certain that no one in leadership has been fired because one, or two employees have not had confidence/belief/liked them. If leadership is not engaged in something illegal an employer would be foolish to act on such a minority opinion. If USSF was really running scared about the results Tom would bring in the upcoming Women’s World Cup, I’d look to other contributing opinions, not solely a player or two. What about staff? Tom kept most of the USWNT staff and had only recently hired his own assistant coach. Maybe the staff were uncomfortable with the direction Tom was going, against the status quo? What about sponsors? Sponsors pay a lot of money to USSF and expect results to hang their brand name on. Maybe sponsors got antsy after Algarve and since USSF had no conversation with Tom they were ill-equipped to calm sponsor’s fears? What about fans? I’m a fan and I know I freely voice my opinions on social media and through blogs and the occasional email. Maybe fans contributed in some small way to the unease. It could happen.

My guess is Tom’s firing was a result of all these factors and others I would have no idea about. I’m sure some opinions weighed more heavily than others, but I think they probably all contributed. And that leaves me more than a little sad that “fans” would be so quick to point the finger at a player, any player, as having so much power to get the coach sacked. That does not bode well for the USSF or the sport.

Another thing I had trouble with was “a different direction”. USSF can’t just say that with no explanation of which direction they want to go in. If they were not happy that Tom hadn’t settled on a set roster, or positions, or formation as World Cup Qualifying draws closer, how in the world do they expect a new coach to accomplish all that with the same mandate they gave Tom in the time remaining? Leads me to think they will abandon the mandate and just look for a coach that does what looks familiar. I’m not OK with that.

I want this USWNT to win the World Cup. Period. I don’t care if they do it in skirts and tube tops or nurses uniforms. I don’t care what formation they use or who is on the team. I don’t care who coaches or who commentates.

But I do. I do care. I do care that they have bad-ass kits. I do care that the elder players make the team, especially Abby, Christie and Hope. I do care that the coach can pull it all together and get them to play pretty soccer, it doesn’t have to be beautiful, pretty will do in this case. I do care that they win for the 99ers. As much as this generation wants to get out from under their shadow, I’m sure the 99ers would like to pass the torch and just savor their great accomplishment without always being characterized as the weight around this team’s neck.

What were they thinking? We will never know. I will never know, but I have to move on. I have to wish Tom the best. I have to support this USWNT in whatever form it takes going forward. I have to try to support the new coach. I have to continue to hold USSF accountable in whatever way I can, for my sanity.

I am a supporter. It’s what I will do.