What’s In A Name


What IS in a name? And what’s behind it?

Originally posted on Her Story Sports:

Cat Osterman on the mound for the USSSA Pride during the 2014 NPF season Cat Osterman on the mound for the USSSA Pride during the 2014 NPF season.

With the announcement of two new women’s franchises in this, it may seem a little cantankerous to find fault in the name of one of the new teams.  Critics may even say that type of thinking is missing the broader picture. Well, those people are wrong, at least in part.

It’s true, 2015 has been the year of women’s sports. (Hell yeah!) Between the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the World Cup and in the process much deserved recognition, Serena Williams’ awe-inspiring, albeit failed, attempt at a Grand Slam, and other well-publicized moments, there’s been a lot of reasons for women’s sports advocates to be optimistic about this year.

Just because the needle is moving in the right direction that doesn’t mean that fans should unequivocally accept the decisions made by women’s sports teams, leagues, organizations…

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NWSL – What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Quite a bit of shade being thrown by Alex Morgan, the rumored marquee player of NWSL’s newest expansion team Orlando Pride. Orlando’s entrance into the league is also rumored to be based on the ability to acquire Morgan. Morgan is said to have requested to leave Portland Thorns FC who are owned by MLS side Portland Timbers for personal reasons, she’d like to play in the same city as her husband. Her husband, Servando Carrasco,  plays for Orlando Pride owner’s MLS side, Orlando City SC.   If that seems all too coincidental..join the club.

If you read almost any interview with NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush where the subject of expansion comes up you’ll see these phrases repeated again and again; passionate ownership group, quality venue, business infrastructure, team-controlled venue if possible, quality marketplace. You’ll also routinely see him say that MLS teams aren’t necessarily the only way to expand, but they’re attractive because they have all those things. It doesn’t take very much to read between the lines to see an MLS team fits most all of the desired qualities. And the first two league expansions have gone to MLS teams.

So, I’m left with the question: What does NWSL want to be when it grows up?

Does it want to forever be the little sister to MLS’s big brother? Check out Seattle Sounders entry level salaries after 20 years of MLS growth, is that the type of league NWSL wants to be? Does it want to be a league where 20 years from now players are still not making as much as they could using their college degree? Does it want to be a league that still takes a back seat to every male sport when being considered for innovation and growth? Does it want a league that people refer to as WMLS?

Or..does it want to be a league that can lead the way for women in professional sports? Does it want to be the league that school kids and high school kids and college kids and all the adults that surround them and support them see as being a step ahead and a step above? Does it want to grow the game in such a way that the product on the field is exciting and unencumbered by low expectations of people who see it as a side show and not the main attraction Does it want to be the league that shows the United States and by extension the world, that what has gone before does not need to be repeated, but can be improved upon without selling your soul to the highest bidder. Does it want to be a league that is creative and innovative in the way it interacts with and attracts new fans?

I’m under no illusions here. I realize all of these high ideals take money and lots of it. I’m also of the opinion that how you get that money is just as important as how you spend it.

I don’t think MLS is inherently evil, it’s a business like hundreds of others in sport, but I don’t think the business focus is necessarily on doing the best things for women’s soccer. WoSo is not men’s soccer with less testosterone. It has a history and a struggle all its own that makes it different and resonates with its fans. I’m not convinced, by Portland or Houston, and now Orlando that they fully grasp what makes WoSo different. The founders of NWSL are a pretty unique group. With the exception (to my knowledge) of Kansas City, Portland and Seattle they’ve all been intimately involved with the struggle to create and maintain a women’s pro soccer league. They are five in number and now are matched by 5 owners who don’t come from that background. The league is at a crossroads where they truly have to decide what they want to become.

What do you want the NWSL to be when it grows up? Let me know in the comments.

Expansion 2016…

With the recently announced press release that the NWSL waiver process has been pushed back, it would seem that an expansion to Orlando is about a 99% certainty. I hold back the one percent since they didn’t include Orlando in the waiver process, but I think it’s just wishful thinking on my part.

I think the league is missing a great opportunity, and one they may not get again soon. The opportunity I speak of is a time to breathe, learn from the first three years and their first expansion, and have a clear plan for what the next 3 years will look like.

The league did some things well during the first three years, but there is much room for improvement, and expansion so soon leaves them no real time to do that. Expansion right now is not a necessity. If Orlando is keen to get in, they will still be keen in a year. There is no other pro league to become a part of, no other place for them to join.

Expansion in 2016 will just be another year of instability for players who already are leaving the league because they cannot continue to pull up stakes every year and move to a new team on the same meager salary. Why put the very commodity that the league absolutely needs to survive under that pressure again? And probably again in 2017?

It will also be a year interrupted by another big international tournament, the Olympics. Scheduling of 20 games was hard enough with a break for the World Cup in 2015, why add a team and make it more so? Expansion is likely for 2017 even if Orlando does come in in 2016, why not wait until 2017 when  better planning and a non-World Cup/Olympics schedule will be easier to manage?

Many arguments for expansion are based on being able to get a better TV deal with 10 teams, a balanced schedule and more MLS ownership. I really don’t buy that. If the survival of the league for 2016 is based on a TV deal, the league is in more dire straits than the most pessimistic of fans could imagine. And I just don’t get the feeling that’s the case. A good TV deal would be great, but one team added to the league isn’t going to be the tipping point.

The league needs to fix the things that didn’t work in 2015. Simple things like more team merchandise being available, for all teams. Match day experiences that cater to kids AND adults, less bouncy house and more adult beverages. More complex things like better venues, consistent streams across the league and communication with fans that really is more transparent. How about a year to work on getting some meaningful league sponsorships? Even NWSL can’t live on Nike alone. Maybe more important than any of these things is a raised salary cap that allows the lowest tier of players to make a living wage for the length of their contract. A single expansion team only means jobs for 20 more players, over half who will not make a living wage. If waiting a year can increase that to 60 players making a living wage, why not wait?

And at some point the league season will have to be longer, with an additional year to allow players and teams a chance to figure out how it will work in relation to player contracts, salaries and the need for a job outside soccer to survive for most players, maybe a mass exodus won’t occur when that happens. An additional year would also allow US Soccer to decide how they are going to treat the NT player pool, either by expanding to allow more players to be allocated or a lump sum payment to the league. These are things that should not be worked out on the fly. They affect players directly and should be settled. Many have called for a player’s union to be established and I have said it’s too soon, but if the league has no regard for how their expansion affects players, I would have to side with the players and say sooner is better.

A year without expansion would allow all these things to be worked on without the added pressure of a big change in player personnel, scheduling and having to do it on the fly. Imagine bringing in 3 teams in 2017 with a plan and a standard set they would have to meet in all the things that need improvement. Not only would the new teams have to be up to standard, the existing teams would have another year to meet it or be gone, or sanctioned. Don’t have a field devoid of 15 other sports markings? Work it out with your current venue or move to a new one..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. Can’t serve adult beverages? Work it out with your venue or move to a new one..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. Don’t have a reliable HD stream (since that is NWSL standard)? Work it out..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. The answer to all these things has nothing to do with expansion, but everything to do with being able to devote your existing resources to fixing them.

I know this is all just so much spitting into the wind on my part, but I haven’t really seen anyone WoSo related address this. Expansion is not bad, it’s just not always the answer to what’s wrong. I would love to see someone in the WoSo realm play devil’s advocate to the pro-expansion love-fest going on. It’s easy to ask for the league to fix things, it seems a little harder for people to give them a space to do it. Maybe the league has this all figured out..and maybe I will win the lottery, but both are pretty far-fetched.

If any WoSo journo out there has taken on the no expansion side. I’d be all eyes on a link in the comments.


So Many Thank You’s

Hi, WoSo peeps!
Just a short little note to say Thank You! to all the people who do what they do to make WoSo a thing in my life. I’m grateful to you all, whether we see eye-to-eye on a particular facet of the game, or not. To all the owners, administrators, staff, players and the people I have no idea what you do or where you work, thank you! To all the people who devote countless unpaid hours in support of the game I love, thank you!

I will most certainly be giving my 2 dollars and 2 cents worth about this past NWSL season in the days to come, but I couldn’t wait to say thanks to all the wonderful people involved. I don’t think you all hear it often enough.

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

#USWNT v NWSL – Not so far-fetched

I don’t even know where to start. I’m so perplexed (and pissed off) by the decision of US Soccer to schedule two friendlies against FIFA ranked number 63 Haiti as replacement for the two friendlies scheduled against number 9 Australia, that I can’t see straight.

So a little background. The Australian women’s national team, the Matildas, decided to go on strike, or more correctly refused to work without a contract from their federation, effectively canceling their trip to the USA for friendlies on September 17th and 20th.. It’s a complicated process and The Women’s Game can explain it far better than I can, so read and listen here.

This left US Soccer with 60 thousand tickets sold and nothing for fans to watch, in the stadium or on FOX Sports 1 & ESPN. What’s a federation to do? Well if you’re USSF you start by trying to replace the missing teams with hopefully something comparable..or so you’d think. If it sounds simple, it’s not if you limit your search to other competitive national teams. Most other competitive teams are in Europe. Most European national teams have their players already involved in club play and that means all sorts of cups and tournament qualifying. Not a good time to ask them to assemble a team and hop across the pond for a game or two. So, what’s left? Not much in the way of competitive teams. The emphasis is on competitive since every single pundit on the planet who opines about the USWNT seems to agree that the team needs more competition before Olympic qualifying not just to keep sharp, but to look at new players. Although I doubt any new players will be called up for these two friendlies (I wouldn’t mind being wrong about that) I think the players need to stay sharp and the fans deserve something better than the drubbing handed to a game Costa Rican team in the first two Victory Tour games.

And that friends is how we ended up looking forward to USWNT V HAIWNT. Well, maybe you’re looking forward to it, but I certainly am not. And here’s why –

  • The Haitian women’s national team is almost literally a third tier WoSo team, having played primarily in the WPSL. If you don’t know about the WPSL..Google it. They want very badly to be like the second tier of women’s soccer, the USL W-League. They aren’t anywhere near it, in standards or level of play. The HAIWNT did not qualify for world cup play. They won one game in qualifying, against Guatemala. Their mostly teenage team is anything but a competitive team for the USWNT.
  • The Haitian women’s national team being chosen as an opponent is being touted as good for development of women’s soccer. If it’s in comparison to the USWNT playing no one, then I guess there’s a case. I’ve read that it’s a great opportunity for them to play against very good competition so they’ll get better. So far that has not borne out as recently as last October during world cup qualifying. Also mentioned is the money that will go to the team..to the team? Is anyone confident the team or players will see any of that money? This is the Caribbean Football Union of FIFA scandal fame. Does anyone think any money received as a result of USWNT V HAIWNT will be used for development? I’ve got some lovely swamp land for sale..hit me up. Not to mention that a strapped CFU probably won’t be footing much, if any, of the bill for these two friendlies. So USSF will probably pay most of the costs involved with assembling the team and their travel and accommodations.
  • Do-gooder WoSo fans and pundits are all over spending USSF money to prop up a crooked CFU while at the same time lamenting over the seeming inability of US Soccer to increase funding to NWSL. Smacks of hypocritical to me. Very hard to eat your cake and have it, too. Or am I the one in a fairy tale? WoSo is often, and rightly so, told that it isn’t a charity and shouldn’t be treated as such, so why is it OK this one time? Is it because it’s Haiti, would we be OK if we paid Germany to come play us? If anyone says yes, they’re lying or sarcastic.
  • I have no idea if this is the case or information to support this, but if the TV contracts require a national team opponent, regardless of skill level, US Soccer has gotten what it deserves..another boring blowout to ruin ratings.
  • One last argument I’ve been given is that a game not against another NT team wouldn’t count as a friendly and as such caps and goals scored and other stats wouldn’t count. Is that really the most important thing to players and fans? I say it’s not.
  • There is another alternative.. a good one. It’s right here on American soil, game-ready, tested, competitive and the cornerstone of development for women’s soccer in the USA. I believe they call it NWSL. This is not a far-fetched or loony proposal. It’s very sound and probably more easily doable than Haiti at the last minute.

Hear me out..well at least read what I have to say.

NWSL semi-final  playoffs are being held on September 13th, this Sunday. That is 4 days from the 17th and 7 days from the 20th, the two friendly dates. If each of the eliminated teams played on one of the two friendly dates just think of the exposure for NWSL and all the good karma for US Soccer. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be logistical and contractual problems to overcome, but hey, NWSL and US Soccer live in the same house, right? Haven’t you ever worked out a living arrangement with a roommate? It could definitely be done.

There is so much upside to this match-up that I honestly cannot fathom why US Soccer or NWSL didn’t go after this as a first option. FOX is already on board with NWSL for semi’s and the final so for them to hype USWNT v NWSL is no stretch at all, it would help them sell the NWSL games they are already airing. ESPN could steal a little thunder from FOX, but they could always go the USWNT development route and not emphasize NWSL as much. The USWNT players could play with their club teams to help keep that extra step up in competition, further solidifying their ties to NWSL. The USWNT could call up players to replace them on the NT roster. Win – win- win- win- win. NWSL players would get an extra payday courtesy of US Soccer (because they would get to keep ALL the money) and please tell me any NWSL player not on the national team who wouldn’t jump at the chance to play in front of 30 thousand plus fans on national television and show off what they can do to US and international scouts. Have I gotten your interest yet? How about the fact that these very same domestic teams also have a few international players to showcase? Or that this is the cheapest national exposure to investors and sponsors US Soccer could ever expect to get for the NWSL. I’m sure there are other advantages I haven’t even thought of yet, but do you see why I’m so high on this idea and why I’m so very pissed US Soccer & NWSL can’t, or don’t want to, make it happen? I don’t have all the answers to the questions this idea is sure to raise, but USSF pays people to figure things out, surely they are smarter than I am and could pull this off. And if they aren’t and couldn’t maybe my next job application should be to US Soccer.

Please give me your feedback, pro or con on this idea. Tell me why/how it could/should happen..or not. This is a conversation that should be happening at a higher level, but I’m willing to start it here..let’s hear what you’ve got!

*As always, bring your passion, leave your disrespect at home.

Quick Kick

So, a certain NWSL team has put visiting teams up in a hotel with dubious housekeeping practices – bedbugs & mold – and two prominent players have taken to social media for attention to the issue.

The team doesn’t matter and the players only matter in their stature within the soccer community..and it’s big. What does matter is that they felt they had to bring it to a very public forum to get action.

These two players are well aware of their clout on social media and within the soccer world, so their decision to go public was probably not made lightly. I would guess they had this conversation with their teammates and most probably with someone influential within their club team. So the opportunity to address it with the players was there. That the two players took to social media says, to me, the issues were not addressed and therein lies the real problem.

As anyone who has traveled on a budget knows, or could easily guess, things happen. Sometimes you check into a room that’s not really up to your standards and you can live with it and if you can’t you ask for another room or some other accommodation by the hotel. If you know how bedbugs travel, it’s a wonder more people haven’t been exposed while staying in a hotel, so I can also see that happening. And still this is not really the issue. Addressing these complaints with players is a rather easy thing to do, a simple acknowledgement that they exist is the first step and then some feasible attempt to rectify the problem. But for two different players to tweet the same complaint a day apart tells me that the issues weren’t being addressed and that players were discussing this among themselves and had no positive feedback. And that is the real problem.

The league is constantly telling fans that they have to keep within a modest budget and fans accept that, what fans don’t accept is when they feel the already meagerly compensated athletes are subjected to substandard conditions which have nothing to do with money. One of the owners took to twitter to suggest the fix was as simple as asking for something to be fixed and it would be done. We all know that’s how it’s supposed to work and how we’d like it to work, but are not naive enough to believe that it’s always that simple or addressed with urgency. That same owner, in my opinion, was also insinuating that the players, if they wanted to grow the league would not have been so public in their criticism. While I can understand why he would feel like that, I also get the feeling that the players had reached a certain level of frustration and maybe the issue had been brought up and no action had been taken. I also got the feeling that this particular hotel wasn’t the only issue in regards to hotels, just the latest.

I don’t like players who whine with no real substance behind it, but I don’t think this is the case this time. The players complaining have clout and they’re using it on behalf of all other players that have little to no clout, that’s to be commended.

Get out in front of this NWSL. If you want to be treated like a professional league, act like one. Substandard hotels is bush league, we all know it. Most players would take clean and comfortable (and free wifi) over most anything else. Maybe guidelines for hotel requirements have to be amended. Or the ones in place more strictly adhered to, either way this is an issue that can be addressed and should never have been an issue in the first place.

I took some liberties with what I thought might be the scenario, but the gist is still the same, take care of your players before they feel the need to go public.

Inevitable NWSL Rant #7392481605

UPDATE 08/17/15 – It’s official, NWSL Championship Final will be played at Providence Park in Portland.

Note my total lack of surprise at this announcement that comes complete with quotes from the invisible man himself, Jeff Plush.

While I am not surprised I am still infuriated, for all the reason listed in my original post below and then some. Lies of omission – not telling anyone that it had been decided to use a predetermined site prior to the season- and outright lies – the 2015 Competition Rules & Regulations (before edit) – being just 2 of the more egregious reasons.

The most infuriating, and saddening, reason of all though, is that I am forced into a position where I cannot with good conscience support this decision. I have spent far more time and money supporting NWSL and individual teams than anyone knows and to have to step back and not support this latest breach of trust truly hurts. Many will not see not attending the final in Portland as a big deal, as is their right, but to me it is the last straw in a season that has seemed ill planned and poorly executed. Whether that is the fault of the owners or USSF may never be known and some would say doesn’t matter, but it does. To me, it matters because it affects the way the league operates. If owners want one thing and USSF another, this will continue to be a cluster. If USSF gets to call the shots because they control the league, fans will continue to get the USWNT hand me down decisions. And USSF hand me down decisions will always play in favor of the national team, always. Decisions that play in favor of the national team have so far done nothing to bolster the NWSL or it’s growth ( a very small argument can be made that USWNT makes money that is funneled into NWSL, but we don’t know if there is a direct correlation as to amounts or if USSF just makes it up as they go along). Individual teams are dictated to about so many things regarding national team players, even when a reported agreement existed between them and US Soccer concerning post-world cup play, that it hampers operations, from advertising to rosters. And if you don’t think that affects individual players, think again.

I’m not disputing that putting on a good show is what sport is all about anymore, but it’s the way the league ( again, I have no real idea what that term means) goes about it, and the way they treat the people who are expected to keep showing up, keep spending money, keep spreading the word.

I know I’m only one ticket sale and in the grand scheme it’s not much. But I have to look at myself in the mirror and know I did what felt right to me in defense of the league. I don’t let people in my real life treat me the way NWSL does, why would I or should I accept it from them?


08/14/15  – Soccerwire.com posted a story today about the NWSL Championship final being played in a “neutral” site..Portland. (Quotations marks are mine) Needless to say, my blood started to boil. The following is what splattered out all over my keyboard.

What in WoSo’s name is NWSL thinking?!!? I mean, not that we even know what or who NWSL is, is it the owners? The supposed admin arm supplied by USSF? The invisible man, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush? Some sordid combination of these? Or none of these and it’s just some guys on a conference call once every few months from MLS, FOX and US Soccer, coming together to figure out some infuriating and unexplained way to piss off fans? The more I see, the more I think it’s the latter.

Back to the Soccerwire piece. I have no real problem with a predetermined site, if it were truly neutral to all teams. A venue that hosts an NWSL team is not neutral to anyone and especially not if the team that uses that venue makes it to the final. There are any number of venues across the nation that would be truly neutral and would be a good atmosphere for a televised final. Not to mention that a neutral site would open up the opportunity to showcase the NWSL to new fans.

Putting the final in a place such as Portland (if that’s the case since Merritt Paulson seems to have walked back from Portland being a sure thing) who has a very good fan base and creates a great atmosphere for the game is just plain dishonest (and asking a lot of the local fans to show up and support two teams that they would normally see as foes if the home team doesn’t make the final). By NWSL bowing to whomever is making this call, be it FOX or MLS as PR, or even the owners (although I think that the more numerous the asinine decisions are coming from NWSL, the less the actual owners have a say) they are trying to present NWSL as something it is not. NWSL is not Portland. Portland is an anomaly and as such showcasing the atmosphere in Portland is misleading any new potential fan or sponsor. The game experience a new fan from Boston gets will not be anywhere near that on display in Portland. That’s not to single out Boston, they won’t get that experience at any of the other seven team venues either. Sponsors won’t reach that many fans at any other team venue, leading both fans and sponsors to feel they’ve just been had by a bait-and-switch scheme.

The total lack of any transparency by the league to journos/bloggers/fans is beyond infuriating. Fans are constantly treated like any decisions the league makes doesn’t affect them, in their wallet or their support. We get a pretty basic website, a twitter account that exists to RT the team’s twitter posts and set of Rules and Regulations that isn’t worth the virtual ink it’s written with. We are expected to just accept and support any and all changes the league makes with no explanation or warning. The league knows best and you know..”trust us”. Fans don’t really expect to have a say in how the league is run, at least not most rational fans, all we want is to be treated like thinking, reasoning adults, not small children (the NWSL’s seemingly favorite demographic) who often are told to do something “because I said so”, and do. Fans want to have a place to provide feedback about what they like and don’t like and they want to feel like someone even cares. Some individual teams are great about taking and acknowledging feedback, some less than great, but the league makes no such effort and it’s not unnoticed by fans.

Other sports leagues have commissioners who are out in front of the media taking the heat and the praise that comes with the job. NWSL has no such person. Jeff Plush is the invisible man of NWSL. He may have been appointed because of his ties to MLS and experience building a team, but he is MIA to fans and media alike and we don’t like it. We want him to be the front man for the decisions, good and bad, that the league makes. We need a face of the league. If he’s not going to be it then the owners need to appoint a spokesperson to be that face. I want to have someone to complain to or thank when things happen. Right now I have nothing and no one, not a good thing when fans have no recourse but to take to social media or blog about their frustrations. A league needs to spin everything that happens in their favor, even if sometimes that means taking a little heat first.

Which brings me to the total lack of regard for any media types trying to spread the word about the league. NWSL as a relatively new league has to rely on all the media-type attention they can get. I say media-type because things are changing and print media and TV aren’t the way many fans get their day-to-day information about their teams, especially if those teams belong to a new, growing league. Fans increasingly rely on bloggers and social media, along with a few internet sites that are fighting to get access to the league. These people largely don’t get paid for what they do, yet they do it. They do it diligently and with as much dedication to telling the truth as any major journalistic endeavor. Yet, time and again they are bypassed for more conventional media who give the absolute minimum of inches or airtime to any league news. NWSL, whoever that may be, needs to get with the current times and give these media-types access and accurate information in a timely and consistent manner if there is any hope of coming off as a truly professional league. It’s not just about locker rooms and venues.

I’m pissed about the decision to change venues of the final, whether it be Portland or not, at the 9th hour. I know a lot of fans share this feeling with me. Did the league seem to forget that many fans made the pilgrimage to Canada for the World Cup and as such are smack dab out of leave or holiday/vacation time? Moving the final to a Thursday is foolish on so many levels, least of which is limiting the number of people who can travel for a mid-week game. Just like men not playing on turf, why are the women expected to play their final on a Thursday and not on the weekend as all have done before? Seriously NWSL, are you the FIFA of WoSo?

If all of this has been done to accommodate some very suspect TV deal, I’m even more pissed. I acknowledge NWSL may not have much leverage when it comes to what any network will do for them, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t supposed to fight for what is best for the league. So far counting the very, very iffy FOXSoccer2go streams, the lack of any screen time for the defending champions and a heavy reliance on MLS venues (see previous paragraph about misleading game experiences), this really isn’t much of a deal. And if my suspicions (since I have no facts to go on) are correct, the league isn’t making any money from it and may in fact be paying FOX to air the games. So yeah, if these accommodations were part of that deal, I’m pissed.

Fans like me – a longtime follower of WoSo, and unlike me – new to the sport, all need to be kept in the back of the minds of every person involved with NWSL. We the fans, expect and deserve no less.

So maybe this wasn’t as much of a rant as I thought it would be, but I hope I made some good points and didn’t ramble too much. I’m just getting more sick-and-tired of the constant ignorance of the “league”