Abby in Rio

Here we are..again.
Abby Wambach did an interview on local Rochester TV , WHAM ABC 13, about artificial turf. In the course of the interview she was asked what’s next for her in soccer or her life plans. She answered by saying she hasn’t decided yet, but she was planning on playing next summer in Rio. She went on to say she’s going to take a couple weeks of vacation to get away from the whirlwind of the last few weeks and maybe make some of the decisions about her future.

Cue the “we only hear what we want to hear” crowd. Abby did not say she expected to play, she knew she would play or even that she would play. What she did say was that at this time she’s planning on playing, but wasn’t certain what her decision would be and she’d think about it during her vacation.

If you follow Abby at all you’d know that at her core she’s a competitor. Her wanting to continue to play at the highest level is no revelation. It is also not her decision alone. She may want to be on the team in Rio, but the coaching staff and other players competing to make that team also have a say.

The US winning the world cup this time around and recent announcements of retirement also changes the dynamic of who goes to Rio. The Victory Tour will absolutely see Abby on the pitch for some minutes every game, it’s what the people want to see. It’s what sells tickets and generates revenue. But it also will allow Abby and the coaches to assess what Abby’s role, if any might be in the next year up to and including Rio. Abby herself said she didn’t want to walk away without that final jewel in her crown, the world cup trophy. Well now she has it so anyone buying into the theory that she will be kept on the team for sentimental reason can let that argument go. She’s already got Olympic gold so there’s no sentimental reason to keep her for Rio.

I really think the decision by the coaches on whether to consider Abby for Rio will depend on their development strategy going forward. If they view Rio as a chance to “change the guard” so to speak, then Abby , in her world cup form, wouldn’t really be a consideration other than a cursory “look”. If, on the other hand, they view Rio as an extension of this cycle, she will have a better chance, and I do mean chance, of getting more than a look and possibly even making the team. In either case, she will still have to be able to contribute something meaningful on the pitch.

I don’t envy her trying to make this decision and walking away from what she’s know all of her adult life so far. I will try to remember that she is an adult and has surrounded herself with family and friends and coworkers and coaches and agents who will help her make this decision.

And I will also try to remember that most people trying to push her out to pasture mean well, even if they have a strange way of wording it.

Whatever she decides, I am confident we’ll see her go into it with all the dedication and confidence she’s always shown.

 

A few quick thoughts on Carli and the Flash

People seem pretty divided on whether Carli was treated well by the Flash when she was traded. I have to side with No. And not just because it’s Carli. She’s not one of my chosen favorites on the national team. I love that she’s got that Jersey Girl mentality, but her play doesn’t particularly draw me in.

I say no because I really think giving a player, any player, a call or a conversation as a courtesy is just the right thing to do. It is a show of respect, whether you like the player and are sad to see them go or you wish them good riddance. It just shows a certain humanity.

To say that most, if not all pro sports don’t do it isn’t a very good argument. It’s your mother saying “if everyone jumped off the bridge would you do it too?” kind of argument. The way players are treated by coaches and GM’s is a direct reflection on what type of organization they are and just because everyone does it doesn’t mean they have to.

I am a firm believer that women’s sport has a chance to be better than what came before them, men’s sport. There is a chance to change the conversation and do things in a more respectful and humane way.

Maybe men have come to expect being treated like commodities, that’s sad, but it doesn’t mean women have to accept it. I think women should demand to be treated with a little more respect and maybe the men will come around, too.

Worry About What You Can Control

Almost every self-help book, video or guru has said at one time or another “Only worry about what you can control”. It’s a very wise and time-tested mantra. Worrying about things you can’t control can consume you and make you overlook the very real things you can control to make a difference in your life. In this case I’m writing about the NWSL.

Many, many articles and many more pundits are really alarmed/upset/downright outraged with the lack of mentions by NT players of their NWSL clubs. And in many instances they are right to be upset, players have not maximized the opportunity to talk up their league and clubs when they’ve had the spotlight. I could come up with a whole laundry list of reasons why this might be the case, but it still wouldn’t change the fact that their silence is not something we can control. Hand-wringing is at it’s highest level since Jill Ellis decided to make Lauren Holiday a defensive midfielder. Seriously, the angst can be cut with a knife. USSF, US Soccer, the NT players and apathy have all been blamed for the lack of support from the USWNT after their World Cup win. Even if one or all of these things are true, none of them are in our control, not one of them.

So fugedaboudit. We can’t control it. What we can control is how we mention or talk up the league. What we can control is not letting all the negative comments about NT players and their like or dislike, support or non-support of NWSL be the driving narrative. What we can control is making sure anyone who shows up to a NWSL game is exposed to the best game day experience. What we can control is our enthusiasm and support. We can control our willingness to share our love of the game/team/players with new fans. What we can control is taking the time to answer questions about everything WoSo in a positive and welcoming manner. If new fans get the impression that we only value the league or our team for the few NT players that are at every game because that’s what we gripe about, they probably won’t come back. If new fans don’t think we value the many other talented players that show up every week and perform to the very best of their ability to play entertaining, competitive soccer, they won’t either. If new fans get the impression that these next few games don’t matter because NT players aren’t there, they’ll lose interest.

It’s up to all of us to control what we can. We have a growing, dynamic league full of great players who give their all for our enjoyment, the least we can do is control ourselves and give them the fans they deserve. When the NT comes back, we’ll welcome them with open arms and thank them for the 3rd star and the #1 ranking, and we’ll continue to support our league because it’s what we can control.

 

NWSL Accessibility – The Double-Edged Sword

Social media is in a mini-uproar this week about NWSL. That’s a good thing, right? In the bigger picture, yes..yes it is. Any time people are talking about the league it raises its profile, good or bad, agree or disagree with why, it pushes the conversation.

This week the talk is about the role USWNT members play in promoting the league and if the league is capitalizing on their allotment of ’15ers.

On the first count I think most agree that the NT players are not promoting the league as much as they could.  The USWNT is a unique beast, to the majority of people the USWNT is just that, a team that represents the US, not a collection of people who play soccer for a living. To the educated fan that’s not the case, we understand where the players come from, who they play for and a little of their history. We understand that their playing days are numbered and they are experiencing the highest level of popularity and celebrity women’s soccer in the USA has achieved..ever. I think most of us would agree they must, as people who do this for a living, use every opportunity to capitalize monetarily on this short window of celebrity and popularity. Less educated fans and fans that just discovered the players as a result of their World Cup win don’t get that, necessarily.

I do think it might take a while to steer the conversation from their individual appearances and why they’re being interviewed to how that ties into what they do for a living, play soccer for pay. Once that turn is made, then the players have some gravitas when speaking about NWSL. Can the players make that turn? We’ll have to see. Do they want to make that turn? If you listen to some, they say no, players have no love for NWSL. Whether that is true, we’ll also have to see.

The other side of this uproar is whether NWSL teams are taking full advantage of USWNT players and whether players should or shouldn’t be playing this week for their teams. This is a decision that should be made by the player and coach of each respective team. Some players played more minutes, or did more traveling, or more media. Some players did less, but haven’t been training regularly. Some may be carrying injuries. All factors that have to be handled differently. And different teams do seem to be handling it differently, both with their players and with dissemination of information to fans. Talk is also going around that US Soccer and NWSL are not on the same page in regard to players returning to teams. I can see this, since they don’t seem to be on the same page on more than a few things. To me, it’s almost as if US Soccer (and to a lesser degree NWSL) didn’t “believe” the USWNT would win and the resulting chaos around the popularity of the team was unforeseen. If that’s the case, shame on them both. Whether you believe something will happen or not, you prepare for it, and it certainly seems neither did.

And how does accessibly figure into this, you ask? Like this: Fans, old and new, educated and not, have heard of and come to expect a very high level of accessibility to all NWSL players, USWNT included. And now that the World Cup is over and won, the fans expect those players to be on the pitch performing and on the sidelines signing and selfie-ing into the night. This is short-sighted by teams and fans. Soccer is a game, but it’s also a job that requires skills and abilities that have to be honed and maintained. Players who have played their last match of a 7-games-in-a-month stretch over 2 weeks ago, and have not even had the opportunity to train due to the whirlwind appearances they’ve made, should not be asked by anyone to step onto a soccer pitch to perform. The teams and US Soccer have not managed the decreased accessibility and now it’s reflecting on the USWNT players and disrespecting the non-USWNT players who have continued to keep the league viable by playing entertaining, competitive soccer during the World Cup.

Accessibility has set up the expectation and lack of accessibility has drawn the ire. Both are the responsibility ultimately of NWSL and US Soccer and their inability to work together. The teams don’t deserve to lose one ticket sale due to this situation. The players don’t deserve to lose one ounce of respect for it either.

USWNT players can do more to promote NWSL. US Soccer can do more. NWSL can do more. I can do more.  If NWSL were to fail, the finger could point to us all.

Author note: I’ve tried to make this a cogent piece, I’m not entirely sure I succeeded. I am not a writer, or editor. If you can expand on or say it more clearly, please comment. If you see it differently, please comment. Thanks.

 

 

#USWNTParade – Ungrateful Isn’t The Same As Frustrated

Ticker Tape Parade down the Canyon of Heroes! Wow! Fantastic! Finally, recognition on the big stage! Accolades they deserve because they earned them!

And then reality set in.

NYC hosted the USWNT ticker tape parade but asked for sponsors to pick up at least $450K of the estimated $2M price tag. Reasonable enough. Nike, Mondelez International, Electronic Arts..and MLS, are most commonly cited as those sponsors. And bravo brands! Thank you for stepping up and sponsoring the parade..and women’s soccer. Only MLS wasn’t a sponsor of women’s soccer before the parade. They have a six degrees of separation relationship because 2 of their pro teams own an NWSL team, so close enough I guess. As a benefit of sponsoring the parade each entity was allowed a float..or three.

I’m not unreasonable or blind to how things work. I know it would have been a PR disaster, from the WoSo side, for the 2 NYC BroSo club teams to not be on the WoSo bandwagon for the parade. I mean, I probably would have been quick to point that out. But the way it was initially presented, or not presented to be more exact, led me and more than a few others to question why the club teams and MLs had to figure prominently in the parade. Initially it was reported that MLS, New York City FC and New York Red Bulls would each have a separate float to themselves. Which certainly got my shackles up. How dare they steal the spotlight from the accomplishments of the USWNT! I was only mildly relieved to find out that no men’s team members would be on the floats. NYRB’s float was to be primarily devoted to their efforts in girls youth soccer, so at least it had a closer connection to WoSo. And NYCFC, well they were going to have their fans on their float with their supporters gear on. No tie to WoSo that I could see there.

As it eventually turned out, most of that would not be true. While MLS, NYCFC, and NYRB had a presence on the floats Sky Blue FC of NWSL also had a presence on a float, a float provided as a result of the MLS sponsorship. So, not as BroSo as originally thought, but still more BroSo presence than a great many WoSo fans wanted to see at their parade, me included.

Now we come to the speeches and key ceremony. Who do we see front and center in his US Soccer polo but The Don himself, Mr Garber of MLS. He gave a good enough speech, as speeches go. But why was he front and center touting how everyone should go see “our” pro teams? Because he bought the time by sponsoring the parade. And you don’t pay that kind of money without expecting something in return. What he got was the driver’s seat while even USSF’s Sunil Gulati could only holler “shotgun”. And where was Jeff Plush of NWSL? My guess is he was bound and gagged in the trunk because not a peep was heard from him. This is what frustrates me the most.

I am not ungrateful. I understand that MLS stepped up with money when it was requested.  I understand that you expect a return on that kind of expenditure.

What I am is frustrated. Extremely. Almost to exhaustion.
I am frustrated that it seems every time WoSo needs people to step up, the default almost always is BroSo. Yes, men’s soccer is, in general, better financially than women’s soccer. I get that, I also know the arguments for why that’s the case. And that just adds to my frustration. Men’s soccer is not, and should not be, the be all and end all to “save” women’s soccer in the US. If the powers that be would stop falling back on that old argument maybe we’d see some real work to make pro WoSo work.

USSF has seen fit to start NWSL and yet it seems that at every turn they are the first to treat it like less than and with that attitude no wonder sponsors are so hard to come by. If the organization that sanctions the league doesn’t exhibit true belief that it is good and valuable and sustainable, on its own, why would a sponsor feel that way?

I understand that the victory tour is a big money maker and also a thing fans really want, but why wasn’t the communication between US Soccer and NWSL better so that fans could get up to date info before tickets were bought and games were rescheduled. Just one of the ways NWSL is treated as an afterthought rather than the premier league for some of the best soccer players in the world. Why do they constantly miss the mark when it comes to the fact that MLS and NWSL are not viewed alike when it comes to the world’s elite players? Of course women’s salaries are so low that the level of competition in NWSL may be more of a draw than the money, but you can’t say that on the men’s side. Elite men’s players come here to get a paycheck on the way out. And even if BroSo doesn’t like it, that’s the case.

So yes, I want to thank MLS for sponsoring the parade, but it still frustrates me that the work isn’t being done so that WoSo isn’t put in the position of having to thank BroSo for something they should be able to accomplish in their own right.

Dear Abby,

Just wanted to touch base and see how things are with you. I’m guessing you’re pretty psyched now that the day of the final, your final final, is here. I know I am!

It’s been a long and swerve-y ride to today, for you and fans like me. I remember your days as a Gator and your early days with the national team. The hype and bad hair, the accolades and the disappointments. I’ve followed you for a very large chunk of my life, and yours. You’ve inspired and exasperated me. You’ve shone and refused to all at the same time. You’ve been my gay icon and a source of my gay discontent. You’ve played your game to the fullest and lived your life unapologetically.

And now it’s all coming together today. I so wish for it to end with the fairytale ending you want. I believe that it will. I believe in you, your heart, leadership, and ability to get that last extra ounce from your teammates. I know you’d like to play and I hope you get one last chance to walk out onto a World Cup pitch as a player, but even if you don’t it won’t tarnish what you’ve accomplished at this level. Not for me or thousands of fans around the world.

As you, and the other veterans of the team who may also be playing in their last World Cup for the Red, White & Blue, suit up, know that the US WoSo world is behind you 1000% percent in your task today. We appreciate all the hard work and sacrifice it takes to get to and stay at the elite level.

I will miss you on this stage in the future, but I know that the importance of team and the continued fighting spirit you’ve emphasized during your career will be your legacy.

I Believe..and always have.

Always a faithful fan,
Diane

I Am A Fan – Unapologetically

Yesterday I was called a joke for the way I represent myself as a fan of the United States Women’s National Soccer team. Not something to be taken lightly, being called a joke. So I spent some time pondering what kind of fan I think I am.

What people think of me personally doesn’t really affect my decisions in life, but I do often evaluate if I am projecting a positive image. So, that’s the lens through which I evaluated what kind of fan I think I am.

The first thing I asked myself was, am I really a fan of USWNT? I do all of the generally accepted things someone characterized as a fan would do; I follow the team, attend games, buy gear. I know about the players and coaches. I follow all the social media accounts, many pundits and more than a few fans. Am I really a fan? Yup.

Next I asked myself, what kind of fan am I? In order to answer that I had to look at a few different kind of fans, these are my definitions:

CASUAL – Follow when some major tournament is going on, support the US more than the WNT.
ENGAGED – Follow the team before, during, and after major tournaments. Attend games, buy gear, know players, coaches. Probably follow on social media. Most likely follows favorite players closely. May or may not have opinions on style of play, personnel.
AFICIONADO – Follows the team and the game of WoSo in depth. Can converse on tactics and style of play. Usually has firm opinions on tactics, style of play, and personnel. Willing to share and discuss opinions on social media, to include blogs/pod-casts/major articles. Usually interested in furthering understanding and reach of WoSo in general.
FANATIC – Enthusiastic supporter of all things USWNT to the extreme. Frequently seen in face paint and red-white-blue everything at games, watch parties or just on the street. They love their team and aren’t afraid to show it. They often do not care about tactics, style of play or personnel, it’s all about the USWNTeam

So, where do I fall on this spectrum? As I defined each kind of fan I quickly realized almost every fan is a combination of two or more definitions.
I guess I’d have to say I am:
0% Casual
55% Engaged
35% Aficionado
10% Fanatic.

The last question I asked was, am I projecting a positive image in each of these areas?
Well, I’m not a Casual fan so I hope that itself is some kind of positivity. Since Engaged is the definition I think I identify with most, I hope it’s where I’m doing the most good. I do follow the team year round, including before, during, and after major tournaments. I do attend games, buy gear, know players, coaches. I do follow on social media. I do follow favorite players closely and all players at a minimum. I do have opinions on style of play and personnel. I think I check all those boxes. About a third of my fan make-up is as Aficionado and I think I’m doing an OK job at it. I’m knowledgeable, and continue to pursue knowledge, about the game. I can converse about tactics, style of play and personnel, in the right circumstances. I am immensely interested in furthering understanding and interest in WoSo. Pretty much check all those boxes, too. And yes, a small part of me is a Fanatic. I am very enthusiastic about USWNT, and have been known to do/say some crazy things in support of them.

Overall, I think I am projecting that positive image I try for, so why would someone call my type of fan a joke? In all of my definitions there is also a spectrum of expression. I choose to see my style of trying to look at both sides of a discussion as a positive. If you don’t agree with me, I am OK with that. If I can’t persuade you to see it from my perspective, I’m OK with that, too. I don’t see a need for people to come to my side of an argument, but I find not everyone is happy with expressing their opinion and letting it go at that. I put my opinion out there, knowing it may not suit everyone and I’m OK with that. I welcome a discussion of ideas, not a battle of wits. I appreciate good snark and sarcasm for what they are, but what they aren’t is a substitute for thoughtful discussion. I’ve been told I have my head in the sand, on the contrary, I seldom miss much. The internet is a wide open place, if you know where to look. I see much more than people might think. I choose not to dwell on the negative, plenty of people are doing that already. I see it, I analyze it, I just choose not to dwell on it. I try to have a balanced view of the team, its tactics, style of play and personnel. I try to look for what might be intended but not carried out. I do not try to disparage individual players, my favorites or not. I try not to look for the evil in coaches or federations, not to say it doesn’t exist, but there are plenty of people who will point it out, few who look for the good things accomplished. I try not to destroy other peoples interest in the team and game I love by looking for every perceived flaw (just or not) and exploiting it. I want people to come to the team and game with a vision of what it is and could be, but I don’t think tearing it apart in every aspect will do that. I choose to want people to get to know the team first before they decide what the shortcomings may be, let them discover their love before the other end of the spectrum tries to break their hearts.

All of this is not to say that people I perceive to be on the opposite end of the spectrum are bad, or that their opinions are wrong, it’s just not the way I choose to look at the team. I am positive that those people are convinced they are doing the right thing by pointing out all the shortcomings of the team, players, coaching staff, and federation. And they have a point, if you don’t call them out on their stuff, they will think it’s OK and continue doing what they’ve always done. But to my mind there is a time & place for it. In the knockout stage of the World Cup isn’t it. This is where the Fanatic in me comes out. If anyone thinks their constant badgering of what USA is doing wrong is going to change anything now, they are the delusional ones.

At the end of the day I think I’m the perfect type of fan, for me. I enjoy the games, the players and the atmosphere in the moment and save all the other stuff for another time. I get to watch and analyze and watch and cheer..what more could an engaged, knowledgeable, fanatic ask for?