Dele Alli, Stephanie Roche – and the fragile English male ego?

It is not enough to just document ideas, they have to be refuted like @DasGherkin’s done. What has been bred in can be bred out.

Here is blog

There was much social media glee about Dele Alli’s goal for Tottenham today.

@DasGherkin noted its similarity to another famous goal – one nominated for last year’s Puskas award.

The responses she received – mostly from English men, it has to be said – were appalling but perhaps not surprising to those steeped in the culture and history of English football.

Football in England has historically been perceived as for men. Men play it. Men watch it. The women who have played it have been written out of history (there are multiple histories of the English game with a gigantic gap during the World War One years, when women’s teams drew tens of thousands to grounds); the women who have watched it have been written…

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To the Pros We Go!

UPDATE: (01/20/2016) It appears that Mallory Pugh is not going straight to the pros from high school. It was reported today That Pugh has decided not to go pro and will attend UCLA as she had originally intended instead. I think this is a very good thing, but I don’t think it should end the debate on players going pro straight from high school. All of my original concerns are still in play, just on hold until USSF or NWSL finds their next exceptional teenager. Personally, I would like to see the league address a minimum age requirement or at the very least put some sort of mechanism in place to assure that no undue influence is exerted on a teenage player and that they are afforded some way to attend college if they wish during/after playing. Maybe that could be as simple as having a portion of the player’s salary going directly into a college trust fund. As I said, I’m happy Pugh will attend college first, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

 

Today, January 15, 2016, was the NWSL College Draft. Over 145 players declared their eligibility and desire to be drafted by an NWSL team (the final tally was more than the published 145 because NWSL said there was an updated list, although fans weren’t privileged to it). Not among those players was forward Lindsay Horan, formerly of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and currently of Portland Thorns (PTFC). Horan had chosen in 2012 to forego playing in college in the US and instead accepted a contract with French professional side, PSG. This was an unprecedented move for an American female soccer player and raised more than a few eyebrows and questions about what it meant for American women’s soccer. Horan was of exceptional ability for a player of her age and experience and had always set her sights on playing in Europe. The top French side, Olympic Lyon had expressed an interest in her while she was still in high school, but her family decided it was best for her to finish first. When she did finish, Lyon didn’t have room for her on their already stacked roster and a deal was struck with PSG instead. The deal was for a reported six-figures over the three years and had some provision for her to continue her college while playing in France. Horan headed to France where she played well for PSG, very well in fact, and also represented the USA on the U20 team. Through talks and negotiations none of us lay people will ever be privy to, Horan decided to return to the US. Some say it was so she could meet “criteria” for being selected to the USWNT, some say it was because it was just time. Some say it was back door negotiations between US Soccer, NWSL and PTFC to get her to marquee in Portland. There is probably some bit of truth in all the scenarios, but like I said, we will probably never know how much. The damage to the US college system that produces 99.9% of all US pro players was minuscule, if measurable at all. Three years went by and not another player bypassed the college ranks to go pro, in the US or abroad. Maybe until today.

You can sing the praises of any of the selected draftees from today, but I think it’s safe to say that none are in a position to contribute to an NWSL team at the level Horan can the day she steps onto the pitch for the first time in Portland colors. She is that good, and they are not. That alone makes her leaving for a pro contract in France not seem so important. The players she was peers with in 2012 are not as good as she was then and they aren’t as good now. And in my opinion, going pro, in France or anywhere else wouldn’t have changed that significantly. Which brings me to the news about another player forgoing college.

It has been reported by Soccerwire.com and repeated across twitter that 17 year old Mallory Pugh, of Mountain Vista high school, youth club side Real Colorado, US U20’s and now training with the full USWNT, will be signed by US Soccer and “allocated” to PTFC. This is a little hazy because NWSL changed their allocation rules significantly just prior to the 2016 College Draft. I say hazy because to me it’s not clear that a player has to actually be signed by a team or US Soccer to be listed as a USI. They just have to have the potential to be subsidized at some point in the future. For the sake of argument though, we’ll go with her being signed. If she is indeed signed and receives a salary she will give up her NCAA eligibility and won’t be able to play at college level if her pro career doesn’t pan out for any reason. (NCAA have made exceptions, but I can’t think this choice would qualify). She would be the first female soccer player to forego college to turn pro in a domestic soccer league and folks, I think that sets a very, very bad precedent, for US Soccer, the NWSL, the NCAA and women’s development in general.

As recently as July of 2015 Pugh was quoted as saying she just hoped to do well at UCLA, her declared college. That was just 6 months ago, not much time for a drastic shift in focus that will affect the rest of your soccer career and by extension, life. It makes me wonder, who influenced her thinking in those 6 months..and how..and why. While very poised and soccer savvy she is still just shy of 18 and probably dependent on advice and guidance from people she trusts and respects. Who is speaking to those people? And what can they have said to convince those trusted and respected sources that foregoing her education in search of glory on the soccer field is the way to go?

Nothing happens in a vacuum and I’m sure this is no different so I’m going to try to see if I can figure out how each of the entities involved benefits, or doesn’t,  from Pugh turning pro now.

US Soccer and the USWNT

– Is Pugh a dual national and is threatening to play for another country? Not as far as anything I can find. She’s born and bred US of A and not going anywhere.
-Will not signing Pugh to a NT contract in any way affect her ability to play for the full NT now or in the future? No. The NT has a history of college players playing with the full NT.
-Will Pugh refuse to play for the full NT if asked if she isn’t signed to a contract? I would highly doubt that, and if that was the case I’d be very disappointed if US Soccer let themselves be manipulated by a player that way.
-Is there any offer on the table from any international team trying to get Pugh to play outside the US? Not than anyone has mentioned or even intimated.
-Is there any reason, at all, that US Soccer should feel compelled to sign Pugh? No.

NWSL

– Does Pugh foregoing college and playing in Portland (or anywhere) benefit NWSL? Pugh isn’t a household word, in NT play or elsewhere, so the benefit of having her give up her eligibility to play in NWSL is of no real tangible benefit, monetarily or prestige-wise.
-Does NWSL suffer if Pugh foregoes college to play internationally? Possibly. It could be seen by domestic players that they are more highly valued if they develop overseas rather than through the current college system. I think sentiment is already trending that way as more players pursue playing overseas as a means to develop after college. That is a perception problem NWSL could manage without allowing this maneuver.
-Is there any reason NWSL should not allow Pugh to be signed by a team without going through the current development path? Where do I start? Allowing this signing by Portland (or any team) sends a very wrong message. It sends a message that education is not valued. It sends a message that this is an acceptable path to the pros for any player who is valued by the NT and can persuade a team to sign them. This sends a message that a player in such a situation can dictate where they go, without benefit of proving themselves at a high level. This sends a message that if you have the right team pedigree you can get whatever you want. I do not believe that if Pugh wanted to go to Portland, but NWSL said no this deal would happen. This sends a message that the NWSL will bend over backwards to kiss their own ass, something no league wants to be known for. This sends a message that an unproven player is valued more than any other player in the league just because someone sees potential in them. This sends a message that NWSL doesn’t care about the other 160 odd players they employ.

NCAA

-Does NCAA benefit from Pugh foregoing eligibility to play professionally in NWSL? No. There is no benefit to NCAA, none. In fact this harms the NCAA pathway to the pros in several ways. Up until today, the NCAA was the way to the pros. Players from all over the world have played for college teams in the US on their way to developing into a pro. Players have realized that an education is just as important as any skill they may acquire on the playing field when preparing for life. Title IX afforded players better conditions and more scholarships to be able to pursue that path to the pros. Now, players may seek to circumvent that path diluting the college product. With the advent of a USSF supported women’s academy, this could be a double blow to the college programs.

Women’s Development in General

-Does Pugh going directly from high school/youth club-foregoing college-to pro harm women’s development in the US? It certainly could. Up until today the overwhelming majority of players who enter the domestic pro ranks ( and more than a few international pro ranks) pass through the college system. They play for their high school teams and most also play for some level of club side, getting their education and keeping up their grades in order to be selected by the best college programs, where they will develop their soccer skills but also gain a world class education. Most women’s college programs have a very high graduation rate, meaning these players are equipped for more than playing soccer once they graduate. College allows them the time to grow. They gain size, emotional maturity and social skills. Their development is not only on the field.
-Does Pugh going directly from high school/youth club-foregoing college-to pro help women’s development in the US? No. Development prior to the pro ranks doesn’t happen if there is no vehicle between high school and the pros for it to take place. USSF wanting to create a women’s academy, similar to the men’s academy might be a place for it to happen for a select few, but it’s not a reality yet. Even if it comes to fruition, if it is modeled after the men’s academy the results and opinions about its effectiveness in developing players is mixed. Removing a viable path to the pros, or allowing it to be circumvented does nothing to help development of women players.

Mallory Pugh is a special talent and not one that comes along every day, but the precedent being set by US Soccer and in turn by the NWSL can pave the way for some nefarious dealings in the future. Having a path for future subsidized players to enter the league and be more evenly distributed upon entry is a good thing. Allowing a player to bypass the development system is not.  Some may argue that it will only be a select few who are as gifted as Horan and Pugh who will bypass the system, but that number could easily grow depending on who is in charge of the USWNT and its player pool and if a percentage of salary is allowed to be paid instead of the whole salary as is now the case. The scenario could easily be envisioned where a player foregoes college, is signed by US Soccer and is subsidized to the league and she doesn’t play up to potential and loses her subsidy the following year, or the year after. In this case she would have forfeited her NCAA eligibility and not made the pros..and now what? Do we make new roster rules or contract rules or player pool rules to cover this? And where does that new rule making stop? Does she make enough in that year or two years to pay for a 1st class education? Not in today’s world she doesn’t. Some of you may not put a high price on education, or maybe you just think that players beware. Maybe you think this is all no ones business but the player and the league, but you’d be wrong. Teams and leagues are only as accountable as they think we will make them be. If we let them think this is OK going forward, we will be to blame for that player who hangs her future on a subsidy and a contract and ends up with neither when things don’t work in her favor.

Worrying about what happens to players in regard to how they are treated on the business side is no different than caring what happens to them on the field. Existing players need better salaries and conditions before the league needs to find a way to get another subsidized player on their roster. Existing non-subsidized players at least need to be afforded the respect of not watching player after player be given preferential treatment in where they play or if and where they’re traded. Yes, it’s a business, but one made up of people, people who give everything to pursue a dream and just ask for fairness and consideration in return.

Women’s soccer in the US needs a lot of things to make it better, bypassing the college system to turn pro isn’t one of them.

As always, let me hear your side in the comments..

Leroux to FC Kansas City

UPDATE: (01/25/2016)

Sydney Leroux-Dwyer and Dom Dwyer just announced that they are expecting a baby, due in September. I am happy for them as I would be for any couple who wants a baby. I am also more upset about the trade than I was when it was first announced. Don’t get me wrong, I understand people get pregnant all the time, I also understand that it’s a small percentage who get pregnant when they are trying not to get pregnant. I’m sure my bias against Leroux at club level feeds into this increased upset I feel. But let me ask you, if you were a player who already has a reputation for not being happy where you are and always wanting to change clubs for personal reasons, wouldn’t you make damn sure you were taking all possible steps not to screw up this latest trade? Not to disadvantage a club that by its own admission had been working to get you where you wanted to be for a year? Excuses can be made that mistakes happen, but maybe the biggest mistake was FC Kansas City having trust in Leroux to do just that.

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Leroux to FC Kansas City. 5 of the ugliest words I’ve seen today. Just the image it conjures is distasteful to me.

I am not a fan of Sydney Leroux Dwyer at club level. I think she acts like an entitled brat and has not performed for any club she’s been with on the level of diva status she thinks she deserves.  That’s not to say she’s a bad player, or person in general and you could argue that she’s shined a little brighter on the national stage, but not of late.

A little club background; Leroux was allocated to Boston in NWSL’s first year, 2013. She played well, but Boston being Boston, that wasn’t enough. In 2014 she expressed a desire to be traded to Seattle “to be closer to my family in the Pacific Northwest” and the Reign obliged. Her play in Seattle didn’t reach the level it had in Boston as both her goals and assists diminished by half over 2013 even though her playing time increased. In 2015 after asking if she could again be traded, this time to FCKC, to be closer to her new husband, the Reign obliged her with another trade – not to FCKC, but to WNY Flash. This is not what she had asked for nor expected and she was “mad“. And her play in WNY was even lesser quality, and quantity, than it had been in Seattle. Leroux only played in 3 games for WNY and decided to have foot surgery when she returned from the World Cup ( she appeared in 4 of 7 games and recorded 1 assist). All in all not a stellar club career.

Which brings us to today. FC Kansas City announced that they had acquired Leroux by way of a trade with the Dash and the WNY Flash. Now, I’m a big FCKC fan and a bigger Vlatko fan, but this trade just smacks of pandering, both to Leroux and her entitled attitude and to a lesser extent to some possible connection between the MLS club Sporting KC where her husband plays and FC Kansas City. In general I am not a supporter of female players being given a pass because they want to play closer to their husbands, not for Morgan, not for Leroux and not even for a married same sex couple like the McLeods. I do think the negotiations are markedly different in a same sex situation since both players would have to benefit the club, not just the lonely spouse. To those of you who identify as feminists, I do not see how you could support this move on the spousal grounds at all. A male player. rightly or wrongly, who publicly campaigned to play closer to his spouse would be drawn and quartered in the public arena, but Leroux gets -I am happy that she got to play close to her husband, though – comments, like it’s OK because she’s a woman and that’s what women should get and it’s only NWSL and that makes it OK, too. Bullshit.

Yes, I called bullshit. No player, male or female should be traded or valued any differently because of their marital status or lack thereof. Nothing different should be expected or afforded to a person in a business environment based on their marital status. Period. I don’t for one minute think that FCKC would have traded for Leroux had her husband not been employed by Sporting KC. And I do not think for one minute that FCKC would have considered Leroux if she had not made a public plea to be traded to FCKC. I don’t think that Leroux fits the system Vlatko has instituted and I don’t think that’s even a thinly-veiled explanation. I have no idea why or what the FCKC organization hopes to gain by this move, but I’m not happy about it.

I’m not a fan and not even Leroux playing for FCKC will make me one. I will continue to cheer for and support FC Kansas City, but I won’t be a fan of Sydney Leroux Dwyer as a club player until she demonstrates on and off the field that she can be a team player and a loyal team player. What happens if she and her husband split or he gets traded? Will she still be happy and excited to play for FCKC, to represent the city and its fans on the field? Or will she want to move on to the next place that fits conveniently in her life? Or will she stay in FCKC and give a half-assed performance in hopes to force a trade? Or will she just whine publicly until someone gives in?

If you think I’m off base, tell me in the comments.

Post Script: I am a fan of Leroux as a NT player, her demeanor as a small fish in a big pond on the NT doesn’t allow her the latitude people give her as a big fish in a small pond at club level.

 

New Year..Same Old Song

Happy 2016, Everyone!

If you follow the USWNT and you follow me you know I have some strong opinions on how they conduct business. For instance, I was a supporter of Ellis and I was an advocate for letting her do things her way when it came to selecting the WC 2015 roster. That opinion wasn’t popular with many USWNT fans, but I stood behind it and defended it. And now I have another opinion that isn’t popular with many USWNT fans, I think that if the USWNT players are asked/required to play in the NWSL in order to be on the team, it’s a reasonable request by an employer.

I know, I know..we’ve been down this road before (see blog title). The same was asked/required of players before WC selection.

PSG announced today that Lindsay Horan had terminated her contract with them to play in the NWSL, “to join a franchise in her homeland to meet the criteria to represent her country.” Many USWNT fans are up-in-arms over this, like it’s some sort of revelation that players are being asked/required to play domestically in order to be considered for selection. USSF president Sunil Gulati said as much back in 2014.

It’s extraordinarily important for several reasons. It was actually part of our contractual agreement with the women’s national team that they would play in this league,” he said. “That’s important for the league, to have the best players playing in it. For Tom it makes the scheduling a lot easier – he met with them last week. And so the reason we made it a requirement that they’re here is for the league, but also because next year especially is because once we get into (World Cup) qualifying in the fall and beyond, then the schedule and everything will have to be fit around not just our program, but the Canadian program and the Mexican program as well.”  – Equalizer Soccer

Like it or not, the reality is that US Soccer employs the NT players. Playing for the NT is their job. NWSL is not able to sustain them in the same way that some European leagues can sustain their players. If US Soccer signs the check, they get to dictate the terms of employment. The leagues and big teams in Germany and France and Sweden are mostly able to pay the NT players enough that they don’t need to travel far from home to play. Even if European players wanted to play in NWSL many European national teams have intimated that they wanted their players close to home during the WC year..and I’m guessing that also carries over to this Olympic year.

It’s also partly logistics that dictates where a player laces up their boots prior to a WC or Olympic roster selection. While video and jets make observation of players possible, it’s not optimum for evaluation, as anyone who has watched video or flown across more than a few time zones will tell you. That doesn’t even factor in the costs and time spent of air travel..

There are also those pesky little FIFA dates & player contracts to take into consideration. Teams are not obligated to release players on non-FIFA dates to fly across the globe for a camp and a look.

Do I think it’s the best way to do it? In a perfect world, no. We do not live in a perfect WoSo world. We do not live in a world where our NT players can make their living playing in a domestic league, and not in most foreign leagues either. The hard realness of it all is that if we want to have a team as successful as ours is, we have to accept that for a while it means players don’t get to play where they want and still be in prime consideration for selection to the NT. We have to accept that until the NWSL is able to allow players to make a living that US Soccer will be calling the NT shots. We have to accept that USSF, US Soccer and the coaching staff are not the bad guys here. There is no bad guy. What there is is a situation that all parties are working through until it gets better.

As a fan I am most passionate about the game when I see the players play with joy and freedom and fearlessness. I would love for every player to play professionally, if they desire, in a situation that allows them all of these things AND allows them to make a living while they do it. And as a fan I am acutely aware that the women’s game around the globe is nowhere near that realization. We are fortunate in the US to have some of the best conditions for players to develop and realize their dreams, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way or even the best way for every player.

In many, many countries players have no domestic option to play and if they want to pursue a dream they have to leave their home country to do it. So while it seems harsh to many that US Soccer is making demands of their players, it’s far from the worst thing that could happen to them.

When Rio is over and done and the 2016 NWSL season is over I’d put my money on more than a few NT players making a move to play overseas. And I think that international players will also be making moves to sign in the NWSL. For two years everyone will be happy because players will be free to move about..and then comes WC 2019. Hopefully by that time the NWSL will have grown enough that it will need minimal support from US Soccer and the players will have negotiated a good CBA that allows them some freedom of movement. And if not, we will be singing this song again…

 

#ThanksAbby

I sit here having intended to write a tribute to Abby Wambach on the eve of her retirement from soccer. I sit here unable to do it. It’s like if I do it, it will happen. If I don’t maybe she won’t stop playing. But even I know I don’t have that power and it’s her time to step down.

Abby came into prominence when I was older than a lot of WoSo fans, I was about 45 and had been involved in sports primarily through field hockey and softball in high school. I had continued playing and coaching softball, men’s & women’s, for the next 3 decades. Women’s soccer was just on the far periphery of my sports interest. And I’m sure unless you played soccer it was on the periphery of yours as well. The ’99 Women’s World Cup drew me in and my interest and passion just grew from there.

Soccer for me almost always has included Abby and now that it won’t I’m struggling with what to do with the passion I have and the player I will identify with within the game. Abby was me..a younger, fitter, more accomplished me, but the me at 17 I thought I could be. She was raw and ambitious and fearless and even I knew back then, gay. I saw in her what I had wanted to be before I let life get to me and steal my dreams. At 45 I still wanted to be like Abby, but the years had passed me by and I lived vicariously through her. And what a life I’ve lived.

No person lives a perfect life and Abby’s been judged on and off the field for decisions she’s made, and things she’s said or not said. She’s weathered all the judgement with the same resolution she’s shown all along, to live her life to her expectations. To be able to live like that is what we all may aspire to, but she seems to be pulling it off.

My admiration of Abby isn’t confined to her accomplishments on the field or even in the women’s sports arena, to me she’s transcended women’s sports and has been recognized by the sports world in general. She is still the raw, ambitious, fearless person she’s always been, but now she’s got perspective and experience to add and I hope the world is ready for her to unleash that off the field.

Everyone wants to know who will be the next Abby – there will be no next Abby. There may be a player with better stats, but everyone knows Abby is much more to the game of soccer than her stats. She changed the game far beyond the numbers on a match report. Someone will eclipse her numbers, I don’t know if we will see someone change the game the way she has.

I’m thankful that someone like Abby has existed in my lifetime and that I was fortunate enough to be able to follow her career and growth as a person and player in such detail. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

All I have left to say is..Thanks Abby.

What’s In A Name

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

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.