NWSL’s Seattle Reign – As Seen Through The Eyes of Guest Blogger Matthew Long-Rhyne

Seattle Reign

I’ve spent a long time thinking about what to write about this team in this article as a ‘guest spot’ for Diane’s Analysis of the National Women’s Soccer League; yet the words I try and write fail to convey the feeling of family and togetherness that the Seattle Reign provides for their fans.

Preseason

It looked fairly bleak for the Reign when allocations were dealt to all the teams and the dust seemed to settle after all of the drafts ended. Seattle received Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Amy Rodriguez. Amazing players in their own rights, right?! Right. Well, not so much in this case. Megan was on loan to France until middle of the season. Hope had surgery on her wrist and would be out for the first few weeks. And to top off the allocation troubles, Amy announced she wouldn’t be playing this season because she was pregnant. Trifecta in horrible starts to put it nicely.

During the drafts, I wasn’t all that impressed with whom the teams chose as their college draftee – Seattle was no different. I had no particular feelings toward any of the players or colleges from whence they came. In fact, I feel there could have been better players to choose that weren’t (why yes, I am quite bitter my only old college’s draftee wasn’t drafted to any team, but regardless…). This also holds true to for the supplemental draft. It was at this point that many of the players were stating that they would not be playing for the NWSL – one of Reign’s draftees also made this apparent after her pick up.

What turned me into a Reign fan was one single player on the Reign team. It probably wouldn’t have been the first person you would think of when the league was first starting and teams were being built. It wasn’t a national team allocated player, it wasn’t a college player, and it wasn’t someone from the supplemental draft. It was someone I followed throughout the Australian W-League who played for the Melbourne Victory – the one and only Jessica Fishlock. It was at that moment that I started to question my loyalty to the Portland Thorns (yes, I know, we all make mistakes).

Game Time

Being a fan from across the state, four and a half hours away to be precise, I could only make a handful of games at the chosen Starfire Stadium. The streams I watched, however, were amazing. I loved the pitch, I loved seeing only one set of lines – it was a true soccer pitch, the most beautiful thing. The commentators were quality, even if they included some University of Washington persons. I appreciated how much they enjoyed the sport, you could tell just by hearing them speak about the players and play on the field.

But being at Starfire Stadium is one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’ve met an amazing group of people whom I am happy to call my friends. The crowd, though sometimes lacked the vibrancy, was amazing.

The play on the field was spectacular, and it only improved throughout the season. At the beginning of the season, it seemed as if Seattle couldn’t catch a break. Game after game, they kept losing. Some games by three points, others by only one. But with each passing game, I fell more in love with the team. I didn’t care about National Team allocations; I cared about what I saw on the field. I saw heart and determination that I hadn’t seen on any of the other teams. Every other team had at least one National Team allocated player who was readily available to play, with maybe the exception of Chicago Red Stars who only had Shannon Boxx that played only two games all season. But Seattle kept playing with their heart.

The play was infectious. I cheered loudly each game with the Royal Guard supporters. I cheered loudly when the Reign won and I cheered louder when they lost. It was at Starfire Stadium that I left part of my heart.

Post Season

Though some players have been waived, they are still part of the Reign family. They will forever be noble in the eyes of the Royal Guard support group, that won’t ever change. We’ve lost one of our Canadians, Kaylyn Kyle, to Boston, but she’ll always be part of the Blonde Ambition (Fishlock, Rapinoe and Kyle) in our eyes !

I can’t fully explain what it is to be a Reign fan. I can’t tell you how infectious the atmosphere around the Reign is. I can’t tell you just how much it’ll change you once you step foot into the stadium. The only analogy I can properly use is to compare the Reign to the Washington State University Cougars. To be a Coug is a way of life. It seeps into your soul and slowly changes you. Not everyone is meant to be a Coug, nor are they meant to be a Reign supporter. It doesn’t just happen by watching a game, anyone can watch a game. But when you’re infected with the Reign spirit, anything can happen.

To completely capture what I want to say, I have to use someone else’s words. This person is a fellow Coug alum, he sums it up perfectly in the WSU alumni journal. Greg Witter writes, “It means we love an underdog, particularly one that delivers now and again. We are walking paradoxes – harsh critics, yet staunch defenders of our team. We are both optimists and pessimists, playing Pollyanna before one game, Sisyphus the next. The fight song gives us goose bumps.”

– Matthew Long-Rhyne

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NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts PART 3 – Sky Blue FC

Third in a series of 10 posts analyzing NWSL 2013 from my viewpoint.

Sky Blue FC

I had high hopes for Sky Blue FC coming into the season. They are an experienced organization that’s been around and knows what it takes to field a good team and give fans a great experience. I had hoped that a year off would find them regenerated and raring to go..I did not get that vibe.

Pre-season, Season Tickets, and Fan Engagement:

Pre-season looked pretty promising. SBFC got some major USWNT talent and good players from Canada and Mexico. I really liked their draft picks and was excited to watch Lisonbee-Cutshall make the transition. And when they signed Bock, De Vanna, and Foord, I thought they might give my allegiance to Boston a tug.

I purchased 2 Center Circle season tickets, online, at $200 each. Initially they didn’t offer assigned seating, but honestly for $200 who wants general admission? They quickly remedied that and I got excellent seats (that I gave away during the course of the season). I honestly don’t know if any perks were attached to season tickets. After the initial confusion (they give season tickets to holders at a pre-season event which they assumed I would attend) and exchange of emails, the staff was very helpful and mailed my tickets.

Sky Blue had a nice social media presence with a popular Facebook account and an active Twitter account. They also utilized YouTube well with a feature “Sky Blue FC Spotlight”

Web Site and Web Stream:

The web site looks okay, a little dated, but functional. Nice touch is a bio link for players on the roster. And they have stats! Team store: Jerseys, T’s, and a scarf. Pitiful.

Sky Blue’s web stream was okay, just okay. On air talent was pretty good for the most part, could always be better.

Kits and Venue:

Kits were cookie-cutter ho hum, but not out of character for SBFC, they’ve never been flashy.

Yurcak Field looked like a nice field. It certainly wasn’t hard on the eyes like a few others, so all around OK.

Final Observations:

Although the team started out like gangbusters, injuries soon slowed their momentum. They made it to the playoffs, but I honestly didn’t think they’d advance. I was truly looking forward to the team on the field that they started the season with, but once injuries set in and that spark didn’t materialize, they seemed nothing more than middle of the pack. They continued to engage the fans, but the product on the field suffered.

I don’t get a league leader feel from the organization. Chicago has that working class vibe, this team doesn’t have a vibe..at least not to me.  No player or players stood out as the voice or face of the team. I didn’t have anywhere to grab hold of the team. They had a lot of great personalities on the team, but didn’t exploit them to engage fans.

As always there are a few things that could be better:

  • Please realize that not all STH’s and fans who buy tickets will attend games, give us some perks for supporting from a distance. Let’s face it, buying season tickets that might not get used is almost like making a donation, we won’t use your services so throw us a bone.
  • Upgrade your web site and stream, no-brainer.
  • Step out of the box and grab me with an eye-catching kit in 2014..I dare you!
  • Hook up with your supporters group, it’s all good.

Sky Blue FC has been around for six years in various forms and for that I thank them. They really want women’s soccer to succeed at the pro level and are committed. It’s time for them to step out of their comfort zone and make a Sky Blue FC season an experience. I’ll be waiting.

NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts PART 2- Washington Spirit

Second in a series of 10 posts analyzing NWSL 2013 from my viewpoint.

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Washington Spirit, DC Spirit, Spirit, DC Freedom, DC United, no matter what they were called they didn’t get me excited about the game. Don’t get me wrong, they have some stellar players in Diana Matheson, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Tori Huster just to name a few, but they never seemed to put it all together on the field. Even I felt disjointed watching them. I have to commend them for sticking with it and never giving up the fight, but it often wasn’t pretty.

Pre-season, Season Tickets, and Fan Engagement:

Spirit’s pre-season was probably the toughest of any team. They played Penn State, UNC, Virginia, Duke, and Maryland, all top Div I NCAA teams. For a women’s soccer fan, this was like winning the lottery and it was FREE. Great marketing by the Spirit.

Season tickets were very easy to purchase online. I purchased 2 $240 Premium reserved seats. I donated them to Our Game Magazine, who held an essay contest to give them away. Arrangements with the Spirit to allow OGM to pick up the tickets was easy and uneventful. Since I donated the tickets I didn’t really look into what perks were available.

The club maintained a good social media presence with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts, although I couldn’t find a link from any of their other sites to YouTube. Their content was timely, informative and really aimed at engaging their fans.

Web Site and Web Stream:

Washington Spirit’s web site is pretty uninspiring. Very basic and not well updated. According to player stats they only played 11 games. Player bio’s are non-existent on many players, even after an entire season. I’d recommend a complete redesign, just making everything red/white/blue doesn’t make it good. The team store, once again pretty pathetic. They did have a few more items than jerseys and T’s, but not many more. Nothing that would encourage me to spend money there.

Washington’s web stream is another one that was consistently just okay. It was OK if you could find it! There is no mention or link from their web site to a stream or archive on YouTube. The only way you would know where to watch a stream would be from reading a news article. Nice try Washington, but people want upfront links. A new fan to your site wants it right in their face. On-air talent was okay, nothing offensive or memorable, just okay.

Kits and Venue:

Cookie-cutter kits, what more do I need to say. Red home kit w/horizontal white stripe. White away kit. You will see this again..and again. Very uninspired, very. This is where they could have really had fun with red/white/blue..but lost the plot. The excuse that this was a first year kit holds no sway with me, look at Chicago Red Stars.

I did not attend any games at the Maryland Soccerplex, my only observations come from watching streams. The field looks great and the atmosphere seemed like it was fun and added to the enjoyment of the game. Nothing beats playing on a soccer specific field.

Final Observations:

Washington Spirit embodied just that – Spirit. Their season was a tough one from a player and a fan standpoint, but I think their heart will keep their fans coming back for more. It’s a shame it took so long to see that the players and the coach just didn’t work well together. Hopefully new coach Mark Parsons will turn that around and give players and fans more to cheer about.

I never got a feeling that any staff was engaging with the fans, other than the owner. And let’s face it, his blogs, while well intentioned, didn’t exactly come across as he’d hoped. Save your woes for the bartender, boss.

These are a few things I think the Spirit could improve upon to make this a better experience for a long distance STH:

  • Perks geared toward long distance STH’s who won’t be attending games. Game programs, team photos, get creative.
  • A redesigned web site, seriously. People want to be invited in, so invite them!
  • A better web stream (I’m sure this will hold for most teams)
  • A more creatively designed kit for 2014.

With all the ups and downs the Spirit had this year I want to say an extra special Thank You to the organization for continuing to chase the dream of a sustainable women’s pro soccer league in the US. I will definitely continue to support the team in 2014 and can’t wait to see what they can do.

NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts PART 1- Chicago Red Stars

First in a series of 10 posts analyzing NWSL 2013 from my viewpoint.

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To be honest I’m starting with the Red Stars because they never really got me excited about their team or season. I don’t know if it’s something they did or didn’t do, or the style of play..or the players. Not many of my favorite players made it onto the final roster, only Lori Chalupny, Alyssa Mautz, and later Sonja Fuss made it fun for me to watch.

Pre-season, Season Tickets, and Fan Engagement:

Pre-season was kind of exciting, lots of player announcements and pre-season games. A cagey trade and players lost to injury early on kept the buzz going into the start of the regular season.

Season Tickets were easy to buy on the website and service after the sale was okay. I purchased 2 $200 Club Level tickets. The only perk for me was a 10% discount in the online store. As a fan who was only supporting the league with this purchase and would not be attending games it would have been nice to have perks that appealed to me such as game programs, a team portrait or something along those lines. I don’t feel that would be too expensive or hard to include as an option for STH’s like me.

The club was very fan friendly with frequent updates on Twitter and Facebook and later on Pinterest and YouTube. Seldom do you get as much access and candor from a GM as was available from Alyse LaHue.  Also, features like The Ella and Erin Show, Red Stars Cash Cab, and Red Stars Report kept me entertained and informed..really all any fan wants..besides good soccer.

Web Site and Web Stream:

Chicago Red Stars web site is easy to navigate and the home page has everything you need right at your fingertips. It’s not visually appealing to me, but it does incorporated the team colors, the stars, and the skyline of Chicago, so I guess it fills the bill. I’d like to see an explanation of the team logo somewhere on the site, maybe under History. The team store is pathetic, nothing nicer I can say. The link to the NWSL store doesn’t reveal much better, according to what’s shown CRS has nothing more available than jerseys and t-shirts.

I was okay with the Red Stars web stream of their home games. The quality of the stream was consistent throughout the season, not the best quality, but consistency counts.  Camera work often had trouble tracking play, so that’s something they could definitely improve upon next season. They are the only team to stream in both English and Spanish, something the rest of the league should seriously consider. On-air talent, Rob Coons and Ben Solomon, (two of many) were well informed about the Red Stars and adequately informed about the opponents, a little over excited when CRS got close to the goal, but not enough to mute.

Kits and Venue:

I have to say that CRS came up with one of the more attractive kits this inaugural season. When all the teams looked so similar, CRS stood out with their vertical stripe and red stars. I also was pleased to see that they had home, away, and a third jersey. Choosing to go with a baby blue home jersey really made them stand out from the usual navy blue and red the rest of the teams opted for, major kudos from me.

I did not attend any games at Benedictine University, their home venue, so my observations are based solely on streams. It’s no secret that multi-sport lined fields are a nightmare on screen, although I have to say they are not nearly as distracting in person (I attended several FC Kansas City games with football lines). Benedictine takes multi-sport to a new level though with 4 different sports represented. I’d like to see a field that limits the number of lines to less than 2.

Final Observations:

Chicago Red Stars say they have that blue-collar work ethic type of team and for the most part I get that vibe from them. I appreciate that they play right up until the final whistle, but last second, last gasp goals didn’t do it for me. I was impressed by how well they did when the USWNT allocations didn’t work out for them and when injuries started to mount. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to grab me and make me a fan.

I love the fact that the staff, all the way up to GM, are accessible, friendly and forthcoming. At the beginning of the season CRS staff were some of the only people relaying information to the fans.

Like most teams, they still have many things to improve. Some of the things I’d like to see from CRS specifically are:

  • Perks geared to STH that will not be attending games.
  • A better quality web stream, better camera operator(s).
  • A better online store with larger selection and some creativity.
  • A venue that is not a strain for the players to play on and the fans to watch. Limit the number of non-soccer lines.

Thank you to the entire CRS organization for taking a chance on another women’s pro soccer league. I look forward to supporting the team during another successful season in 2014.

NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts

This will be an analysis, good and bad, of NWSL 2013 from my personal perspective as a season ticket holder and fan.

I will break it into 10 parts, as follows:

Parts 1 – 8 One analysis for each team in the league.

Part 9       Analysis of the league overall.

Part 10    What I want to see as a season ticket holder and fan in 2014.

When the league started I encouraged people to “put your money where your mouth is” and I did that myself, so now it’s my mouth’s turn.

My goal is to publish one part each Wednesday starting September 4th and continuing for 10 weeks. I encourage you to leave comments and challenge my perspective. I’m sure there are as many views as there are fans, who knows maybe something good will come of this.