At The End of The Day, It’s All About Passion

I learned something yesterday, and any day you learn something is a good day. Let me share what I learned..

Yesterday I observed some of my tweeps (and a few non-tweeps) in a discussion about the merits of a player, wanting to make the USWNT WWC 2015 roster, playing for a club team in the U.S. or overseas..and the politics that involves..and the implied threats..and their mistrust of the USSF..and how the U.S. coach is a puppet of the administration..and how players feel forced to play in the U.S…and it’s ALL SO UNFAIR! *emphasis mine.

I think the discussion was triggered by a piece on Equalizer Soccer by Tim Grainey, where he wrote about Yael Averbuch during an interview; “Playing in NWSL would provide U.S. national team head coach Tom Sermanni easier access to watch her games and evaluate her.” Somehow this morphed into a twitter discussion about Christen Press continuing to play in Sweden for Tyresö or being forced to come back to the U.S. to play in the NWSL. *Let me take a minute to point out that the author made the statement, not Sermanni, not USSF, not even a player.

All of the tweeps/non-tweeps appear to be very fond of Press, as they should be. She is certainly going to be a future star of the USWNT and has the potential to make an impact in any game she plays, on any level. You can say they are fans of Press and you can include me in that group. What I didn’t understand when I entered the discussion was just how big fans they are.

Even though Press herself, in an interview with Equalizer Soccer’s Jeff Kassouf, said that she had spoken directly with Tom Sermanni about going back to play in Sweden or coming to the U.S. to play in NWSL, the fans could not be dissuaded. *My takeaway of the interview was both Press and Sermanni want what’s best for her development as a player and her impact on the USWNT as they get closer to choosing a roster for WWC 2015.

After many tweets back and forth involving up to 7 people, the hardcore ‘USSF (and by extension, USWNT and Sermanni) Can Do No Right‘ group where having none of it. No amount of persuasion, not even by a NWSL GM or a trusted Australian blogger/reporter, could convince them that asking players to play closer to home in a qualifying/tournament year was anything other than a Press hating conspiracy concocted by USSF and aided by Sermanni to ruin the career of any U.S. prospect playing abroad, but especially Press. *OK, this may be a bit harsh, let’s just say they have a very healthy distrust of TPTB.

And here is what I learned: *Fans will be relentless. They will form attachments to teams and players and leagues and they will defend them, from all-comers. They will not always be open to persuasion, or apologetic, for any of it. They will band together in their corner of the fandom and circle the wagons. Their case may not always be rational to anyone else, but it will always be passionate. And at the end of the day, it’s fans like the ones I exchanged with on twitter that will keep the discussion of what is good or bad for a sport going. I may not agree with them, like yesterday, but I will always be thankful that women’s soccer has them. There is nothing sadder than a sport that no one is passionate about. If passionate fans is a sign of success, then women’s soccer is on the way.

NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts PART 4 – Western New York Flash

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

wny flash

I’m a little torn about this one. The Flash have my all time favorite player, Abby Wambach and a supporting cast that features some reliable favorites and upcoming young players. If I lived closer and could watch them play in person I’d be in big trouble as to where my loyalty would lie. No kidding.

Preseason, Season Tickets, and Fan Engagement:

Western New York Flash (WNY Flash) started posting about the NWSL on their website November 21, 2012 and never looked back. Their preseason saw them defeat Canisius, Penn State, Ohio State and UNC, not a bad start.

I purchased two $220 tickets in section 107 on the halfway line. The process was easy online and I was contacted by email to select my seats. My only complaint would be that I had asked for my tickets to be mailed to me because I do not live in NY and they were not. I had to email and explain again that I was from out of state and wanted them mailed, which they did promptly. None of the perks offered to STH’s were geared toward long distance ticket holders.

WNY Flash started to engage the fans before the league name and logo were officially unveiled and continued to do so throughout the season. They covered all the social media sites; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and tumblr. Their Flash Spotlight series was a nice way to meet all the players. Whoever ran their twitter account did (and still does in the off season) a really good job of keeping fans abreast of all the things Flash players are up to, on and off the field. If a Flash player is involved you’ll hear/read about it from the team.

Web Site and Web Stream:

The WNY Flash website could use a serious boot into this decade. While the content is quite good and up to date, the look/graphics are dated. If that’s the worst thing I have to say about a site, it’s good. There are a few things I couldn’t find any mention of; archived streams of games and more importantly any link to their true supporters group (NOT American Outlaws) The Flash Mob (@WNYFlashMob). Flash are one of only a couple teams with a grassroots supporters group, at least link to them from the site. The team store link on the site opens a pathetic selection of merchandise, once again.

WNY’s stream was OK, not always the best quality, but almost always watchable, listening was another thing entirely. Announcers were mostly knowledgeable about both the home and away team, but couldn’t bring themselves not to fill every second of every minute of every game with some sort of commentary, often leading fans to mute the audio.

Kits and Venue:

I liked all three of Flash’s kits. The home white was clean and simple. The away red was probably my favorite as they chose the vertical stripe like the Red Stars. Just that little touch made all the difference for me. The third kit was hot pink with a vertical black stripe and while striking, I’m just not a pink kind of person.

I didn’t attend any games at Sahlen’s Stadium and only got to see it online or on TV.  It looks nice enough and the capacity seems about right. The only real complaint I heard was that parking was not easy to find. I’ll leave that to someone who attended a game to address in the comments.

Final Observations:

Western New York Flash obviously already have a legacy in women’s soccer, just look at the titles they’ve won in the last 3 years in 3 different leagues. You can always count on them putting a good product on the field. Now it’s time to step it up a notch in the media and merchandising department.

I’d like to see some improvements in 2014:

  • Offer some appropriate perks for STH’s that are from out of state. They may be few, but the purchase of a season ticket from anyone deserves a perk they can actually take advantage of.
  • Support the supporters group by linking to them from your website. Strike up a friendship with them.
  • Offer more merchandise.
  • Improve the quality and consistency of the live stream. Consider streaming in Spanish. And please tell your on air talent that sometimes less commentary is more, find a balance between providing information and just talking to fill the air space.

I am encouraged by commitment to the women’s game like the Sahlen’s have shown. I hope they continue to hold the bar high for what a professional team can be. To be honest, even if Abby didn’t play for them I’d still keep them on my must watch list. How far can they go in 2014?

I Went To Watch Stanford And Left As A Buffs Fan

wpid-IMAG0332_1.jpgThis past Saturday I traveled north on I-25 in Colorado to go to Boulder. Boulder is the home of the University of Colorado Buffaloes or Buffs as they’re more popularly known. It was no coincidence that the Buffs women’s soccer team was playing the number two, nationally ranked, Stanford Cardinal. I had never seen Stanford play in person and was pretty excited for the opportunity.

These are my thoughts and observations of the game, atmosphere and overall experience.

The hour and forty minute drive was a piece of cake after a few 9 hour road trips to Kansas City this summer. Finding the campus was easy enough and Prentup Field showed up on my GPS so that was pretty easy, too. If I had to rely on signage to find the field or to even know there was a game I would have never found it.  *Hype your event, don’t make people search for it.*

The field itself was beautiful. Well maintained grass, real grass. The kind of grass you can smell and that leaves a lovely shade of green as an addition to any sliding players uniform. There was bleacher seating on one side of the field and the team’s benches were on the other. The bleachers were big, beefy, and portable. More than ample to hold the 1500 or so people that were reported in attendance. I have to provide some insight here. Of the approximately 1500, an easy two-thirds of those were kids under 12, half-time entertainment and staff. The final third were parents of both teams, some alums, some other CU female athletes showing solidarity, an obnoxious, small, cheering section (more on them later) and me.  (Personal note: Want to feel old and straight? Attend a college game where you are old enough to be the player’s parent’s parent and the gayest thing there in your age bracket is..nothing. I did meet a nice guy my age who was there to watch his granddaughter.)

I got to the field just as they were introducing the players, but had to park in “additional” parking so missed the kickoff. The entrance fee is a suggested donation of $5, I have no idea what they would do if you didn’t donate. All of the female staff, at the entrance, the Buff’s Bookstore tent (Buff’s merchandise), the sticker/sign/tattoo booth, and scattered around doing various tasks were very pleasant and friendly. I can not say the same about most of the male staff. The guys working the Bookstore and a prize wheel were friendly, but the guys scattered throughout the venue went about their tasks rather begrudgingly and it was apparent they’d rather be doing something else with their afternoon. It does take away from the atmosphere, but not enough to ruin the experience.

The game was good. The Buffs had the majority of possession in the first half and you would never know they were un-ranked or that Stanford was #2 in the nation. They went into halftime tied 0-0.  Stanford made some adjustments and came out a different team in the second half. Stanford’s Courtney Verloo scored in the 56th minute and Taylor Uhl in the 66th to finish with the 2-0 win. The Buffs hung tough the whole game, they never stopped trying to score, but it was clear the second Stanford goal took some of the wind from their sails. I was the most impressed by Buff’s Sophomore forward Emily Paxton, what a ball of energy and tenacity. She has a nice first touch and with a few more years experience we’ll definitely be seeing her in NWSL, if she chooses. It was also nice to see Darcy Jerman, a local Colorado Springs player (and featured on the program), on the pitch. I had come to see Stanford play and wasn’t disappointed. The team in the second half was the team I expected to see the whole game. The usual suspects caught my eye through their play, Freshman Jane Campbell, Junior Chioma Ubogagu, and 5th year Senior Courtney Verloo. I’m positive we’ll see these names on a NWSL roster and a USWNT near you. I went to Boulder to see Stanford play and I left a definite fan of the Buffs. The Buffs will only lose 7 of 28 players to graduation next year, so look out PAC-12.

Now on to my friends in the cheering section. The furthest set of bleachers are designated the “Buffs Brigade”. Students and fans who like to cheer are encouraged to sit there and bring the noise. Unfortunately the section was sparsely populated and four of the more vocal fans were racist and obnoxious. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude or blind to the fact they are college students, but there is no place or time that’s right for racism.  The player they singled out was Chioma Ubogagu. While not a household name, it’s not really that hard to pronounce “Ubogagu” (see Hooked on Phonics, it’s pronounced exactly like it’s spelled). And just for the record her name does not mean Vietnamese dumpling, and I’m pretty sure she’s not Yoko Ono. Having played in Texas, I’m sure she’s heard worse and seemed not affected, although it was obvious she noticed. Those were two of the nicer comments directed her way. The four white guys also didn’t see the pained expression on the faces of the two Asian fans standing in front of the cheering section and who didn’t stay for the whole game. That was just the first half, for the second half the 4 stooges moved out of the stands and onto the sideline. They managed to stand right in front of me, all 5’3″ of me. My earlier comments to them about making racist comments and my admonition of “down in front” kept them pretty respectful for the second half. Yay for old ladies!

I love that there were so many young kids at the game, but was rather displeased that their parents let them have free range of the sidelines. The bleachers are set very close to the sideline and the assistant ref barely had enough room to navigate past the ball girls let alone 50 “fans” in the 3 to 5 year-old  demographic. Between that and the heckling of the 4 stooges I felt bad for the AR and can’t fault her for finding it hard to keep up with the action on the field. The Referee had no such excuse. He called fouls on both teams that no one but him could see. Many fans turned to each other with puzzled looks as to what was being called and why. The game was physical from the first whistle and the Ref let the teams play, a little too much to my liking, but when he did call fouls he was the only one who knew why.

The halftime entertainment was an all girl dance troupe with leggings and crop tops, sequins and sparkles, who did short routines designed to attract a mate, not entertain the crowd. *The grumpy old lady is going to make an appearance now.* I find it hard to believe that with centuries of dance to pull from that the only routine they could come up with is pelvic gyrations. They need a new choreographer.  The other entertainment was what seemed like 4 teams of 20 girls apiece playing small-sided soccer. It did help to soak up some of that sideline energy, so I guess it was a good thing. I like that it gave the girls a taste of what it’s like to play on a college field. At the age of 8 to 12 I can imagine that’s pretty cool for them.

All in all, I’d say it was a pretty positive experience. The venue was nice, the soccer was good and it left me wanting to go to Boulder again soon to see the Buffs in action.

Go Buffs!