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..

Advertisements

#InternationalWomensDay

Today is International Women’s Day and as such is a day to take notice of all the ways women move through the world. Today, I’d like to focus on WoSo, big surprise.

This is the time of year and the time in the international cycle when women’s soccer is highly visible and scrutinized; by fans and foes, by broadcasters, and journalists, and sponsors. A large part of that scrutiny is carried out over social media; Twitter, tumblr, instagram, snapchat, Facebook… and as much as it is a boost to the sport and the players it is increasingly becoming a place where that boost is being cancelled out by the very personal and very demeaning comments about players.  Nothing new, you say? Just read any sport site comments, you say? Well, you may be right, but the difference here is that many of these personal and demeaning comments are coming from other women.

Don’t get me wrong, I  think criticism is good for the sport and certainly should be engaged in openly and freely, I just have to draw the line at personal and demeaning. Negative comments and resulting barbs and jokes about someone’s appearance, their mental state, their age, or their faith – to name a few – should be considered offside and therefore not allowed.

When comments go from professional to personal is when we as women cross over to  the “mean girls” mentality and undo all the good that it takes thousands and thousands of positive comments to build. Think about it, all it takes is one negative personal comment about a player that other social media users repeat and share to bring the wrong kind of scrutiny to the sport. Negative comments aren’t only seen by your followers or friends they’re also seen by broadcasters, journalists , and maybe more importantly to the players, sponsors. It doesn’t matter which player those comments are directed toward because even though it may hurt your target more, it affects all the players.

I know as a group we’re better than that. ‘Mean Girls’ was just a movie, but I think as time has passed we’ve forgotten the real intended message. The movie wasn’t intended to glorify meanness, it was to point out how truly harmful it can be.

So on this International Women’s Day I  want to challenge all fans of WoSo, but especially other women, to be as professional in your criticism as you expect players to be on the field. To bypass the easy personal jab for a more enlightened comment. To raise the level of discourse one social media post at a time.

I’m inspired and impressed by all the women involved in the game and I  truly want that to extend to the women who comment on the game as well.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by being a better woman.

*Full disclosure: I’m not perfect, I’ve made a few comments from time to time I’m not especially proud of. But I try hard not to, I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I’m not asking of myself.

So Much #WoSo

Yikes, when it rains it pours!

Lots of WoSo thoughts, so I’ll just put them out here randomly, you can decide their importance

  • Lori Chalupny back in the USWNT mix!! Can’t say how overdue or how excited I am to see if she’s still got it at NT level (my opinion is YES she does!)
  • NCAA semi’s!! Good as it get in US soccer this time of year. 4 teams, all worthy. Can’t wait to see who comes out the winner. My choice, UCLA,  has been eliminated, so I’ll just be happy for whoever wins.
  • FIFA’s Vackle is an ass. He is clueless when it comes to talking to/about women and has no understanding of the reason for the turf v grass debate.
  • No matter who makes the USWNT roster there will always be someone who wants to pick at it. Can’t we just take a day to celebrate those players who have made it before the conversation deteriorates into who should have made it and who is unworthy? Please?
  • Brazil is a seeded team for WWC 2015? Seriously? Ease of draw shouldn’t be a consideration.
  • Jill Ellis has far more of a clue than most anyone wants to give her credit for. Just because everyone’s favorite players aren’t in the mix doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a vision for the team. Might not agree with yours, but then whose would?
  • Student-athletes who garner academic honors are rock stars! They must be the masters of time-management.
  • It’s 2014, when are men in power going to understand that it does nothing to serve you to be condescending to women. Nothing. Yes, I’m still talking about Vackle.
  • WoSo gives me life.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to contribute in the comments.

 

 

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!