Red Card the Refs

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If bad calls by referees were rewarded with yellow cards the accumulation would have red-carded most Professional Referee Organization-provided officials just six weeks into the 2014 NWSL season.

In only the first six week of the 2014 season the refs have given 61 yellow cards and 2 straight reds (2 more reds for same game accumulation of yellows) and 18 PK’s. To put this in perspective here are some 2013/2014 comparisons:

                                                                           2013      2014 (through 6 weeks)
Regular season games:     88          35
Yellow cards:                       33          61
Red cards:                             4           4
Penalty kicks:                       27         18

I think the problem is twofold. First, the message was sent from someone; the league, the owners, the players, fans in tinfoil hats, that refs had to crack down and call the games tighter to improve level of play (in which case they’ve really lost the plot). Second, the refs are so badly trained they couldn’t make a call for pizza and get it right.

Last season saw many fouls go uncalled that allowed some games to get out of control with physical play and made the league look less than professional. A call to tighten things up would make the game more enjoyable to watch from a purely “beautiful game” perspective and also might serve to avoid player injuries. Good in theory, poor in application. Even with an average 20 fouls called a game referees still don’t seem to be in control of some games. The increase in PK’s alone is alarming. PK’s are being awarded at six times the rate of 2013. In 2013 PK’s were awarded at a rate of 0.29/game and in 2014 at 1.9 per game, so far. Since I can’t find any statistics about how many PK’s are for the ugly “handball” (clearly not applied according to the rule) I’ll just go with my observation and say a lot.

My belief is that the referees are not sufficiently trained to call games at this level. I do not think all referees fall into this category, but more than just a few and that includes AR’s. From really bad offside calls to the previously mentioned “handball”, referees and AR’s are getting it wrong. I’ll admit that I have the benefit of replaying the video most times and refs don’t, (although they may have at least one AR with eyes on the play) but usually my initial reaction is borne out by the replay. NWSL has to demand better. Referees are paid and not doing this on a lark and as such are professional referees (see PRO Referees). Even though PRO general manager, Peter Walton, sees the referees improving for MLS, I’d have to say that’s not the case for NWSL. And it begs the question, if MLS refs are sent down to lower levels when they need more experience/education, which level is NWSL?

Everyone complains about the refs, I get it, but it’s gotten to a point that way too often the referees are negatively impacting the results of the game. That negatively impacts the perception people have of the league. And that ultimately impacts the leagues ability to attract and retain valuable fans.

It’s time NWSL steps up and does the right thing for players and fans and tells PRO they won’t settle for the frequently substandard refereeing. It should not have to come to a coach being fined for speaking out for action to be taken. If U.S.Soccer is the front office, then they should act like it and address this situation immediately.

 

 

NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts PART 6/7/8 Portland Thorns/FC Kansas City/Boston Breakers

A combined Sixth, Seventh and Eighth in a series of 10 posts analyzing NWSL 2013 from my viewpoint.

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I apologize for this mish-mash of an analysis. The league hijacked my train of thought with their expansion stuff and I lost interest in finishing, but a loyal reader persuaded me to tie up the loose ends, so here it is.

Pre-season, Season Tickets, and Fan Engagement:

Of course Portland got all the buzz with the great allocations and being backed by MLS Portland Timbers. I personally was buzzed to get a team within driving distance (9 hours isn’t driving distance for all, but I love to drive), the FC Kansas City Blues. And no surprise, the stable stalwarts of women’s pro soccer and my “team till I die” the Boston Breakers were right in the middle of it all, just the way we like it!
I purchased 2 $165 Touchline Reserved tickets and went in 50/50 on 2 $99 GA tickets that were donated for Portland Thorns. I did not attend any games, but managed to give away most of my tickets. I had no problem with the purchase or the donation. Pretty streamlined process.
I purchased 2 $180 Elite tickets for FC Kansas City and I have to say their sales staff was helpful, funny and understanding.
The first tickets I purchased were for my Boston Breakers. Quick, easy, efficient, like so much of the organization. 2 $180 Regular Season tickets. I also was unable to attend any games and gave away most of my tickets, some through the organization and some online.

Fan engagement for all 3 teams was OK. I honestly had little interest in the Thorns, so I admit to being lax when it came to paying attention to their engagement on Twitter or Facebook.  FCKC got more of my attention and I thought they did an OK job of keeping fans informed, if not engaged, on both Twitter and Facebook.  Breakers had a little more experience, but didn’t really take advantage of it. Their Twitter and Facebook paled in comparison to some team member’s updates.

Web Site and Web Stream:

Portland had a good web site, no surprise there. Thorns also win stream hands down, no discussion. Not only was their stream exceptional, their commentary team of Ang & Ann (Angela Harrison and Ann Schatz) were informative and hysterical, in the best way. Never a dull moment in that broadcast booth.
FC Kansas City had a web site I enjoyed visiting. This is something they don’t need to change. On the other hand, the Blues could use some work on their stream. Most were watchable and I didn’t need to mute the commentary, that’s always a plus.
Boston is stuck somewhere in the last decade with their web site. And my dear sweet Boston, what can I say? They had a pay-per-view stream that was anything but watchable on occasion. As a loyal fan I purchased every stream in the hopes that as the season went on they’d get better, not the way it turned out. After a few games I could not justify the purchase to my peers..at any price. $4.99 wasn’t bad (I could have done without the $1.39 fee on top of it), if the stream was good.

Kits and Venue:

Kits..how about those kits! said no one. Ho-hum, cookie-cutter kits, just different colors.

Venues are another story, though. No one can argue about the venue and atmosphere at Jeld-Wen..no one, don’t even try. Jeld-Wen IS soccer. Winner: Portland.
FCKC made Shawnee Mission North High School their home, later to be called Verizon Field because of their awesome sponsorship. A typical high school venue in typical high school condition, nothing great, but adequate. I did attend several games and was not disappointed with the atmosphere. Their supporters group, the KC Blue Crew, was small but dedicated. Tailgating was permitted with alcohol restrictions, as in none allowed, so that put a damper on things. I’m not a lush, but every tailgate could use a beer.
I did not attend any games at Dilboy Stadium outside Boston, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for analysis. The real sticking point with many people seemed to be the physical location of the field. I drove over 500 miles to get to KC’s field, so I might not be the right person to talk to about that.

Final Observations:

Portland Thorns: At first glance Portland seemed like the dream team, they had it all; players, venue, supporters, but to me they didn’t put it together on the field for much of the season. They played well in the playoffs and took the Championship, but I still was not impressed by the overall product on the field. In 2014 I hope they reward the supporters with the same passion on the field as they display in the stands.

FC Kansas City: The product on the field was fun to watch and the team developed some great players along the way. The fact they fizzled at the end broke my heart, but they engendered passion in me for their game. I’d like to see them build on all the things they did OK during this year; better fan engagement online and a better stream for starters.

Boston Breakers: I love ya, Breakers, but you’ve got to step up your game. Boston needs something to make them stand out. I thought they got lost in the shuffle last season and I’d like to see them do something flashy. They’ve got a solid team, good sponsors, now they need a wow factor. Maybe a stream that’s better than most or a web site that’s less ho-hum. I really don’t know, but they need something.

I’ve tried to do this from a perspective that I don’t know all the changes that have happened for the 2014 season, yet. Hard to do, but I tried.

Next installment, PART 9, will focus on NWSL, the league.

As always, if you’d like to give your two cents, hit me up in the comments.

Yes, I Don’t Agree With You..Sometimes

I don’t know when agreeing with someone on twitter became a requirement of use, so since I missed the memo, I’ll continue to tweet my opinion. And NEWS FLASH! It may not agree with yours. – Diane

Recently two topics came up in NWSL that I’ve gotten a LOT of push back on:

  1. Houston expansion
  2. FCKC change of venue

HOUSTON EXPANSION.

You can try (and have tried) to convince me expansion to HOUSTON in 2014 is a good thing. I have no doubt HOUSTON will be a good market. My issue is, and always will be, with timing, lack of transparency and USSF going back on their word and what message that sends to future expansion teams and sponsors. It is my opinion. It may not be yours, but I’m OK with that.

FCKC CHANGE OF VENUE

Most NWSL teams will benefit from a change of venue. Boston Breakers upgrading to Harvard is a good example. Better access, onsite parking and more seats being just a few of the benefits. Notice I said “upgrade”?

I do not see FCKC’s move as such an upgrade. I have read the story on their site and although it seems like a very nice facility it isn’t necessarily an upgrade in my eyes. The most glaring thing to me is the loss of many seats. FCKC average attendance varies a little depending on who you read, but I feel comfortable with about 4300 per home game. UMKC WILL (does not currently) seat 3200. My math says that is 1100 fewer than average, not even taking into account the highest drawing games. Six home games is 6600 tickets. What team in their right mind would give up 6600 tickets? If this revenue is being replaced or increased they sure as hell haven’t said where or how. Until they do, I think it’s not the right move.

And what about those 1100 fans per game who will no longer get the “enhanced game day experience”? How are they being rewarded for being there from day one? “Oops! We really appreciated you in 2013, but it’s 2014 and we don’t think we need you so much this year. Good luck and we’ll hope to see you in maybe 2016 when we really do upgrade. Buh-bye, now. Oh, one more thing, we might have a live stream of the game you can watch, maybe. Or we might even be on TV for a game or 2, if you’re lucky and get that channel, so don’t get distracted by the thousand other things vying for your attention, because we’ll be right here and we’ll call you when we need you again.”

Also, in relation to both topics, please don’t argue it’s all about money with Houston Dash expansion and then say money isn’t important with FCKC change of venue. Money is ALWAYS important

I’m not crazy or unreasonable. I listen to everyone’s opinion. I read soccer media. I follow teams and players and owners and pundits. I form my own opinions and Yes, I don’t agree with you..sometimes.

If you’d like to discuss these 2 topics in the comments, I’d be glad to hear your side.

NWSL 2013 – Analysis In 10 Parts PART 5 – Seattle Reign FC

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

Preseason, Season Tickets, and Fan Engagement:

A preseason in Japan is pretty impressive and a shrewd move to allow the team to work out the kinks away from prying eyes. Kudos to SRFC for that.

I purchased 2 $234 Grandstand tickets online with no hassle whatsoever. Once again no perks for an out of town STH, but you should get the trend by now.

Seattle was fully engaged with fans from the announcement of the league, although they chose (and apparently still choose) to do it by way of Facebook. Allocations, drafts, coaches, uniforms, all info was updated in a fairly timely manner. They also engaged fans on Twitter and have a YouTube account.

Seattle got it right by encouraging and engaging with a supporter’s group, The Royal Guard.   Teams that currently do not have a supporter’s group should consider how Seattle encouraged their fans to start one.

Web Site and Web Stream:

Website? Not sure I would call it that, more of a place holder. About the only thing you could do there was buy tickets and it seems so far this year, it’s still the same.

The web stream by comparison was second best in the league, only behind PTFC. Production quality was excellent, it was reliable and the on-air talent was engaging and informed. The stream was provided by Bootstrapper Studios and SRFC should definitely renew THAT contract.

Kits and Venue:

Seattle did a lot of things right with their kit. It was just a standard navy blue NWSL Nike kit with the horizontal white chest stripe, but the logo and the decision to include it on the shorts as well as the top gave it a distinctive clean look. The basic kit was the same as SBFC, but it somehow looked better.

One thing SRFC did better than any other team was merchandise. From week one they had t-shirts for sale and came up big with their LGBT supporter’s T. Although you had to buy any team gear through the NWSL store, the T’s were a big hit with fans.

Starfire Stadium was the Reign’s home field and has a reputation as being a good venue. I’ve only seen it on web streams & TV, so I’ll leave any critique to someone who’s actually been there.

Final Observations:

The Seattle Reign are one of those teams that you just have to love to watch, even if you’re not a fan. They play well and are in every game. They may have been shortchanged by the whole team-building process, but they never used that as an excuse and never gave up in a single game. They have some big names, but every single player contributes. A definite team to watch in 2014.

As for the product off the field…

I’d like to see some improvements in 2014:

  • As for all teams, how about some STH perks for out of state purchasers?
  • Get a website, a real functioning, interactive site. Facebook is good, but really limits the interactions you can have with current and potential fans. I have sites I’ve “liked” and never gone to again. 10,000+ likes does not translate to 10,000+ interactions on a continuing basis.
  • Since the webstream is so good, consider doing it simultaneously in Spanish.

I am inspired by the culture Laura Harvey has started in the Reign camp. I hope it continues to build and I’m sure the payoff will come soon.

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?

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

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.