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…

 

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#USWNTParade – Ungrateful Isn’t The Same As Frustrated

Ticker Tape Parade down the Canyon of Heroes! Wow! Fantastic! Finally, recognition on the big stage! Accolades they deserve because they earned them!

And then reality set in.

NYC hosted the USWNT ticker tape parade but asked for sponsors to pick up at least $450K of the estimated $2M price tag. Reasonable enough. Nike, Mondelez International, Electronic Arts..and MLS, are most commonly cited as those sponsors. And bravo brands! Thank you for stepping up and sponsoring the parade..and women’s soccer. Only MLS wasn’t a sponsor of women’s soccer before the parade. They have a six degrees of separation relationship because 2 of their pro teams own an NWSL team, so close enough I guess. As a benefit of sponsoring the parade each entity was allowed a float..or three.

I’m not unreasonable or blind to how things work. I know it would have been a PR disaster, from the WoSo side, for the 2 NYC BroSo club teams to not be on the WoSo bandwagon for the parade. I mean, I probably would have been quick to point that out. But the way it was initially presented, or not presented to be more exact, led me and more than a few others to question why the club teams and MLs had to figure prominently in the parade. Initially it was reported that MLS, New York City FC and New York Red Bulls would each have a separate float to themselves. Which certainly got my shackles up. How dare they steal the spotlight from the accomplishments of the USWNT! I was only mildly relieved to find out that no men’s team members would be on the floats. NYRB’s float was to be primarily devoted to their efforts in girls youth soccer, so at least it had a closer connection to WoSo. And NYCFC, well they were going to have their fans on their float with their supporters gear on. No tie to WoSo that I could see there.

As it eventually turned out, most of that would not be true. While MLS, NYCFC, and NYRB had a presence on the floats Sky Blue FC of NWSL also had a presence on a float, a float provided as a result of the MLS sponsorship. So, not as BroSo as originally thought, but still more BroSo presence than a great many WoSo fans wanted to see at their parade, me included.

Now we come to the speeches and key ceremony. Who do we see front and center in his US Soccer polo but The Don himself, Mr Garber of MLS. He gave a good enough speech, as speeches go. But why was he front and center touting how everyone should go see “our” pro teams? Because he bought the time by sponsoring the parade. And you don’t pay that kind of money without expecting something in return. What he got was the driver’s seat while even USSF’s Sunil Gulati could only holler “shotgun”. And where was Jeff Plush of NWSL? My guess is he was bound and gagged in the trunk because not a peep was heard from him. This is what frustrates me the most.

I am not ungrateful. I understand that MLS stepped up with money when it was requested.  I understand that you expect a return on that kind of expenditure.

What I am is frustrated. Extremely. Almost to exhaustion.
I am frustrated that it seems every time WoSo needs people to step up, the default almost always is BroSo. Yes, men’s soccer is, in general, better financially than women’s soccer. I get that, I also know the arguments for why that’s the case. And that just adds to my frustration. Men’s soccer is not, and should not be, the be all and end all to “save” women’s soccer in the US. If the powers that be would stop falling back on that old argument maybe we’d see some real work to make pro WoSo work.

USSF has seen fit to start NWSL and yet it seems that at every turn they are the first to treat it like less than and with that attitude no wonder sponsors are so hard to come by. If the organization that sanctions the league doesn’t exhibit true belief that it is good and valuable and sustainable, on its own, why would a sponsor feel that way?

I understand that the victory tour is a big money maker and also a thing fans really want, but why wasn’t the communication between US Soccer and NWSL better so that fans could get up to date info before tickets were bought and games were rescheduled. Just one of the ways NWSL is treated as an afterthought rather than the premier league for some of the best soccer players in the world. Why do they constantly miss the mark when it comes to the fact that MLS and NWSL are not viewed alike when it comes to the world’s elite players? Of course women’s salaries are so low that the level of competition in NWSL may be more of a draw than the money, but you can’t say that on the men’s side. Elite men’s players come here to get a paycheck on the way out. And even if BroSo doesn’t like it, that’s the case.

So yes, I want to thank MLS for sponsoring the parade, but it still frustrates me that the work isn’t being done so that WoSo isn’t put in the position of having to thank BroSo for something they should be able to accomplish in their own right.

What Were They Thinking?

Weeks have passed and I think I’ve finally processed Tom Sermanni’s untimely firing by USSF from his USWNT coaching job. I think. At first I was highly upset and bewildered. Oh, hell let’s face it, I’m still highly upset and bewildered.

I liked Tom as the selection to succeed Pia and I bought into his experimentation and willingness to vet many new players. I liked that he used different line ups and different formations. I liked that he was pushing the team in a direction they’ve needed to go in for some time now. I liked that the players, all of them, were not comfortable in their spot on the team. I liked that none of this seemed to bother him when questioned by media, even after Algarve.

Ah, Algarve and the Cup and the USWNT’s seemingly poor result. No one wants to finish in 7th place, in anything, but especially not in a tournament they’ve dominated recently. Did I expect a better result? Yes, I did. Was I disappointed with the way the team played? Not, really. Every game had a different starting XI and subs, but they were in every game. No matter the final score, they were competitive in every game. Did they lose our “American” fighting spirit? No. Did they stop attacking? No. Did they give up? No. Did they lose to teams they’ve beaten under the old style? Yes. But honestly, that old style is what wasn’t working anymore and what Tom was mandated by USSF to change. Algarve was a positive on so many levels I am hard-pressed to find fault with our result. I think I am in the minority opinion, though.

Moving on from Algarve was hard for many fans and apparently for USSF, too. With little to no contact with Tom after Algarve and with some (no one knows how much or little, or who or when) input from players, USSF in the form of Sunil Gulati sacked Tom after an international friendly win against China. Just showed up and sacked him with the only explanation being USSF wanted to go in another direction. This only demonstrates why I have such contempt for USSF and TPTB. To be so rude as not to even give a performance review so that an employee knows what his employer is dissatisfied with is not only bad business practice, but down right rude. And if any conversations were had behind the scenes between Tom and USSF, no one will admit to them. Tom has said emphatically that he was not spoken to after the Algarve Cup and he has never given me any reason to doubt his honesty. I am doubly disgusted that they lured Tom away from a successful stint with Australia’s women’s national team, The Matildas,  to change the program here in the U.S. to more possession-oriented, attacking football and to re-invigorate a team in transition and then not had the guts to stick out the transformation. If you ask me, USSF lost the “American” fighting spirit. They knew what they were getting when they hired him and didn’t have the confidence in their own decision to see it through. Way to go USSF.

The other part that I spent a lot of time thinking about was why fans were/are so quick to point the finger at a player(s) as the culprit in Tom’s firing. I have no doubt the players were consulted or might even have sought out USSF to express their opinion about how things were going under Tom. I would expect that. I would also expect USSF to take it all in perspective. My employer surveys the employees every quarter about how they feel the company/leadership is doing. I am also 100% certain that no one in leadership has been fired because one, or two employees have not had confidence/belief/liked them. If leadership is not engaged in something illegal an employer would be foolish to act on such a minority opinion. If USSF was really running scared about the results Tom would bring in the upcoming Women’s World Cup, I’d look to other contributing opinions, not solely a player or two. What about staff? Tom kept most of the USWNT staff and had only recently hired his own assistant coach. Maybe the staff were uncomfortable with the direction Tom was going, against the status quo? What about sponsors? Sponsors pay a lot of money to USSF and expect results to hang their brand name on. Maybe sponsors got antsy after Algarve and since USSF had no conversation with Tom they were ill-equipped to calm sponsor’s fears? What about fans? I’m a fan and I know I freely voice my opinions on social media and through blogs and the occasional email. Maybe fans contributed in some small way to the unease. It could happen.

My guess is Tom’s firing was a result of all these factors and others I would have no idea about. I’m sure some opinions weighed more heavily than others, but I think they probably all contributed. And that leaves me more than a little sad that “fans” would be so quick to point the finger at a player, any player, as having so much power to get the coach sacked. That does not bode well for the USSF or the sport.

Another thing I had trouble with was “a different direction”. USSF can’t just say that with no explanation of which direction they want to go in. If they were not happy that Tom hadn’t settled on a set roster, or positions, or formation as World Cup Qualifying draws closer, how in the world do they expect a new coach to accomplish all that with the same mandate they gave Tom in the time remaining? Leads me to think they will abandon the mandate and just look for a coach that does what looks familiar. I’m not OK with that.

I want this USWNT to win the World Cup. Period. I don’t care if they do it in skirts and tube tops or nurses uniforms. I don’t care what formation they use or who is on the team. I don’t care who coaches or who commentates.

But I do. I do care. I do care that they have bad-ass kits. I do care that the elder players make the team, especially Abby, Christie and Hope. I do care that the coach can pull it all together and get them to play pretty soccer, it doesn’t have to be beautiful, pretty will do in this case. I do care that they win for the 99ers. As much as this generation wants to get out from under their shadow, I’m sure the 99ers would like to pass the torch and just savor their great accomplishment without always being characterized as the weight around this team’s neck.

What were they thinking? We will never know. I will never know, but I have to move on. I have to wish Tom the best. I have to support this USWNT in whatever form it takes going forward. I have to try to support the new coach. I have to continue to hold USSF accountable in whatever way I can, for my sanity.

I am a supporter. It’s what I will do.

The Night Before A WoSo Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, at least in my house.
Not a creature was stirring, ’cause my cat ate the mouse.
The stockings were hung up by thumbtacks with care,
Hoping that something would show up in there.
The feline was curled up all snug in his bed,
While visions of wingless birds danced in his head.
And me in my flannel, getting ready to nap,
Had just settled down with a tasty nightcap.

When out on the street there arose such commotion,
I rolled off the couch like Baywatch in slow-motion.
I flew to the window in a Western New York Flash,
Tripped over the carpet and cursed the damned Houston Dash.
The moon shining down on the now week old snow
Showed it plowed into piles with nowhere to go.
When what to my nearsighted eyes should appear,
But a red Chevrolet filled with eight Seattle Reign dears.
With a Kim Little driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment she chauffeured St. Nick.

More rapid than game tweets his red Chevy came,
He whistled and shouted and called dears by name:
Now, Fishlock! Now, Deines! Now, Pinoe and Keirsten!
On, Stephanie! On, Sydney! On, Dani and Lauren!
To the top of the box! Set up in the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away with the ball!
Like free kicks into the wind, the Chevy did fly,
Like Carli Lloyd shots it took to the sky,
So up to the housetop the entourage flew,
Like Lisa De Vanna when she plays with Sky Blue.

And then in a twinkling, I heard loud beeping horns
The little red Chevy had run over Portland Thorns.
As I was shaking my head and turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in swag from his foot to his head,
Must be a Washington Spirit fan ’cause it was all in red.
A bundle of balls he had flung on his back,
He looked like a Kansas City staffer just opening his pack.

Like Chicago Red Stars, his eyes-how they twinkled!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose he did wrinkle.
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
A shiny new whistle he held tight in his teeth,
Always at the ready if he ran into Tobin Heath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That would even make Mittsy a little bit jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Made me think of Gulati and all that I dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
(Kind of like Cheryl Bailey) then he turned with a jerk;
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his Chevy, to his dears blew his whistle,
And away they all flew like at training dismissal.
But I heard him exclaim, as he covered the acres,
“Merry Christmas to all, and my favs, Boston Breakers!”

*My apologies to Clement Moore.
This is what too much time and more than a little Christmas cheer will do to a person.
Please enjoy this in the spirit intended.
Merry Christmas to one and all!