The Long and the Short of It

WNY v SEA was contested on a very small field tonight  – although within FIFA regulations, if not NWSL . I was gonna let this go, but decided I needed to at least set the record straight about where I was coming from. Whether you agree or not isn’t an issue to me, just that you know how I got here.

In my timeline on twitter, and I want to stress MY timeline,  Jeff Kassouf tweeted that playing on WNY’s field was “crazy”.

He has a following and of course word spread. More than a few people commented asking why the game was being played on this particular field and other questions about the venue. This prompted me to tweet this:

Typo aside, my tweet was a simple observation that many people tweeting in reply to Kassouf were critical without being informed about the venue. My feeling was – and is – when being critical of anything/or anyone, know something about what/who you’re being critical of. The venue change was announced two weeks ago giving anyone who cared ample time to ask questions about configuration, size, surface quality, etc.

My observation was not well received. That’s how it goes sometimes.

If I thought that was bad, the reaction after I tweeted this –

 

-was worse.

At the time of my tweet, and really still, I didn’t see the harm in one game played on a smaller than NWSL standard field. At the time there were no details about emails to coaches or meetings with referees or questions of safety from staff or players. It was a venue change for a team that couldn’t use their home field for one game due to scheduling conflicts. In the grand scheme of things, to me, this is small potatoes. I don’t think anyone from owners to refs to NWSL reps intended to disrespect players by asking them to do this one time for the good of the schedule.

The reaction of the players is a whole other thing. I think their reaction to this field is indicative of their frustration with so many other things that need to be rectified in relation to them. And although I support the USWNT players in their pursuit of equal pay for equal play, I find it a little self-serving that they chose now to chime in for their NWSL counterparts. This just gives them more to fight USSF with in their CBA negotiations, not necessarily a bad thing, but still self-serving.

Do I think the players deserve better? Yes, absolutely. I also think that even though this is the 3rd iteration of a league it doesn’t mean they’ll get everything right the first time. They did the wrong thing for the right reason, something I know I’ve done in my life more than once. So maybe that’s why I don’t think this is the big issue it’s blown up into, I think it’s more of a bellwether for the ills within the league in regard to player relations.

Many parties to this game had a chance to stop it, and none did, this says more to me than the fact that the venue was set up the way it was in the first place.

So the long of it is written above, the short of it is – life is complicated..and so is WoSo.

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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..

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…

 

So Many Thank You’s

Hi, WoSo peeps!
Just a short little note to say Thank You! to all the people who do what they do to make WoSo a thing in my life. I’m grateful to you all, whether we see eye-to-eye on a particular facet of the game, or not. To all the owners, administrators, staff, players and the people I have no idea what you do or where you work, thank you! To all the people who devote countless unpaid hours in support of the game I love, thank you!

I will most certainly be giving my 2 dollars and 2 cents worth about this past NWSL season in the days to come, but I couldn’t wait to say thanks to all the wonderful people involved. I don’t think you all hear it often enough.

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

#USWNT v NWSL – Not so far-fetched

I don’t even know where to start. I’m so perplexed (and pissed off) by the decision of US Soccer to schedule two friendlies against FIFA ranked number 63 Haiti as replacement for the two friendlies scheduled against number 9 Australia, that I can’t see straight.

So a little background. The Australian women’s national team, the Matildas, decided to go on strike, or more correctly refused to work without a contract from their federation, effectively canceling their trip to the USA for friendlies on September 17th and 20th.. It’s a complicated process and The Women’s Game can explain it far better than I can, so read and listen here.

This left US Soccer with 60 thousand tickets sold and nothing for fans to watch, in the stadium or on FOX Sports 1 & ESPN. What’s a federation to do? Well if you’re USSF you start by trying to replace the missing teams with hopefully something comparable..or so you’d think. If it sounds simple, it’s not if you limit your search to other competitive national teams. Most other competitive teams are in Europe. Most European national teams have their players already involved in club play and that means all sorts of cups and tournament qualifying. Not a good time to ask them to assemble a team and hop across the pond for a game or two. So, what’s left? Not much in the way of competitive teams. The emphasis is on competitive since every single pundit on the planet who opines about the USWNT seems to agree that the team needs more competition before Olympic qualifying not just to keep sharp, but to look at new players. Although I doubt any new players will be called up for these two friendlies (I wouldn’t mind being wrong about that) I think the players need to stay sharp and the fans deserve something better than the drubbing handed to a game Costa Rican team in the first two Victory Tour games.

And that friends is how we ended up looking forward to USWNT V HAIWNT. Well, maybe you’re looking forward to it, but I certainly am not. And here’s why –

  • The Haitian women’s national team is almost literally a third tier WoSo team, having played primarily in the WPSL. If you don’t know about the WPSL..Google it. They want very badly to be like the second tier of women’s soccer, the USL W-League. They aren’t anywhere near it, in standards or level of play. The HAIWNT did not qualify for world cup play. They won one game in qualifying, against Guatemala. Their mostly teenage team is anything but a competitive team for the USWNT.
  • The Haitian women’s national team being chosen as an opponent is being touted as good for development of women’s soccer. If it’s in comparison to the USWNT playing no one, then I guess there’s a case. I’ve read that it’s a great opportunity for them to play against very good competition so they’ll get better. So far that has not borne out as recently as last October during world cup qualifying. Also mentioned is the money that will go to the team..to the team? Is anyone confident the team or players will see any of that money? This is the Caribbean Football Union of FIFA scandal fame. Does anyone think any money received as a result of USWNT V HAIWNT will be used for development? I’ve got some lovely swamp land for sale..hit me up. Not to mention that a strapped CFU probably won’t be footing much, if any, of the bill for these two friendlies. So USSF will probably pay most of the costs involved with assembling the team and their travel and accommodations.
  • Do-gooder WoSo fans and pundits are all over spending USSF money to prop up a crooked CFU while at the same time lamenting over the seeming inability of US Soccer to increase funding to NWSL. Smacks of hypocritical to me. Very hard to eat your cake and have it, too. Or am I the one in a fairy tale? WoSo is often, and rightly so, told that it isn’t a charity and shouldn’t be treated as such, so why is it OK this one time? Is it because it’s Haiti, would we be OK if we paid Germany to come play us? If anyone says yes, they’re lying or sarcastic.
  • I have no idea if this is the case or information to support this, but if the TV contracts require a national team opponent, regardless of skill level, US Soccer has gotten what it deserves..another boring blowout to ruin ratings.
  • One last argument I’ve been given is that a game not against another NT team wouldn’t count as a friendly and as such caps and goals scored and other stats wouldn’t count. Is that really the most important thing to players and fans? I say it’s not.
  • There is another alternative.. a good one. It’s right here on American soil, game-ready, tested, competitive and the cornerstone of development for women’s soccer in the USA. I believe they call it NWSL. This is not a far-fetched or loony proposal. It’s very sound and probably more easily doable than Haiti at the last minute.

Hear me out..well at least read what I have to say.

NWSL semi-final  playoffs are being held on September 13th, this Sunday. That is 4 days from the 17th and 7 days from the 20th, the two friendly dates. If each of the eliminated teams played on one of the two friendly dates just think of the exposure for NWSL and all the good karma for US Soccer. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be logistical and contractual problems to overcome, but hey, NWSL and US Soccer live in the same house, right? Haven’t you ever worked out a living arrangement with a roommate? It could definitely be done.

There is so much upside to this match-up that I honestly cannot fathom why US Soccer or NWSL didn’t go after this as a first option. FOX is already on board with NWSL for semi’s and the final so for them to hype USWNT v NWSL is no stretch at all, it would help them sell the NWSL games they are already airing. ESPN could steal a little thunder from FOX, but they could always go the USWNT development route and not emphasize NWSL as much. The USWNT players could play with their club teams to help keep that extra step up in competition, further solidifying their ties to NWSL. The USWNT could call up players to replace them on the NT roster. Win – win- win- win- win. NWSL players would get an extra payday courtesy of US Soccer (because they would get to keep ALL the money) and please tell me any NWSL player not on the national team who wouldn’t jump at the chance to play in front of 30 thousand plus fans on national television and show off what they can do to US and international scouts. Have I gotten your interest yet? How about the fact that these very same domestic teams also have a few international players to showcase? Or that this is the cheapest national exposure to investors and sponsors US Soccer could ever expect to get for the NWSL. I’m sure there are other advantages I haven’t even thought of yet, but do you see why I’m so high on this idea and why I’m so very pissed US Soccer & NWSL can’t, or don’t want to, make it happen? I don’t have all the answers to the questions this idea is sure to raise, but USSF pays people to figure things out, surely they are smarter than I am and could pull this off. And if they aren’t and couldn’t maybe my next job application should be to US Soccer.

Please give me your feedback, pro or con on this idea. Tell me why/how it could/should happen..or not. This is a conversation that should be happening at a higher level, but I’m willing to start it here..let’s hear what you’ve got!

*As always, bring your passion, leave your disrespect at home.

Inevitable NWSL Rant #7392481605

UPDATE 08/17/15 – It’s official, NWSL Championship Final will be played at Providence Park in Portland.

Note my total lack of surprise at this announcement that comes complete with quotes from the invisible man himself, Jeff Plush.

While I am not surprised I am still infuriated, for all the reason listed in my original post below and then some. Lies of omission – not telling anyone that it had been decided to use a predetermined site prior to the season- and outright lies – the 2015 Competition Rules & Regulations (before edit) – being just 2 of the more egregious reasons.

The most infuriating, and saddening, reason of all though, is that I am forced into a position where I cannot with good conscience support this decision. I have spent far more time and money supporting NWSL and individual teams than anyone knows and to have to step back and not support this latest breach of trust truly hurts. Many will not see not attending the final in Portland as a big deal, as is their right, but to me it is the last straw in a season that has seemed ill planned and poorly executed. Whether that is the fault of the owners or USSF may never be known and some would say doesn’t matter, but it does. To me, it matters because it affects the way the league operates. If owners want one thing and USSF another, this will continue to be a cluster. If USSF gets to call the shots because they control the league, fans will continue to get the USWNT hand me down decisions. And USSF hand me down decisions will always play in favor of the national team, always. Decisions that play in favor of the national team have so far done nothing to bolster the NWSL or it’s growth ( a very small argument can be made that USWNT makes money that is funneled into NWSL, but we don’t know if there is a direct correlation as to amounts or if USSF just makes it up as they go along). Individual teams are dictated to about so many things regarding national team players, even when a reported agreement existed between them and US Soccer concerning post-world cup play, that it hampers operations, from advertising to rosters. And if you don’t think that affects individual players, think again.

I’m not disputing that putting on a good show is what sport is all about anymore, but it’s the way the league ( again, I have no real idea what that term means) goes about it, and the way they treat the people who are expected to keep showing up, keep spending money, keep spreading the word.

I know I’m only one ticket sale and in the grand scheme it’s not much. But I have to look at myself in the mirror and know I did what felt right to me in defense of the league. I don’t let people in my real life treat me the way NWSL does, why would I or should I accept it from them?

***

08/14/15  – Soccerwire.com posted a story today about the NWSL Championship final being played in a “neutral” site..Portland. (Quotations marks are mine) Needless to say, my blood started to boil. The following is what splattered out all over my keyboard.

What in WoSo’s name is NWSL thinking?!!? I mean, not that we even know what or who NWSL is, is it the owners? The supposed admin arm supplied by USSF? The invisible man, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush? Some sordid combination of these? Or none of these and it’s just some guys on a conference call once every few months from MLS, FOX and US Soccer, coming together to figure out some infuriating and unexplained way to piss off fans? The more I see, the more I think it’s the latter.

Back to the Soccerwire piece. I have no real problem with a predetermined site, if it were truly neutral to all teams. A venue that hosts an NWSL team is not neutral to anyone and especially not if the team that uses that venue makes it to the final. There are any number of venues across the nation that would be truly neutral and would be a good atmosphere for a televised final. Not to mention that a neutral site would open up the opportunity to showcase the NWSL to new fans.

Putting the final in a place such as Portland (if that’s the case since Merritt Paulson seems to have walked back from Portland being a sure thing) who has a very good fan base and creates a great atmosphere for the game is just plain dishonest (and asking a lot of the local fans to show up and support two teams that they would normally see as foes if the home team doesn’t make the final). By NWSL bowing to whomever is making this call, be it FOX or MLS as PR, or even the owners (although I think that the more numerous the asinine decisions are coming from NWSL, the less the actual owners have a say) they are trying to present NWSL as something it is not. NWSL is not Portland. Portland is an anomaly and as such showcasing the atmosphere in Portland is misleading any new potential fan or sponsor. The game experience a new fan from Boston gets will not be anywhere near that on display in Portland. That’s not to single out Boston, they won’t get that experience at any of the other seven team venues either. Sponsors won’t reach that many fans at any other team venue, leading both fans and sponsors to feel they’ve just been had by a bait-and-switch scheme.

The total lack of any transparency by the league to journos/bloggers/fans is beyond infuriating. Fans are constantly treated like any decisions the league makes doesn’t affect them, in their wallet or their support. We get a pretty basic website, a twitter account that exists to RT the team’s twitter posts and set of Rules and Regulations that isn’t worth the virtual ink it’s written with. We are expected to just accept and support any and all changes the league makes with no explanation or warning. The league knows best and you know..”trust us”. Fans don’t really expect to have a say in how the league is run, at least not most rational fans, all we want is to be treated like thinking, reasoning adults, not small children (the NWSL’s seemingly favorite demographic) who often are told to do something “because I said so”, and do. Fans want to have a place to provide feedback about what they like and don’t like and they want to feel like someone even cares. Some individual teams are great about taking and acknowledging feedback, some less than great, but the league makes no such effort and it’s not unnoticed by fans.

Other sports leagues have commissioners who are out in front of the media taking the heat and the praise that comes with the job. NWSL has no such person. Jeff Plush is the invisible man of NWSL. He may have been appointed because of his ties to MLS and experience building a team, but he is MIA to fans and media alike and we don’t like it. We want him to be the front man for the decisions, good and bad, that the league makes. We need a face of the league. If he’s not going to be it then the owners need to appoint a spokesperson to be that face. I want to have someone to complain to or thank when things happen. Right now I have nothing and no one, not a good thing when fans have no recourse but to take to social media or blog about their frustrations. A league needs to spin everything that happens in their favor, even if sometimes that means taking a little heat first.

Which brings me to the total lack of regard for any media types trying to spread the word about the league. NWSL as a relatively new league has to rely on all the media-type attention they can get. I say media-type because things are changing and print media and TV aren’t the way many fans get their day-to-day information about their teams, especially if those teams belong to a new, growing league. Fans increasingly rely on bloggers and social media, along with a few internet sites that are fighting to get access to the league. These people largely don’t get paid for what they do, yet they do it. They do it diligently and with as much dedication to telling the truth as any major journalistic endeavor. Yet, time and again they are bypassed for more conventional media who give the absolute minimum of inches or airtime to any league news. NWSL, whoever that may be, needs to get with the current times and give these media-types access and accurate information in a timely and consistent manner if there is any hope of coming off as a truly professional league. It’s not just about locker rooms and venues.

I’m pissed about the decision to change venues of the final, whether it be Portland or not, at the 9th hour. I know a lot of fans share this feeling with me. Did the league seem to forget that many fans made the pilgrimage to Canada for the World Cup and as such are smack dab out of leave or holiday/vacation time? Moving the final to a Thursday is foolish on so many levels, least of which is limiting the number of people who can travel for a mid-week game. Just like men not playing on turf, why are the women expected to play their final on a Thursday and not on the weekend as all have done before? Seriously NWSL, are you the FIFA of WoSo?

If all of this has been done to accommodate some very suspect TV deal, I’m even more pissed. I acknowledge NWSL may not have much leverage when it comes to what any network will do for them, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t supposed to fight for what is best for the league. So far counting the very, very iffy FOXSoccer2go streams, the lack of any screen time for the defending champions and a heavy reliance on MLS venues (see previous paragraph about misleading game experiences), this really isn’t much of a deal. And if my suspicions (since I have no facts to go on) are correct, the league isn’t making any money from it and may in fact be paying FOX to air the games. So yeah, if these accommodations were part of that deal, I’m pissed.

Fans like me – a longtime follower of WoSo, and unlike me – new to the sport, all need to be kept in the back of the minds of every person involved with NWSL. We the fans, expect and deserve no less.

So maybe this wasn’t as much of a rant as I thought it would be, but I hope I made some good points and didn’t ramble too much. I’m just getting more sick-and-tired of the constant ignorance of the “league”

 

Worry About What You Can Control

Almost every self-help book, video or guru has said at one time or another “Only worry about what you can control”. It’s a very wise and time-tested mantra. Worrying about things you can’t control can consume you and make you overlook the very real things you can control to make a difference in your life. In this case I’m writing about the NWSL.

Many, many articles and many more pundits are really alarmed/upset/downright outraged with the lack of mentions by NT players of their NWSL clubs. And in many instances they are right to be upset, players have not maximized the opportunity to talk up their league and clubs when they’ve had the spotlight. I could come up with a whole laundry list of reasons why this might be the case, but it still wouldn’t change the fact that their silence is not something we can control. Hand-wringing is at it’s highest level since Jill Ellis decided to make Lauren Holiday a defensive midfielder. Seriously, the angst can be cut with a knife. USSF, US Soccer, the NT players and apathy have all been blamed for the lack of support from the USWNT after their World Cup win. Even if one or all of these things are true, none of them are in our control, not one of them.

So fugedaboudit. We can’t control it. What we can control is how we mention or talk up the league. What we can control is not letting all the negative comments about NT players and their like or dislike, support or non-support of NWSL be the driving narrative. What we can control is making sure anyone who shows up to a NWSL game is exposed to the best game day experience. What we can control is our enthusiasm and support. We can control our willingness to share our love of the game/team/players with new fans. What we can control is taking the time to answer questions about everything WoSo in a positive and welcoming manner. If new fans get the impression that we only value the league or our team for the few NT players that are at every game because that’s what we gripe about, they probably won’t come back. If new fans don’t think we value the many other talented players that show up every week and perform to the very best of their ability to play entertaining, competitive soccer, they won’t either. If new fans get the impression that these next few games don’t matter because NT players aren’t there, they’ll lose interest.

It’s up to all of us to control what we can. We have a growing, dynamic league full of great players who give their all for our enjoyment, the least we can do is control ourselves and give them the fans they deserve. When the NT comes back, we’ll welcome them with open arms and thank them for the 3rd star and the #1 ranking, and we’ll continue to support our league because it’s what we can control.