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.

 

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NWSL Accessibility – The Double-Edged Sword

Social media is in a mini-uproar this week about NWSL. That’s a good thing, right? In the bigger picture, yes..yes it is. Any time people are talking about the league it raises its profile, good or bad, agree or disagree with why, it pushes the conversation.

This week the talk is about the role USWNT members play in promoting the league and if the league is capitalizing on their allotment of ’15ers.

On the first count I think most agree that the NT players are not promoting the league as much as they could.  The USWNT is a unique beast, to the majority of people the USWNT is just that, a team that represents the US, not a collection of people who play soccer for a living. To the educated fan that’s not the case, we understand where the players come from, who they play for and a little of their history. We understand that their playing days are numbered and they are experiencing the highest level of popularity and celebrity women’s soccer in the USA has achieved..ever. I think most of us would agree they must, as people who do this for a living, use every opportunity to capitalize monetarily on this short window of celebrity and popularity. Less educated fans and fans that just discovered the players as a result of their World Cup win don’t get that, necessarily.

I do think it might take a while to steer the conversation from their individual appearances and why they’re being interviewed to how that ties into what they do for a living, play soccer for pay. Once that turn is made, then the players have some gravitas when speaking about NWSL. Can the players make that turn? We’ll have to see. Do they want to make that turn? If you listen to some, they say no, players have no love for NWSL. Whether that is true, we’ll also have to see.

The other side of this uproar is whether NWSL teams are taking full advantage of USWNT players and whether players should or shouldn’t be playing this week for their teams. This is a decision that should be made by the player and coach of each respective team. Some players played more minutes, or did more traveling, or more media. Some players did less, but haven’t been training regularly. Some may be carrying injuries. All factors that have to be handled differently. And different teams do seem to be handling it differently, both with their players and with dissemination of information to fans. Talk is also going around that US Soccer and NWSL are not on the same page in regard to players returning to teams. I can see this, since they don’t seem to be on the same page on more than a few things. To me, it’s almost as if US Soccer (and to a lesser degree NWSL) didn’t “believe” the USWNT would win and the resulting chaos around the popularity of the team was unforeseen. If that’s the case, shame on them both. Whether you believe something will happen or not, you prepare for it, and it certainly seems neither did.

And how does accessibly figure into this, you ask? Like this: Fans, old and new, educated and not, have heard of and come to expect a very high level of accessibility to all NWSL players, USWNT included. And now that the World Cup is over and won, the fans expect those players to be on the pitch performing and on the sidelines signing and selfie-ing into the night. This is short-sighted by teams and fans. Soccer is a game, but it’s also a job that requires skills and abilities that have to be honed and maintained. Players who have played their last match of a 7-games-in-a-month stretch over 2 weeks ago, and have not even had the opportunity to train due to the whirlwind appearances they’ve made, should not be asked by anyone to step onto a soccer pitch to perform. The teams and US Soccer have not managed the decreased accessibility and now it’s reflecting on the USWNT players and disrespecting the non-USWNT players who have continued to keep the league viable by playing entertaining, competitive soccer during the World Cup.

Accessibility has set up the expectation and lack of accessibility has drawn the ire. Both are the responsibility ultimately of NWSL and US Soccer and their inability to work together. The teams don’t deserve to lose one ticket sale due to this situation. The players don’t deserve to lose one ounce of respect for it either.

USWNT players can do more to promote NWSL. US Soccer can do more. NWSL can do more. I can do more.  If NWSL were to fail, the finger could point to us all.

Author note: I’ve tried to make this a cogent piece, I’m not entirely sure I succeeded. I am not a writer, or editor. If you can expand on or say it more clearly, please comment. If you see it differently, please comment. Thanks.

 

 

Dear Abby,

Just wanted to touch base and see how things are with you. I’m guessing you’re pretty psyched now that the day of the final, your final final, is here. I know I am!

It’s been a long and swerve-y ride to today, for you and fans like me. I remember your days as a Gator and your early days with the national team. The hype and bad hair, the accolades and the disappointments. I’ve followed you for a very large chunk of my life, and yours. You’ve inspired and exasperated me. You’ve shone and refused to all at the same time. You’ve been my gay icon and a source of my gay discontent. You’ve played your game to the fullest and lived your life unapologetically.

And now it’s all coming together today. I so wish for it to end with the fairytale ending you want. I believe that it will. I believe in you, your heart, leadership, and ability to get that last extra ounce from your teammates. I know you’d like to play and I hope you get one last chance to walk out onto a World Cup pitch as a player, but even if you don’t it won’t tarnish what you’ve accomplished at this level. Not for me or thousands of fans around the world.

As you, and the other veterans of the team who may also be playing in their last World Cup for the Red, White & Blue, suit up, know that the US WoSo world is behind you 1000% percent in your task today. We appreciate all the hard work and sacrifice it takes to get to and stay at the elite level.

I will miss you on this stage in the future, but I know that the importance of team and the continued fighting spirit you’ve emphasized during your career will be your legacy.

I Believe..and always have.

Always a faithful fan,
Diane

I Am A Fan – Unapologetically

Yesterday I was called a joke for the way I represent myself as a fan of the United States Women’s National Soccer team. Not something to be taken lightly, being called a joke. So I spent some time pondering what kind of fan I think I am.

What people think of me personally doesn’t really affect my decisions in life, but I do often evaluate if I am projecting a positive image. So, that’s the lens through which I evaluated what kind of fan I think I am.

The first thing I asked myself was, am I really a fan of USWNT? I do all of the generally accepted things someone characterized as a fan would do; I follow the team, attend games, buy gear. I know about the players and coaches. I follow all the social media accounts, many pundits and more than a few fans. Am I really a fan? Yup.

Next I asked myself, what kind of fan am I? In order to answer that I had to look at a few different kind of fans, these are my definitions:

CASUAL – Follow when some major tournament is going on, support the US more than the WNT.
ENGAGED – Follow the team before, during, and after major tournaments. Attend games, buy gear, know players, coaches. Probably follow on social media. Most likely follows favorite players closely. May or may not have opinions on style of play, personnel.
AFICIONADO – Follows the team and the game of WoSo in depth. Can converse on tactics and style of play. Usually has firm opinions on tactics, style of play, and personnel. Willing to share and discuss opinions on social media, to include blogs/pod-casts/major articles. Usually interested in furthering understanding and reach of WoSo in general.
FANATIC – Enthusiastic supporter of all things USWNT to the extreme. Frequently seen in face paint and red-white-blue everything at games, watch parties or just on the street. They love their team and aren’t afraid to show it. They often do not care about tactics, style of play or personnel, it’s all about the USWNTeam

So, where do I fall on this spectrum? As I defined each kind of fan I quickly realized almost every fan is a combination of two or more definitions.
I guess I’d have to say I am:
0% Casual
55% Engaged
35% Aficionado
10% Fanatic.

The last question I asked was, am I projecting a positive image in each of these areas?
Well, I’m not a Casual fan so I hope that itself is some kind of positivity. Since Engaged is the definition I think I identify with most, I hope it’s where I’m doing the most good. I do follow the team year round, including before, during, and after major tournaments. I do attend games, buy gear, know players, coaches. I do follow on social media. I do follow favorite players closely and all players at a minimum. I do have opinions on style of play and personnel. I think I check all those boxes. About a third of my fan make-up is as Aficionado and I think I’m doing an OK job at it. I’m knowledgeable, and continue to pursue knowledge, about the game. I can converse about tactics, style of play and personnel, in the right circumstances. I am immensely interested in furthering understanding and interest in WoSo. Pretty much check all those boxes, too. And yes, a small part of me is a Fanatic. I am very enthusiastic about USWNT, and have been known to do/say some crazy things in support of them.

Overall, I think I am projecting that positive image I try for, so why would someone call my type of fan a joke? In all of my definitions there is also a spectrum of expression. I choose to see my style of trying to look at both sides of a discussion as a positive. If you don’t agree with me, I am OK with that. If I can’t persuade you to see it from my perspective, I’m OK with that, too. I don’t see a need for people to come to my side of an argument, but I find not everyone is happy with expressing their opinion and letting it go at that. I put my opinion out there, knowing it may not suit everyone and I’m OK with that. I welcome a discussion of ideas, not a battle of wits. I appreciate good snark and sarcasm for what they are, but what they aren’t is a substitute for thoughtful discussion. I’ve been told I have my head in the sand, on the contrary, I seldom miss much. The internet is a wide open place, if you know where to look. I see much more than people might think. I choose not to dwell on the negative, plenty of people are doing that already. I see it, I analyze it, I just choose not to dwell on it. I try to have a balanced view of the team, its tactics, style of play and personnel. I try to look for what might be intended but not carried out. I do not try to disparage individual players, my favorites or not. I try not to look for the evil in coaches or federations, not to say it doesn’t exist, but there are plenty of people who will point it out, few who look for the good things accomplished. I try not to destroy other peoples interest in the team and game I love by looking for every perceived flaw (just or not) and exploiting it. I want people to come to the team and game with a vision of what it is and could be, but I don’t think tearing it apart in every aspect will do that. I choose to want people to get to know the team first before they decide what the shortcomings may be, let them discover their love before the other end of the spectrum tries to break their hearts.

All of this is not to say that people I perceive to be on the opposite end of the spectrum are bad, or that their opinions are wrong, it’s just not the way I choose to look at the team. I am positive that those people are convinced they are doing the right thing by pointing out all the shortcomings of the team, players, coaching staff, and federation. And they have a point, if you don’t call them out on their stuff, they will think it’s OK and continue doing what they’ve always done. But to my mind there is a time & place for it. In the knockout stage of the World Cup isn’t it. This is where the Fanatic in me comes out. If anyone thinks their constant badgering of what USA is doing wrong is going to change anything now, they are the delusional ones.

At the end of the day I think I’m the perfect type of fan, for me. I enjoy the games, the players and the atmosphere in the moment and save all the other stuff for another time. I get to watch and analyze and watch and cheer..what more could an engaged, knowledgeable, fanatic ask for?

Now It’s My Turn – Abby Wambach

It’s no secret that I am an avid fan of Abby Wambach, always have been, always will be. As such I’m over all the bullshit arguments people are making against her decision to sit out NWSL this year and solely play NT.

Let’s list some of the arguments against her decision:
A) Men aren’t able to skip club and just play NT
B) Wambach is being a prima donna
C) Wambach is thumbing her nose at NWSL and doesn’t support the league or having a league in the US.
D) Wambach has left WNY in the lurch with an empty roster spot and another player salary to pay because she was allocated and bankrolled by USSF.
E) Wambach is playing USSF/US Soccer because she’s not in jeopardy of losing her WC roster spot.
I’m sure there are others I’ve missed in the list, but this is a good start.

Now let’s see why I think they are bullshit:
A) In 2010, New Zealand (ironically WNY coach Aaran Lines’ home country) had 2 players play on WC MNT with no club affiliation, Australia had one. And to the extent my search attempts have been successful I haven’t been able to find any FIFA rule that states a player MUST play for a club to be selected to play on their national team. So maybe it’s Lines’ opinion, but that doesn’t make Wambach sitting out it wrong.
B) I have been unable to find an interview with Wambach by any media outlet that paints her as anything but confident and humble, usually giving credit for any personal accomplishments to her teammates, club or country. So saying she feels “entitled” to this consideration is a stretch. My opinion is she’s doing this because she feels she must –  not just because she can. (See E below)
C) Wambach started playing US professional club soccer in 2002 and has played in WUSA, WPS, and NWSL. She has been a public advocate of a US professional league for women and still is. She is one player on one team and her choosing not to play this year will not sink the league. If other players choose to play any place other than NWSL, that is their choice and will be handled by USSF/NWSL on a contractual and individual basis. Players have always had a choice where to play regardless if people think they were coerced into playing in NWSL. Her willingness to still make public appearances for WNY shows she still supports the league and its growth.
D) Lines himself admitted that he had had conversations with Wambach as far back as 2014 about her possibly not playing in 2015, so saying he was blindsided is stretching the truth. He also admits to trying to work a deal with Wambach, which to be honest just because someone offers you a deal and you turn it down doesn’t make you the bad guy. Did Wambach wait until after the draft to confirm it? We’ll have to take Lines word on that, but don’t you think he would have nailed that down before the draft if there was any question at all that she might not play? And as to WNY having to pay the player filling Wambach’s roster spot, rubbish. If you read the roster rules (OK, I concede they change without warning, but I’m using the last ones publicly available) any team that has over the specified allocated limit has to pay part of those player’s salary back to the league to be distributed to the teams that have under the allocated limit of players. So, WNY will be compensated for Wambach’s salary just like for the third allocated player they don’t have. WNY will not suffer in that regard. Being able to give another player a paid roster spot and WNY being able to not have to worry about another NT player being absent are just extra perks of Wambach’s decision.
E) No one player, Wambach or otherwise runs USSF or US Soccer. Does Wambach have some influence and do USSF/US Soccer listen when she speaks? Yes, I would imagine so. Any organization is wise to listen to employees who have “been there, done that”. Is she a marketable commodity? Without a doubt. Are these the reasons she’s been able to take this NWSL season off? I’m not naive enough to think they don’t play a role, but other considerations are in play as well. Wambach has arguably carried the hopes and dreams and marketability of the USWNT for over a decade. Training, playing, being targeted by opposing teams, winning, making appearances, being the face of the team at every dog and pony show for over a decade takes its toll. I think it’s not the least bit unreasonable to grant the request of a player to sit out a club season in support of the national team under those circumstances. Even most Wambach detractors still recognize her value to the team in big tournaments. I don’t agree with the 90 minute games Ellis has had her playing, but that doesn’t lessen her value when on the pitch. That is why she will be on the roster, not because she’s someones favorite or they “owe” her a spot or that she’s some sort of aging charity case, because she brings value that is unique to her.

There is no real way you can compare Wambach’s situation to any male NT player. The experiences of women on the NT and in US professional leagues is so very different it would be like comparing a chair to a pineapple. Since its inception the WNT has served as the women’s club team, leagues being so sporadic, short-lived and unpredictable that the only constant was playing for the NT. That USSF has finally decided to get behind a league as a development pathway for future NT players is commendable (and about time), but by no means provides the level of support the NT does for players. I think we can all agree we want the NWSL to grow and thrive to be the provider of that support, but it’s far from there right now.  This configuration is new and evolving and comparing recent or current male NT players to Wambach in this regard is not even fathomable to me.

Maybe your personal opinion of Wambach is colored black & white by recent events – WC lawsuit, calling out WNY teammates for lack of effort- or older events like MagicJack, but at least be willing to consider that there may just be some grey area in there.

Last season fans were outraged that players “had to” return to the US to play in NWSL and give up getting experience and making better money internationally. Now they’re screaming Wambach could spark an exodus – which is it fans? Do players “owe” NWSL their loyalty, or does that just extend to legends of the game?

Feel free to have at my arguments in the comments, all civil discourse encouraged.

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.

 

 

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.