Simulating a 48-team World Cup (nerd alert!)

With FIFA talking about backing away from the truly dreadful concept of three-team groups at the World Cup, I came up with a couple of alternatives — the four-team group under discussion but with a 24-team knockout round rather than 32, and a double-elimination tournament — for a Soccer America article.

The commenters don’t seem enamored of the double-elimination tournament, but that didn’t stop me from running simulations. Take a look at the Google workbook.

I did two types of brackets:

  1. A straight 48-team double-elimination bracket
  2. Double-elimination groups of 6, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals

Then I simulated each one using different simulators:

  1. https://www.footysimulator.co.uk/ for the straight bracket
  2. A combination of Elo ratings and random numbers for the 6-team groups

If you’d like to play around with the simulations yourself, just make a copy. You could even simulate a different qualifying process — in my suggested systems, most qualifying is done in 6-team groups from which the group winners advance and are eligible for byes, the runners-up advance, and certain third-place teams advance to fill Africa’s ninth spot (based on FIFA’s new quotas) and an intercontinental playoff.

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Grant Wahl: 1974-2022

The first time I met Grant Wahl was at an MLS playoff game in Kansas City in 2000. He was there because it was near his family in Kansas. I was there because I had a choice of games to cover and chose that one.

As the game meandered back and forth before a small crowd scattered in Arrowhead Stadium, Grant turned to me and said, “Are you sure you chose the right game?”

Grant got soccer. He understood the rhythms of the game and of its supporters. We’re a bantering bunch, sometimes cantankerous. He could disagree without being disagreeable. He had the acerbic wit we journalists strive to maintain, but he never drifted off into cynicism.

I didn’t always agree with his analysis for one simple reason. We’re soccer journalists. We don’t agree with each other 100% of the time.

But I enjoyed his company 100% of the time. The memory that has been in my mind today is of traveling at the 2008 Olympics and wandering around a distant stadium a few hours before game time. I have two memorable photos from that day. First, he and I marveled at a bunch of fish in some sort of feeding frenzy.

Second, he took what is, to this day, my favorite photo of myself.

I’m not showing this picture out of vanity. I think he simply composed it perfectly.

After that game, I had the Big Olympics Travel Misadventure that resulted in me taking a standing-room-only overnight train back to Beijing. He, of course, was nestled nicely in a hotel in Qinhuangdao. That was emblematic of the difference between Sports Illustrated and USA TODAY. He also reminded me of the difference in our publications at a media availability later in the Olympics in which he asked me to give him space to do a one-on-one chat with Hope Solo. He was working on a magazine feature-length piece, and USA TODAY was going to give me a tiny space in which to summarize everything.

I would have been mad if not for two things. First, he was right. USA TODAY was still in its milquetoast days, cranking out brief content for hotel-goers nationwide. Second, he was so damn nice. He had gone out of his way to tell me I was one of the people in soccer journalism who knew what I was talking about, praise that I still cherish.

And though his magazine, boasting a formidable 1-2 combo with him and Brian Straus, was more glamorous than USA TODAY, he and I bonded over our status as soccer writers before the “soccer writer” job existed. We had other responsibilities. He was a great basketball writer, too. We had to push for more soccer coverage, not just so we could focus on the sport we loved but because we felt the sport we loved deserved more love.

This may sound like Grumpy Old Man talk here. But this gets to why yesterday’s news is so shocking. Grant wasn’t old. He wasn’t even 50. I’ve written my share of remembrances — my mother (well after the fact, because she didn’t live long enough to see the internet), my father, my dog, my music teacher, Duke’s jazz ensemble director, Duke’s Wind Symphony director (aged 101), etc. I was in tears when I wrote one for my stepmom because she was too young, and I had just attended a memorial service that reminded me what she meant in my hometown.

The only time I’ve written one for someone younger than I am was the one for USA TODAY’s Dave Teeuwen, and that was mostly one anecdote that hopefully captured his spirit a little bit. Dave’s death was tragic but less of a surprise. He had dealt with cancer for several years and had defied his doctors by continuing to live.

The only time I’ve written one for someone whose passing came from out of the blue was for Dan Borislow, whose complexities I attempted to capture. As I said in the opening, I couldn’t make sense of his sudden death, and I still expected him to text me to gripe about the media.

In Grant’s case, I keep thinking that I should send him a message to express my sympathy. I can’t process that the fact that he can’t answer. When my wife came running up to say, “Grant Wahl died,” I heard what she said but couldn’t understand those three words in that order.

I try to make these things positive and uplifting. This one is difficult. I hope I’ve captured a bit of his spirit. As easygoing as he was, he could also be tenacious, as exemplified best in the last days of his life when he stood up to the discrimination and cruelties of Qatar.

As ridiculous as it is to hold a World Cup in Qatar, he couldn’t miss it. But in a just world, he would’ve seen the next one, and the next one and many more after that.

Instead, in all of these World Cups, we’ll be the ones missing out. We’ll be missing him.

How a sprawling US Soccer investigation affects USA Curling

Some time ago, in the in-fighting between USA Curling and the GNCC, GNCC officials asked for USA Curling CEO Jeff Plush to be set aside from the proceedings while everyone awaited results of investigations into sexual misconduct allegations involving National Women’s Soccer League coaches during his tenure as that league’s commissioner.

At the time, that suggestion was a bit premature. There was little reason to think Plush did anything other than fail to investigate claims any more than he could at the time, given the lack of resources at an underfunded NWSL office. The US Center for SafeSport was officially launched, by complete coincidence, the month he left the NWSL (March 2017).

Now that a two-year investigation has yielded a 319-page report, is there anything in Plush’s tenure that should cause USA Curling any concern? Or maybe the hiring of CFO Eric Gleason, who is also mentioned a couple of times in this report?

Here are the 39 mentions of Plush in the report, with my annotations in italics …

p. 10: “Certain witnesses—including the former Commissioner of the NWSL, Jeff Plush—never responded to our outreach.”

I had figured Plush might not be willing to speak on advice on counsel. But I think this report would have said whether he had given them such a response. Instead, it says “never responded.”

The first case of note here

PAUL RILEY

p. 15: “The following year, in 2015, Meleana Shim emailed the Portland Thorns’ front office and Jeff Plush, NWSL Commissioner, reporting Riley’s persistent and unwanted advances and his retaliation against her when she asked him to stop. Plush shared Shim’s email with USSF leadership.”

Meleana Shim is also known as Mana Shim, and her accusations in a story in The Athletic were a bombshell that led to former Thorns coach Paul Riley — until then, one of the most respected coaches in youth and pro women’s soccer — being fired as coach of the North Carolina Courage.

These revelations led me to write a piece about whether those of us in the media at the time — primarily cis hetero men — should have known. The tl;dr — I wish players would have felt comfortable telling people like me rather than waiting a few years and speaking, but I fully understand if they were more comfortable speaking with people who weren’t middle-aged cis hetero men.

The Thorns let Riley go but said nothing about the charges at the time. His record with the team was mildly disappointing, so letting him go didn’t raise any eyebrows.

p. 15: “Within a few months of being terminated from the Thorns, in early 2016, Riley was coaching again in the NWSL, this time at the Western New York Flash (“WNY Flash” or “the Flash”). In an email to Gulati, Flynn, and Levine, Plush conveyed his understanding that Gavin Wilkinson (Thorns General Manager) told the Flash that Riley was “put in a bad position by the player,” and that Wilkinson would “hire [Riley] in a heartbeat.” Although Plush, Gulati, Flynn, and Levine all had received Shim’s detailed complaint—and Plush and Levine received the 2015 Thorns Report—none appeared to provide the Flash with additional information.”

The Flash would later move to North Carolina to become the Courage.

This seems to reflect more poorly on Wilkinson than it does on Plush, but it does raise a question of the role of a commissioner in making sure teams are apprised of such things.

p. 30: “Jeff Plush, former Commissioner of the League, and B.J. Snow, former Head Coach of the U-23 National Team and Director of Talent Identification for the National Team, did not respond to our repeated outreach.”

In case you missed it before.

p. 43: “In 2016, NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush and Levine took initial steps to devise a set of workplace policies, including an anti-harassment policy, and engaged an external firm to provide initial drafts.”

The report goes on to state there’s no evidence this was ever distributed beyond the front office of the NWSL and NWSL Media in 2017. Reminder: Plush left in 2017. Lisa Levine, the longtime NWSL general counsel, left under pressure in 2021.

p. 71-72 (detailing the Shim complaint in September 2015): “Shim forwarded her email complaint to NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush a few hours after sending. Within minutes of receiving the email, Plush forwarded it to Levine, commenting: “See below. Not good.” An hour later, Plush forwarded the complaint to Gulati and Flynn; the following day, he forwarded it to USSF CFO Eric Gleason. All agreed it was important to monitor the situation. Plush spoke with the Thorns (with Paulson) the evening he received the complaint, and the following morning (with Wilkinson). Plush emailed Paulson: ‘“Let’s stay in close communication going forward.'”

Gulati is longtime USSF president Sunil Gulati. Flynn is longtime USSF CEO Dan Flynn. They’re no longer in those positions. Flynn retired. Gulati left soon after the US men’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup led to a plethora of candidates for the presidential election a few months later. Paulson is Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Timbers (MLS) and Thorns (NWSL). His father is former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson.

p. 76: “On September 22, 2015, the day before Riley was terminated from Portland, Sky Blue expressed interest in hiring him. When Paulson informed Wilkinson that Sky Blue had reached out to Mike Golub to ask to interview Riley, Paulson responded: “Good and thanks.” That same day, Plush (NWSL) emailed Dan Flynn (USSF), Sunil Gulati (USSF), and Lisa Levine (USSF) regarding “Coaching Updates,” and noted that the Sky Blue General Manager, Tony Novo, had asked about approaching Riley. Plush noted, “[o]bviously [Riley’s] situation is [] complicated.” Gulati responded, “Let’s make sure we are up to speed on how the Portland situation is being handled/investigated.”

Sky Blue is now NJ/NY Gotham FC. I don’t make these names.

p. 77: “After Riley was terminated, Plush and Levine discussed the need to inform Sky Blue about the reasons for Riley’s termination. Levine’s notes from the call reflect that a player had “alleged sexual harassment against Riley,” as well as the investigation’s conclusion that Riley had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” and “violated [a] directive to maintain professional distance from players.” That day, Levine called Novo, and shared this “confidential” information. According to Levine’s notes, Novo stated that he “think[s] this changes direction for us,” and would not share this information beyond his club’s ownership.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this differs from Western New York’s hiring process.

p. 78: “On February 16, 2016, Plush emailed Gulati (USSF), Flynn (USSF) and Levine (USSF), stating, “Western New York will announce Paul Riley as head coach on Friday. Not good news.” Plush explained that he gave the Thorns President’s phone number to the WNY Flash General Manager (Rich Randall) and that his “guess is that Gavin [Wilkinson] helped Paul with Aaron [sic] Lines.” Gulati responded, “we need to discuss.”

Side note: Aaran (the correct spelling) Lines is the former Flash coach who moved into an executive job. While with the Flash, he coached his wife, Alex Sahlen, who is the daughter of then-Flash owner Joe Sahlen. It was an unusual situation but not THAT unusual — plenty of women’s soccer players married coaches. In this case, I know of no complaints from Flash players about the situation.

p. 78-79 (cont.): “On February 19, 2016, the WNY Flash publicly announced Riley as the newest Head Coach. That same day, Plush followed up with the group of USSF executives to report on his discussion with WNY Flash Vice President Lines. Plush explained that Lines had “spoken in depth” with Thorns General Manager Wilkinson who “specifically brought up the ‘human resource issue.’ Gavin [Wilkinson] told [Lines] that he felt Paul ‘was put in a bad position by the player’ and he ‘would hire him in a heartbeat.’” Plush further wrote that “Aaran [Lines] spoke directly with Paul about the situation and Paul said ‘I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation.’ Aaran specifically told him he can not [sic] allow that the of [sic] situation to happen again. They are very comfortable with the situation at this point.”

Wilkinson was suspended from his duties in the wake of the Riley allegations going public but was reinstated when an investigation by DLA Piper turned up no wrongdoing. We’ll see if he keeps his job now.

p. 79 (cont.) “Besides this conversation between Plush and Lines, it does not appear that anyone from the League or the Federation communicated directly with WNY Flash regarding their hire of Riley. Levine noted that she did not recall any requests to provide the 2015 Thorns Report to the WNY Flash, or any consideration that this might be important. (Indeed, she could not recall if it came up or crossed her mind to share the 2015 Thorns Report outside of USSF or NWSL at any point.) Levine did not believe NWSL Commissioner Plush shared the 2015 Thorns Report externally, which she stated was not the responsibility of the League or USSF. Gulati and Flynn both do not recall speaking with anyone at the WNY Flash regarding Riley.”

I’d like to see a definition of “externally.”

p. 79-80: “No further action was taken regarding Riley’s hire. As Levine recalled, the League’s and USSF’s collective view at that time was that their role in coach hiring was limited. (“Club staff was club staff.”) Dan Flynn (USSF CEO), however, responded to the chain: “didn’t we discuss the need for a league policy and training?” Plush confirmed there was a prior conversation, and later that month Levine began compiling anti-fraternization and anti-nepotism policies from other professional sports leagues for use in the NWSL.”

Here’s where your opinion of Plush’s actions or inactions may vary. Should he have taken a bolder stance at this point? Or, given his general counsel’s laissez-faire attitude and no further action from US Soccer, did he feel he had little power to act?

I’ll say, from my experience covering the league, that I don’t think the commissioner had a ton of power. The league was still under the USSF thumb at this point, and it wasn’t exactly swimming in sponsorship money that would help it build a more robust front office. (It has more money now, and still, the public relations staffs throughout the league aren’t really dynamos.)

p. 82: “Johnson also spoke to NWSL Commissioner Plush early in the process. According to Johnson, Plush (like Flynn) focused on an ongoing issue Riley had with referees that might lead to a “likely” suspension.”

Johnson is North Carolina Courage president Curt Johnson, a veteran soccer executive.

Plush focusing on referees is … certainly bad optics. Maybe he could have addressed that if he had spoken with the investigators.

p. 82: Passing mention of Plush passing along a phone number that shouldn’t be some sort of secret. Both of the people are NWSL team executives.

p. 83: “Malik stated he followed up with Plush to request a copy of the report that allegedly “cleared” Riley. Malik’s best recollection was that Plush either demurred that he would look into it or declined to share the 2015 Thorns Report in light of confidentiality issues.”

p. 83: “Duffy, too, recalled discussions in 2017 with Paulson, Flynn, Gulati, and
Plush about whether to share the 2015 Thorns Report with Malik.”

Duffy is Amanda Duffy, then the NWSL Managing Director of Operations and de facto boss after Plush left. She’s a highly respected veteran of several leagues and clubs.

p. 93: “In her interview with this investigation, Levine stated that she did not understand why these players were reaching out again about events from 2015. Specifically, Levine said that Shim and Farrelly had been given the opportunity then to speak with the Commissioner (then Plush).”

Again, Levine was forced out years later.

Second case …

RORY DAMES

Another coach who, until allegations were made public, was considered one of the best in the business. Players raved about him, as they did about Riley. In November 2021, a sports psychologist said Dames had “created a culture of fear and engaged in emotional and verbal abuse which is psychologically and emotionally harmful to players and staff.”

Some concerns had been raised years before.

p. 117: “A few months later, on February 25, 2015, Bailey forwarded internally at NWSL (to Jeff Plush, Commissioner) her October 2, 2014 email to Whisler.”

Not much context to add here.

p. 118: “On November 13, 2015, Jeff Plush (NWSL Commissioner) emailed Jay Berhalter (USSF CCO), Jill Ellis (National Team Head Coach), and Dan Flynn (USSF CEO) the 2015 NWSL Player Survey results. Plush stated, “The comments section provides the most specific information . . . some is quite disturbing . . . .””

And that’s about it. The other mentions are in a footnote.

So Plush knew about the accusations about Riley and Dames. He made sure other people knew. Should he have done more?

It’d be nice if he would address the question.

The Timbers/Polo saga—what did we learn?

On June 3, 2021, a woman who wasn’t sure whether to pursue misdemeanor harassment charges against her husband sat in her home with two people pledging to help, along with a good friend who was serving as translator.

In an audio recording of the session, the two visitors come across as kind and compassionate, trying their best to solve her interconnected problems. She’s dependent on her husband financially and otherwise. She needs to get her kids to school. She wants to go to school herself and get a job. All of these things are difficult, and the visitors offer solutions.

Here’s the problem … 

The husband is Andy Polo, then a player for the Portland Timbers. The two visitors are Jim McCausland, a retired Portland police detective now serving as the Timbers’ director of security, and Christine Mascal, a lawyer retained by the Timbers to represent Polo. McCausland and Timbers executive Gabriel Jaimes also raced to Polo’s home May 23 while police were still on the scene gathering evidence, having been called to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman. 

Anyone who has listened to the June 3 recording would agree that the friend and translator is a saint. But she is not a lawyer. And she is not a social worker sitting there on behalf of a government agency.

So the advice Génessis Alarcón received for dealing with this dire predicament came from two people who, well-intended or not, were representing parties Alarcón would later sue — Polo and the Timbers.

The Timbers are free from that suit, thanks to an undisclosed settlement in late March. Polo, not the Timbers, is the primary target for Alarcón and her lawyers in the United States and Peru, where Polo returned after his dismissal from Portland in February. 

The club also won’t face any further punishment from MLS, which turned to Proskauer Rose to investigate the Timbers’ actions. The law firm, which counts MLS as a frequent client, said the team didn’t induce Alarcón to forgo pursuing charges. MLS fined the Timbers a pittance of $25,000 for not realizing they were supposed to report the Polo incident to the league under the MLS Constitution, as improbable as that seems for a club that employs a general counsel as well as an HR staff. 

But this isn’t going away so easily. 

Start with Madison Shanley, who has frequently sung the national anthem before Timbers for more than a decade and for their wildly popular NWSL team, the Portland Thorns, since the women’s league launched in 2013. On April 3, she sang while wearing a T-shirt with the message “YOU KNEW,” directed at the organization over its handling of the Polo incident and of the case of Paul Riley, the former Thorns coach who was allowed to leave the club and sign elsewhere without anyone revealing that he had been accused of abuse and inappropriate behavior. Last fall, two players came forward to accuse Riley of sexual coercion. 

Shanley has since said she won’t sing the anthem again until she’s satisfied the club has made solid institutional changes. At the Timbers’ April 22 home game, supporters made it clear that they support Shanley and not team management. 

The club did indeed release a list of changes, including community initiatives and anonymous reporting lines. Those changes, though, don’t address the circumstances that put the Timbers in such a terrible situation in the first place. 

Nor do we see any reason to believe the Timbers or any MLS club — for that matter, any employer anywhere — learned a lesson about when and when not to intervene when police show up at a player or employee’s home while a spouse or partner is pleading for help. And to understand why, we have to ask a few questions about the Proskauer Rose report, which reads more like a list of excuses than the result of an exhaustive investigation. 

The Proskauer Rose report had no contact information, and a media spokesperson for the firm did not return an email. The Timbers declined to comment beyond what is publicly available.

To be sure, the Timbers did a few things right. The club had been helping Alarcón adjust to life in a new country well before the May 23 incident. When McCausland and Mascal visited June 3, they urged Alarcón to seek more help from the Department of Human Services and/or Catholic Charities.

But the Proskauer Rose report takes these actions as proof that the Timbers didn’t offer a quid pro quo for help. That might be literally true, but anyone looking at the situation from Alarcón’s perspective might have felt underlying pressure to back off. Mascal points out in the June 3 meeting that Polo could face a year in prison. She may not have meant that as an implied threat. But would anyone blame Alarcón for hearing “one year in prison” and thinking that if she pursues charges, she’ll lose her financial lifeline?

That’s one of several head-scratchers in the Proskauer Rose report: 

“Ms. Mascal explained to the investigators that she had not been provided with a copy of the police report from the May 23, 2021 incident, and therefore wanted to talk to Ms. Alarcon to better understand what had happened from Ms. Alarcon’s perspective.”

Reporters have a copy of the police report. Mascal couldn’t get it? 

Also, Proskauer Rose said its investigators spoke with six Timbers employees (including the CEO), Mascal, Polo and Alarcón while also checking out Alarcón’s audio recordings and “text messages, emails, and other relevant documents provided by the Timbers.” The report says nothing about speaking with the police or the DA. 

(Worth noting: Mascal resigned from the board of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center in 2019 for what was seen as a “victim-blaming” approach to representing sexual abuse defendants. One sample question she asked in court: “You don’t bring up threesomes with someone you just met, or is that who you are?”) 

“Mr. McCausland and Ms. Mascal each provided credible reasons for being present at the [June 3] meeting.”

Fine, but again, what was the “credible reason” for proceeding with no one representing Alarcón but a good friend who was translating?

The Proskauer Rose investigation was limited to (a) whether the Timbers tried to induce Alarcón not to pursue charges and (b) the Timbers’ failure to report the incident, so it didn’t cover the reason for Alarcón’s since-settled complaint against the club. That document shows another thing from which the Timbers and anyone similarly situated simply have to learn a lesson.

Polo didn’t go to jail May 23. He was given a citation and a June 23 court date. Police were satisfied that Alarcón’s friend and the Timbers staff could keep the couple safe. And that meant, Alarcón’s lawyer argued, that the team assumed responsibility for the situation. 

“Mr. Polo was permitted to be released to his household in part because of the safety plan that was promised by the Portland Timbers,” the complaint read. “Ms. Alarcon and law enforcement relied on the promises above made by the Portland Timbers management. The Portland Timbers failed to honor their responsibilities and duties outlined above, and further abuse and incidents and domestic disturbances occurred within the household after May 23, 2021, causing Ms. Alarcon continued pain and discomfort and significant emotional harm.”

In another action with unfortunate optics, MLS, under pressure from the MLS Players Association, paid his contract in full even though he was terminated and set free to return to Universitario de Deportes, his first pro club in Peru. You’d think that would mean Polo has plenty of money to hand over to Alarcón, but even though Universitario originally said he had to sort things out with her before making his debut, reports from Peru say he turned down one deal and hasn’t settled anything

“We have more than a decade of outstanding work in the community and off the pitch of which we are extremely proud,” read a Timbers press release when the investigation report was made public. “However, we are not perfect and will make mistakes occasionally. When that happens, corrections will be made, and we will learn from them.”

Those corrections can only be made if the mistakes are fully understood. From all available evidence, that is not yet the case. 

When it comes to legal liability, the Polo case may be closed. But it’s not going away.

MLS, the Timbers and all soccer clubs need a serious rethink of what they can and can’t do to assist players’ families, particularly when their relationships turn abusive. If they don’t learn from the past, they’ll be condemned to repeat it.

And then we’ll see more supporters groups holding “YOU KNEW” banners.

Cross-posting to beaudure.medium.com

US Soccer money (and bylaws!), 2022 edition

With the settlement of the WNT lawsuit (pending CBA) and the upcoming AGM, it’s time to CYA and BYOB and too many abbreviations.

Let’s try that again …

The women’s lawsuit is over as long as they can finish up their contract. Also, the Annual General Meeting is coming up, where the big event will be the alliterative presidential election between Cindy Cone and Carlos Cordeiro, but other orders of business include some intriguing proposals.

How to digest this?

First: Read my Guardian story on the lawsuit settlement and why there’s still a lot to do it. I won’t rest easy until the CBA is signed.

Second: Check out the women’s pay resource page, which has a lot of analysis that gives the lawsuit’s history and an analysis of why the suit was doomed. I’ve added a tl;dr high-level summary.

Next: Dig through the updated financial numbers as best you can. They’ve completely changed the way they report the numbers in the AGM book this year, so I just punted on that part, but you can still compare 990s and Audited Financial Statements for the last … many years.

Observations on those numbers:

  • There’s a case to be made that the Cindy Cone/Will Wilson cuts were too drastic. Yes, revenues fell by more than 50%. But so did expenses. Funny how that happens when the national teams aren’t playing.
  • The answer to the “will sponsors pay less in the COVID year?” question is “Yes,” though not as much as you might think. SUM paid $22.2m, down from $30.25m. Nike paid $17.644m, down from $22.65m.
  • Jurgen Klinsmann is, at least, no longer on the federation’s books. But others such as former executive Brian Remedi got severance packages.
  • Former CEO Dan Flynn and former WNT coach Jill Ellis are now listed as “ambassadors” making considerable sums of money. Where’s the embassy?
  • The legal bill in FY 2021 was barely half of the FY 2020 bill. I’m guessing it’s because fewer things were filed. The WNT case had the summary judgment. The NASL case has been on hold like a caller trying to reach the cable company.
  • One massive line item cut in FY 2021: Travel dropped from $34.1m to $5.2m.
  • Aside from that, it’s the wrong year to draw any conclusions.

And some notes from the AGM book

  • The Athletes Council has put forward a bylaw proposal to pay the president $125,000 a year. That has pros and cons, but the primary rationale is that there are only so many people who can do the job for free. Maybe they don’t want to have so many economists running the fed now.
  • A couple of longtime board members/life members are pushing for stricter term limits.
  • The UPSL is applying for recognition as a National Affiliate. As far as I can tell, its peer organizations are not, but they might not be in enough states. The UPSL is now in 38 states.
  • I don’t see non-Para players on the Disability Soccer Committee. It’d be nice to see someone from the MNT or WNT take an interest.
  • Nicole Barnhart is on a couple of financial committees now.
  • Becky Sauerbrunn is on the Rules Committee, which reviews the bylaw and policy proposals and comes up with polite ways of saying “you seriously can’t expect this to be passed.”
  • John O’Brien continues to be the only member of the Sports Medicine committee without “Dr.” in front of his name.
  • Lori Lindsey and Oguchi Onyewu are co-chairs of the Technical Development committee.

Cordeiro, the states, sexism, the WNT, etc.

First order of business: It is vitally important that you read my story for The Guardian on Carlos Cordeiro’s surprising candidacy for US Soccer president.

Done? OK, let’s move on …

You read a lot about the Cordeiro record in that piece. To wit …

  1. Business relationships turned sour.
  2. He failed to assemble a management team and left a void, which may partially explain how the legal brief that forced him to resign got through. You could make a case that the USSF president, an unpaid volunteer, should be more focused on vision-setting than day-to-day work like reading legal briefs. But Cordeiro didn’t delegate well, according to many of my sources, and even if he wanted to, he didn’t have people in place to help out.
  3. His public statements were tone-deaf. When he was vice president, that wasn’t an issue. But the presidency is a public-facing job. Maybe the federation doesn’t want another outspoken person like Sunil Gulati, but the president has to be able to communicate with the masses.
  4. He didn’t settle any part of the lawsuit with the women’s national team. Cone did.
  5. According to the US Soccer Foundation, he picked an unnecessary fight with them that wound up in court. And he didn’t settle it. Cone did.

So you may still be wondering why state associations are supporting Cordeiro.

First, let’s give credit where it’s due. State associations train coaches and refs. They run player development programs. They run TOPSoccer for players with disabilities. They maintain lists of suspended coaches and players. All of this is important, and it’s only getting more complicated as other organizations come in with competing programs, the vast majority of which are designed for the “elite.” My experiences with Virginia’s youth association have been overwhelmingly positive, as have my conversations over the years with representatives from other states.

So when they complain that their needs aren’t being met, those complaints deserve a hearing. Whether Cone is hearing them is difficult to judge from afar.

But what I can tell you is that some misinformation is affecting some states’ judgment, and I’m a bit confused in some cases about what the states want.

The states

Grant programs: The Innovate to Grow program is relatively new. It started with $467,303 in FY 2018 and grew to $3m annually.

Dave Guthrie from Indiana Soccer says that program was cut. Cindy Cone says it was redirected to COVID relief and is now back in place.

Either way, one thing to consider is that if sponsors bail, programs like this will be more difficult to fund.

General programming: Spending on players, coaches and referees increased under Cordeiro. But this was planned before Cordeiro took office — in fact, he mentioned it during the 2018 campaign.

Development Academy: Guthrie also pointed to the DA as something that was cut with no warning and left states in a lurch. The communication angle of it is worth questioning. Cutting the program — to me, at least — was a no-brainer. It wasn’t working on the girls’ side because the ECNL was already so firmly entrenched, and having a big program for boys without a comparable program for girls … well, that’s not going to fly.

And the DA undercut a lot of other programs and added to a plethora of “national” leagues and tournaments — which, coincidentally, I just wrote about. (Not yet published.)

Voting power: This is a case of misinformation and mistrust, and Alan Rothenberg said he thinks Cordeiro is tapping into resentment over something that was forced by Congress via the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Athletes need to have 33.3% of the vote. Congress still hasn’t updated archaic language referring to national team players as “amateur athletes,” and I have indeed encountered some people who think “amateur” means “over-30 player for the Milwaukee Bavarians” rather than “recently retired women’s national team player” or “Paralympian.” In any other context, yes. In Congress, no.

Let’s run through USOPC bylaws, shall we?

p. 4:

ee) “10 Year Athlete” means an athlete who has represented the United States in a Delegation Event, World Championships, or another event designated by the USOPC (together with the AAC) and the relevant NGB (together with that NGB’s athlete advisory council) as an elite-level event for purposes of this definition, within the previous 10 years; and

ff) “10 Year+ Athlete” means an athlete who has represented the United States in a Delegation Event, World Championships, or another event designated by the USOPC (together with the AAC) and the relevant NGB (together with that NGB’s athlete advisory council) as an elite-level event for purposes of this definition, but not within the previous 10 years.

p. 42

i) Athlete representatives will equal at least 33.3% of all NGB boards of directors, executive Boards, and other governing Boards.

a. At least 20% will be 10 Year Athlete representatives; the remaining will be either 10 Year or 10 Year+ Athlete representatives

p. 2

“Delegation Event” means, individually or collectively as applicable, the Olympic Games, the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic Games, the Paralympic Winter Games, the Pan American Games, and the Parapan Am Games;

So there’s no wiggle room to define an “athlete” as you or me (unless you’re a former national teamer, in which case, hi and thanks for reading).

Yes, there’s some squabbling over the remaining 66.7%. For the National Council, the main voting body, the Youth Council, Adult Council and Pro Council were equally whacked, down to 20% each.

Some states would be happy to cut the pros down a bit more. I think that’s a hard case, though you could (and the progressive association in West Virginia did) make a case that the men’s and women’s Division 1 leagues should have an equal share of that vote.

The elephant in the room, frankly, is the Adult Council vote. Barring a Vardy-esque ascension from the UPSL to the national team, no elite-level players will come from this group. Elite players come from the youth ranks, as do the lion’s share of recreational players. Registration revenue from the various youth associations runs roughly five to eight times that of the adult associations.

So why does the Adult Council have an equal vote to the Youth Council? Why don’t state associations have 40% of the vote, allocated to each association (whether youth, adult or combined) according to number of registrants?

But I digress. There are two more quotes from Guthrie I’d like to share:

On whether some issues were more of an issue with the CEO, or lack thereof: “The President of U.S. Soccer sets the vision, the strategy, the plan and the priorities. A lot of members are very frustrated with Cindy because she’s basically ignored us. We don’t seem to be part of her vision. She clearly doesn’t see us as a priority. Just look at how she cut the DA and gutted grants for youth and adults. Even worse, in the debate over the board structure, we were made to feel like we didn’t belong. We deserve a president that includes us, and that’s why we’re backing Carlos.”

On whether sponsors would bail if Cordeiro is elected: “Actually, we should thank Carlos. He was the one who created the Commercial Committee under an independent director, which ultimately recommended that the commercial rights be brought back in-house. That means 2026 will bring huge opportunities for the Federation. We believe that, given his business background, Carlos is the best person to drive our commercial strategy over the coming years. I haven’t heard of a single sponsor getting involved in this election and, frankly, I don’t think it would be appropriate for them to get involved. The decision of who is our president belongs to the voting members. Our Federation is bigger than any one person, and all of us—including Carlos—are focused on one thing: making sure 2026 is a huge success.”

Women’s national team and sexism

Is sexism playing a role here?

It’s difficult to dismiss, especially when states that supported Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino are suddenly saying USSF needs someone with “business acumen.”

Is resentment toward the WNT playing a role here?

Obviously, no one’s going to say so publicly. Maybe some voters have done the math and are concerned that their programs will suffer more cuts if the federation has to shell out a massive settlement, or they’re concerned that they’re already being cut because the federation has to pay for lawyers to face off against the armada of lawyers the women have assembled.

But this much is clear: The WNT does not hold sway over the rank-and-file of US Soccer. If it did, no one would’ve called Carlos Cordeiro to come back.

The media

Cordeiro has never been at ease with the media. I’ve certainly seen it first-hand. I had to work pretty hard to get comments from him for my story, and I’ve seen complaints elsewhere that he hasn’t talked with other reporters.

That said, I got no response whatsoever from the women’s national team’s players association or a PR rep from an NWSL team. None. We’re talking about people whose job it is to respond to such queries. And this was an opportunity for these people to tee off on Cordeiro. (Or to surprise me and say they suddenly support him.)

Bottom line: People in soccer are getting more and more brazen about choosing sympathetic, unquestioning audiences. It’s one thing to do that when you have deeply personal stories to tell, and you’re more comfortable telling someone who can more directly empathize for reasons of age, gender or any other commonality. It’s another when it’s your job to be held accountable.

Finally, FIFA

Cordeiro touts his relationship with FIFA — he’s FIFA’s senior advisor for global strategy and governance — and how that would help with the World Cup. Rothenberg argues that Cordeiro is essentially FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s right-hand man, and that’s more of a conflict of interest than an asset.

Cone says her priority is wrapping up the selection of host cities, which she expects in the second quarter this year, and then working with those host cities on the goals of growing the game. FIFA is taking a more active role in overall organization of World Cups than it used to, regardless of the host.

On Twitter, advocacy, hostility and objectivity

My Dad was an intellectually rigorous man. He majored in philosophy, racing through college so he could lead a platoon in Korea, then returned from the war to get his doctorate in the emerging field of biochemistry. He remained in the Marine Reserves, rising to the rank of colonel, and was a stern but beloved faculty member at the University of Georgia for more than 40 years.

At one family holiday gathering, he demanded to know everyone’s views on abortion. The answers ranged from the biological (we had one doctor in the room) to the theological (one Episcopal priest) to the anecdotal. For the most part, he was impressed.

So what was his position? “Oh, I still don’t know,” he said.

Dad was certainly opinionated about some things. In other cases (abortion, Israel, etc.), he saw a difficult balance of legitimate views. The common thread was the process.

The point of the story: I was raised to believe in the Socratic method of asking questions, sometimes taking it to the extreme. Journalism was therefore a logical (but frustrating) career choice.

It’s also a misunderstood career, especially these days.

Granted, objective journalism isn’t really in vogue these days. In sports, more journalists are embracing homerism. In journalism at large, Jay Rosen has raised pointed questions about the legitimacy of the “view from nowhere,” which is unrealistic. In my experience, blind adherence to airing “both sides” is ripe for abuse. Sometimes, one “side” is telling the truth and the other is lying, and it’s a journalist’s job to say so.

In my own work, I’ve certainly felt emboldened to be a little more opinionated in the last seven years or so. One reason: I think we’re in danger of losing the war on bullshit, so we need to be a bit more aggressive in challenging the liars. Another reason: I left USA TODAY, where the management of the time wanted to rock the boat as little as possible, and I found freelance clients (bless you, The Guardian and FourFourTwo) who offered a bit more freedom. And getting older gives everyone a bit more freedom to speak up.

But at heart, I’m still someone who likes to get to the truth. That sometimes means challenging people with whom I’d usually agree. I questioned the women’s soccer national team in their labor dispute over a few misrepresentations and lack of clarity — their lawyer refused to say anything beyond “equal pay for equal play” in comparison with the men’s team, even though the men don’t draw salaries and play different competitions.

A lot of people don’t get that. Anyone who asks questions must be the enemy. Scorn them. Mock them. Attack their credibility.

And, of course, some people are just jerks.

My default on Twitter is to engage. I do learn a lot from the discussions, and they help me get my thoughts in order, like an ongoing rough draft.

But I’ve spent too much time in the past year engaging with jerks. Or people who just don’t get it.

https://twitter.com/DanLoney36/status/943600245434404865

I’m actually going to do the opposite. I’m going to declare a Christmas amnesty and unblock a lot of people. Not all. I blocked an “Infowars” guy, and I’m not going down that road again.

We’ll see how long it lasts. If I had eternal patience, I’d run for a soccer board position.

Upcoming coverage/career plans

Mid-major announcement to start with: Ranting Soccer Dad now has its own site. I’m not married to the design yet, but it should stabilize in the next few days. This site and podcast will be my top work priority for some time to come. I’m even planning a related book. Stay tuned.

Ranting Soccer Dad deals primarily with youth soccer, but it ties into everything in the soccer world — U.S. Soccer politics, the national teams, the pro leagues (men and women), etc. Even if you think you’re not interested in youth soccer, check it out. You’ll find some interesting guests.

I’ll still be freelancing on occasion for The Guardian and Four Four Two, and I’m open to other suggestions. You may be a little less likely to get random pitches from me for the foreseeable future.

What about women’s soccer? 

These days, there’s less of a place for me in terms of NWSL and WNT coverage. Part of that is simply where my reporting has carried me (huge stories elsewhere), part of it is the ongoing decline of the news media (it’s nice to get paid every once in a while).

But I’ll still want to have a lot of female guests on the podcast, and we’ll certainly talk about every level of the women’s game. When I see youth soccer leagues in our area, I see a lot more boys than girls, and that concerns me. Farther up the ladder, I frankly was not impressed with the quality of play in the NWSL this year, and I’m not sure whether that’s a coaching preference for a “physical” style of play or a lack of quality coaching in clubs and college. (Probably a bit of both.) We’re going to address that at Ranting Soccer Dad, and I’d love to talk with a lot of people who can diagnose the problem better than I can.

I’m also going to be a bit of an agitator for more and better coverage. Equalizer Soccer is a great resource, and SB Nation’s various blogs are generally great at giving the women their due. Elsewhere, coverage is lacking, and I’m not just talking about the News & Observer‘s inexplicable decision to ignore an NWSL semifinal that took place in its backyard. ESPNW ramped up a bit for the NWSL playoffs, but I wouldn’t say they were a vital WoSo news source throughout the year. Other large sports sites give irregular coverage.

On all the politics around WoSo — I had good advice yesterday to “amplify” good reporting and analysis. I think I can do that. I’m going to avoid rehashing old debates. In the past 18 months or so, I’ve dealt with three primary groups of people — people who’ve made good points and engaged in actual discussion, people who may mean well but come across as condescending know-it-alls who don’t listen, and people who are simply reprehensible. If the last group takes over WoSo fandom without challenge, the sport will suffer.

But I’ve learned a lot from the discussion, and I intend to keep learning without being as active a participant as I have been. This is a starting point:

And yes, learning is a lifelong process. Even if most of us think we know everything at age 21. (Hey, I did too!)

So I’m not quite giving up WoSo. But I can’t really justify taking up a season credential at Spirit games and coming home to write about it without a significant outlet, and I’m not really shopping myself around to find a significant outlet. You’re probably more likely to find me on Spirit Hill next season than in the pressbox.

I’m very happy with what I’ve done in WoSo — everything from covering W-League games in the mid-2000s with maybe 200 people in the stands to the 2008 Olympic final and the 2011 Women’s World Cup opener. I’ve covered labor disputes and the WPS implosion, and I’ve covered a lot of good soccer and good soccer players. I hope someone coming out of college today gets to have all those experiences. (Maybe not the WPS implosion.)

What about MMA? 

I enjoyed writing for Bloody Elbow this year, and I really should finish my Cageside memoir at some point. There’s just too much going on in soccer right now.

What about Olympic sports?

I’ll update the Perpetual Medal Count at some point, and I’ll do one for winter sports as well. And I’ll do the occasional post. Most likely on curling.

What about music?

Once a month at Popdose and occasionally at Mostly Modern Media, where I’ll also periodically skewer political bullshit in all forms. And economists.

What about everything?

Good song to end this:

The best post-T&T pro-promotion/relegation argument

Predictably, Soccerocalypse has brought out the usual arguments from the promotion/relegation crowd:

  1. Youth development will be so much better!
  2. Players will be under constant pressure!

If anyone could turn their attention away from Twitter long enough to read something longer than 280 characters at a time, they would have seen this addressed in the pro/rel series — both pros (and alleged pros) and cons.

The short versions:

Youth development: European clubs that have good academies have them so they can sell players (and yes, solidarity payments/training compensation is a legitimate issue with legal potholes I can’t fully comprehend). Chelsea’s inability to develop a first-team player from within is legendary, just one example of a “broken” academy system in the birthplace of soccer.

MLS has actually made progress in youth development because its clubs know they can avoid the boom and bust of pro/rel. They feel confident spending millions to create what wasn’t there before. Then they have a pathway, via their oft-derided relationship with USL, to send promising 17-year-old players to the first team via the USL bridge.

And then MLS teams can play their youngsters because they know they’re not going to be relegated. That’s one reason why MLS has developed so many players who turn around and beat the USA in CONCACAF. (I have heard arguments that MLS needs to impose stricter limits on international players. Then I’ve heard arguments saying MLS needs to spend more on international players to raise the level so that any U.S. players who make that first team will be more appropriately challenged.)

Pressure: Yes, we know. Someone in a German locker room threw a shoe at Eric Wynalda.

shoe

First of all, the idea that you’re “playing for your job” at every training session in Europe but not in MLS is inflated. European clubs aren’t going to cut people mid-contract. You can lose a starting spot, sure, and then you can regain it the next week. That’s not unique. If you want to see job insecurity, watch the NFL, where a kicker can miss once or twice on Sunday and be unemployed on Monday.

Second: Bobby Warshaw tells a different story of playing for a relegation-threatened team. His teammates in Scandinavia all just wanted to wash their hands of it and be gone.

And it’s not as if pressure always makes diamonds. Sometimes, it makes dust. In this clip, Woody Harrelson is Trinidad and Tobago. Wesley Snipes is the USA.

The USA didn’t lose because the media and supporters are too nice to them. They played tense. Cautious. Trinidad and Tobago did not.

After Prince died, Saturday Night Live ran a tribute. Jimmy Fallon told a story of being at a party where he was on stage wondering if he could get Prince to come up and play. Then he saw the crowd parting and Prince basically floating to the stage. Prince came up to Fallon and gave him a look that said, “Yeah, I got this.”

That’s what the USA needed. Not overconfidence. But that sweet spot between confidence and complacency in which they say, “I got this.” Only Christian Pulisic, who’s too young to have been through the same CONCACAF wars (or relegation battles — see Altidore, Jozy) as his teammates, played with that attitude.

But let’s say there’s a benefit to playing in a league that’s more intense than MLS — though, if you were ever in a locker room with Taylor Twellman or Dom Kinnear after a game, you know things can get pretty intense. Why is Germany more intense than the USA? Why is Germany more intense than Scandinavia?

It’s because Germany has a deeper soccer culture.

Same reason Mexico and the big Euro leagues are more intense than MLS or Scandinavia. For all the progress made in the USA since Paul Caligiuri took a wild shot in Trinidad in 1989, this country is still a good bit behind everyone else. Youth soccer participation plateaued and then started dropping, and while a lot of those kids turn up wearing Messi or Rooney jerseys, a lot more never watch soccer on TV or in person.

So if you want to make a good argument for promotion/relegation, try this:

Pro/rel will help deepen the soccer culture in this country.

And I believe that. Most of what I’m saying here on pro/rel is the same stuff I’ve been saying for 15 years, no matter how much it’s been misrepresented by the PRZ on Twitter. But this is an argument that I can’t remember hearing before. Maybe some people made it, but it was drowned out in all the “PRO/REL WILL OBVIOUSLY MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER BUT MLS/SUM/USSF/STEVE BANNON ARE CONSPIRING TO KEEP THE NFL BIG” nonsense.

This is your argument. This is something you can present to people who have money on the table — not the Monopoly money Silva and company threw at MLS so they could create the narrative that MLS turned down a gazillion bucks to institute pro/rel now.

Is it enough? I don’t know. The other realities still exist. We have a Division I soccer league now where we didn’t in 1992, and it’s because people were enticed to invest in a scheme that reduced the risk from “might as well burn your money” to “there’s a small chance this might work.” If you’d told people in 1992 we’d have a soccer league that consistently drew 40,000 people in Atlanta and Seattle, people would’ve laughed at you. (Especially Atlanta. I grew up in Georgia, and I’m astounded.)

But if the pro/rel crowd is willing to drop the nonsense, along with the conspiracy talk and nonsensical legal actions, maybe there’s a chance to win the argument.

If I were elected USSF president (no, I’m not running — there’s a reason a lot of sane, qualified people from Peter Wilt to Julie Foudy aren’t interested), I’d do the following:

  1. Divisions 2 and 3 go pro/rel next year. I’m torn on whether the USL brand name should stay. The NASL brand name should not. It has a history of incompetence, and even the glory days of the late 70s were built on non-traditional glitzy Americanized soccer. Besides, given the existence of Mexico, the “North American” part of the brand name never rang true. Keep the clubs — to start, put the clubs on the soundest financial foundation in D2 and the others in D3.
  2. Division 4 becomes the top amateur division (semipro clubs are allowed to compete, but it’ll be mostly amateur, as these leagues are now) for the top tiers of the major amateur leagues — PDL, NPSL, UPSL, Cosmopolitan, GCPL, other USASA Elite Amateur Leagues. Clubs that finish in the top three of these leagues can apply for D3 status — for the foreseeable future, only a few clubs will do that. (At this point, I don’t think we can or should relegate clubs from pro D3 to amateur D4. If D3 gets too big, start a pro D4, more or less mimicking what England has recently done with its fifth tier.) Have a D4 national championship if it’s feasible, replacing some of the existing and sort of redundant national amateur cups.

Two reasons to this. First, it’ll make the lower divisions much more interesting.

And it just might demonstrate to the powers- and purseholders-that-be that there’s a benefit to expanding the pyramid and building a soccer culture.

Or, you know, just yell and scream and sue. That’s working so far, right? And competition between uncooperative leagues worked so well that we’re about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ASL, right?

 

Here’s what WON’T help U.S. Soccer

snake-oil“That’s right, folks! Step right up and get your miracle elixir! Cures everything from chronic flatulence to an inability to qualify for the World Cup or Olympics from CONCACAF!”

Doesn’t work that way. The problems have deeper roots. A dash of snake oil isn’t going to make the U.S. men’s team (or women’s, which has some similar issues and some very different) magically better.

Among the pet programs that won’t make the USA follow France’s path from qualifying failure to World Cup champion in four years:

Ramping up “pressure”: Consider how Trinidad and Tobago played in their cozy, bumpy stadium with the soothing hum of generators or pumps or whatever created what little “atmosphere” existed last night. They were loose. They were having fun. Only Christian Pulisic, who’s too young to have been through the battles of his teammates, played with any flair to match what the home side brought to the marshland of Ato Boldon Stadium.

If anything, the U.S. players seemed too tightly wound. Michael Bradley, the captain, was raised in a family that lives for competitive pressure. Jozy Altidore has dealt with the wrath of the global soccer media in the midst of a relegation fight, and yet he was probably a lot better before all that, back in the 2009 Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying that year.

Which brings us to this …

Promotion/relegation: I dealt with this in the pro/rel series. Pro/rel doesn’t magically turn every club into Barcelona. It doesn’t make clubs run awesome academies — in fact, you might end up with some major gaps as major cities’ clubs lose Division 1 status and have to cut funding.

And can we cut the nonsense that players in MLS clubs aren’t playing for their jobs? North America is littered with MLS washouts. (Some of whom turn around and score against the USA in CONCACAF play.)

Dismantling MLS: The league needs improvement, sure. But it’s worth noting that the goals that eliminated the USA — from Panama and Honduras — came from guys with plenty of MLS experience.

Costa Rica is going back to the World Cup. MLS players scored 11 of their 14 goals in the Hexagonal.

And the oft-derided MLS-USL partnership has created an alternate pathway to the oft-derided college game. Go to an MLS academy. If you’re ready to go pro at age 17 or 18 but not quite ready for the first team, play for the reserves in USL. Then up to MLS.

Clubs have made these investments because they’re financially secure. They feel confident that they’ll be in the top division for the foreseeable future. Any change to that structure needs to be made very carefully.

Let’s put it this way: If you dismantle MLS, you’re also dismantling most of the free academies that exist in this country. How is that supposed to help?

Having the “passion” to hurl rotten fruit at players when they return: Sure, let’s make the notion of being a professional and international soccer player less attractive in a country that has a ton of sports options. That’ll work.

Along those lines …

Telling people how to live their lives: Remember when everyone was telling Landon Donovan to abandon his family and move to Europe for our own satisfaction?

Two issues with that:

  1. That’s not going to inspire future athletes to devote themselves to soccer and international play.
  2. Couldn’t the U.S. men have used a Landon Donovan last night, no matter how many years he spent in MLS instead of the Bundesliga?

Hiring a savior: One guy isn’t going to turn around the men’s national team, let alone change the entire culture in this country. Jurgen Klinsmann had no idea how to change youth soccer other than the vague imposition of things he knew as a child in Germany.

The people working to change the culture are working at the U.S. Soccer Foundation (different from the federation) and other organizations trying to make the sport more accessible.

Turning the sport into a job for which only the elites may apply: Eastern Europe in the Cold War had a bunch of sports machines that culled the top sports talent at an early age and herded them into camps. Brazil and other countries thrive on street soccer. Which group has had more success?

Reading too much into one World Cup, either 2002 or 2018: Was Bruce Arena a genius in 2002? Somewhat, but it helped that Portugal collapsed and the ref didn’t notice John O’Brien’s handball against Mexico. Was he suddenly an idiot in 2018? Somewhat, but it helped that Panama scored a phantom goal and Honduras (and T&T) got a couple of flukes.

Wins amplify good decisions. Losses amplify bad ones.

* * * *

Here’s what WILL help:

“Incremental changes at multiple levels”:

Reducing the “travel” in travel soccer: Even if you have tons of scholarship money, explain to me how a kid with two working parents who don’t control their own schedule are going to get that kid to every practice and game all over a five-state region?

Related to that …

Ending the turf wars: We have an arms race. Club A is in the Development Academy, so Club B has to be in the ECNL. Then Club C has to travel to multiple showcases everywhere from Disney World to that massive soccerplex in Indiana that’s hosting everything these days.

Remembering that we’re still competing for players and fans: Quit telling 9-year-olds that the stuff they’re doing now will pay off when they’re 16-year-old pros. Quit pretending we can drive people out of the sport as children and expect them to be paying customers when they grow up.

If soccer was so deeply ingrained in the USA that we would put up with all this, fine. The truth is that we’re still fighting attitudes like this:

And that is a Democratic Congressman. His voters surely include a lot of immigrants and a lot of soccer fans. And yet he feels secure in bashing soccer. In 2017.

Education: I’ve had the chance to see more than 100 paid coaches at the U9-U12 level. Maybe 20 of them are people I’d be happy to have coaching my kids. Another 20 or so seemed OK. The rest are screamers, joystick coaches and assorted cretins.

I’ve also worked with about 100 parent coaches. Some of them are trying to learn what they can and apply what they’ve learned. Some can’t be bothered to do the two-hour online F license.

Listen: Everyone’s talking and no one’s listening. Not just on Twitter. Also in Chicago, where the most basic questions about the Development Academy or anything else get brushed off and ridiculed.

The USA has a lot of smart people. Not just one, not just a small group. And as Steve Gans found on his “listening tour” before declaring his candidacy for the U.S. Soccer presidency, they’re not being heard.

Maybe we should all do a listening tour.

And then keep some perspective. No one died here. That’s happening in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas and California. We’re talking about a sport, one in which the better team doesn’t always win. The USA probably wasn’t one of the top eight teams in 2002, and they probably aren’t outside the top 32 right now.

Let’s not set up an East German-style sports machine. Let’s not take the fun out of this sport and assume good athletes are going to want to play anyway.

Embrace diversity — in all senses. Embrace accessibility. Calm down and think.

And then we can do the same thing next year when the women don’t qualify for France 2019.