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:

Alex Morgan’s ejection from Epcot: Not a big deal, not not newsworthy

Let’s first get rid of the notion that male athletes or public figures would not make the news if they were tossed from a bar — let alone tossed from Epcot Center, where hundreds of people may have seen the incident — or some similar things:

Ric Flair tossed out of bar (pro wrestler)

Deshaun Watson kicked out of bar (football player)

Something about a hat (also football)

Something about paying with bubble gum (also football)

Noooo! Harry Potter himself tossed from bar! (male actor)

Underage college drinking (football)

Underage college drinking (basketball)

More college drinking (football)

Remember Freddy Adu? (soccer)

Jimmy Buffett tossed from NBA game (laid-back rock)

Politician pees on himself (Kenya)

In fact, see how this story was reported in the UK, which might not know Alex Morgan as well as Americans do and instead focused on “Ex Derby County star Giles Barnes.”

You may note that a couple of the players listed above were arrested. I’d suggest reading the stories and asking if a white woman would be arrested for the same crimes. (Yes, Giles Barnes, who was escorted from Epcot along with Morgan and Donny Toia, is Jamaican/English. Just a hunch, and I do have a relative who works elsewhere in the Disney megaplex, but I think Epcot security might be a little less arrest-happy than a lot of police officers in this country.)

Notice one other thing from this NFL arrest database: Many players arrested on DUI charges were immediately released. Not so in women’s soccer, where we have seen a couple of players arrested and quickly forgiven.

So is Alex Morgan’s ejection from Epcot newsworthy, bearing in mind the precedent in other sports? Yes.

Would a male soccer player of note — say, Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore — get the same sort of treatment? Probably. The fact that Morgan is also a published children’s author might make her a little more noteworthy than Bradley or Altidore, as might the fact that Morgan has won international championships. Maybe we should be comparing with Neymar or someone, and I think it’s fair to say Neymar would make headlines if he got tossed out of Epcot.

Is Morgan’s offense worthy of suspension? No. Other internal punishment? Meh.

Would I expect Portland fans to bring it up this weekend, just as college sports fans would pounce all over a player who got in a mild bit of trouble? Yes.

 

 

Spirit season recap and a post-Vegas anti-cynicism rant

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the Ranting Soccer Dad podcast opens with a few thoughts on why we shouldn’t give up on changing people and society as a whole, either on something relatively trivial like youth soccer or something horrifying like one man’s ability to assemble the weapons to wound 500 people. Maybe we need a little less competition and a little more cooperation to make the changes we need?

Also, a quick recap of the Washington Spirit’s season, in which the team fell from being 30 seconds away from a league championship to last place. Includes postgame comments from Spirit coach Jim Gabarra and the team’s star attacking player, Mallory Pugh.

(Apologies for the drop in volume during the Pugh interview. Also, if you can’t hear Gabarra’s last two words, they’re “No comment.”)

(Featured image from Flickr)

Spirit, Reign play a legitimately entertaining soccer game

Things didn’t bode well Saturday. Traffic heading up the Beltway to Maryland was worse than usual. The SoccerPlex didn’t have its usual Ben & Jerry’s cart — Yom Kippur apparently kept the proprietor away.

And Seattle’s Jess Fishlock, simultaneously one of the most inspirational and infuriating players in women’s soccer, started the game by clattering into Washington’s Mallory Pugh, the type of foul that does nothing other than send an early message.

Then a funny thing happened. An actual soccer game broke out. Free-flowing. Long strings of passes. Good runs.

For Spirit fans, it looked a bit like 2016 all of a sudden, with Pugh replacing Crystal Dunn and Meggie Dougherty Howard replacing everyone else. The two rookies carved up the Seattle defense with incisive passes en route to a 2-0 lead.

But the defense certainly isn’t last year’s defense. The Reign got back into the game as Spirit defenders kept whiffing on clearances. It’s the SoccerPlex — a terrific playing surface on which the Spirit play every home game. They should be used to it.

And credit to the Reign. They were pressing. They didn’t want their season to end on a loss. And coach Laura Harvey told us after the game, incongruously given her giddiness after Seattle’s 3-2 win, that she had reminded players at halftime they were playing for their jobs.

So were the Spirit players. Looking ahead to next season, they’ll build around their two sensational rookies from opposite ends of the hype meter — national teamer Pugh, who skipped out on UCLA to go pro early, and third-round pick Dougherty Howard. Of the other 11 Spirit players to appear in the game, who’s guaranteed to return next year? Probably captain Shelina Zadorsky and original Spirit player Tori Huster, who can surely play for the Spirit as long as she wants. Anyone else?

It’s not that the players are particularly bad. As a whole, even with a viable starting XI on the injury report, Washington had a competitive team this season. It’s strange to say for a last-place team, but they overachieved. If you’d told me before the season they’d have this many injuries but would still win five games (two more than the disastrous 2013 season) and score 30 goals (more than Kansas City, Boston and Houston, and only three less than playoff-bound Chicago), I’d have said that’s impossible.

The defense, though, needs to be addressed. I don’t want to speculate on whether Stephanie Labbe will be back in goal for the Spirit — I simply hope she’s happy and healthy. Zadorsky is generally solid, and Estelle Johnson was having a career year until her injury. Other than that, it’s simply not a reliable group of players for this level.

They’ll surely draft Andi Sullivan, who could slot in at center back alongside Zadorsky. But she can have a bigger impact in midfield.

They can’t just draft a bunch of defenders with their surplus of picks and see who emerges. The Spirit have enough youth. If they want their rebuilding project to be 1-2 years instead of 3-4, they need to make a trade or a sign a big-time free agent.

But there’s time enough to deal with that. Tonight, it seems most NWSL fans got an entertaining sendoff to the regular season, a nice change of pace from what’s been a lackluster season marked by cynical play that the referees refuse to stop.

Whatever you think of the Spirit, let’s hope tonight’s slate of games was a nice harbinger of things to come next year.

 

No one injured in Spirit-Breakers game

Neither the Washington Spirit nor the Boston Breakers tanked Saturday night’s game to get the No. 1 draft pick. For once, my prediction was right.

But it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t notice any Spirit Academy kids in the crowd, and that’s probably for the best. You don’t want them to learn anything from this. Two own goals by the same luckless player, former Breaker Kassey Kallman. No shots for the home team in the first half. Fouls that weren’t particularly malicious but just pointless. Passes that clattered into opponents.

The Breakers played hard, and aside from two maybe-overdue yellow cards, they played fairly. Own goals are often a mix of luck and getting the ball in good spots, and the Breakers got the ball in good spots many times in the first 10 minutes of the second half, turning a 0-0 snoozer into a 3-0 game with a bit of life.

And the Spirit didn’t pack it in. Two terrific strikes were called back due to close but probably correct offside calls. The silver lining (coincidentally, the Rilo Kiley song of the same name is now playing on my Spotify mix) for the Spirit: They put the ball in the net four times! Too bad two counted against them and the other two didn’t count at all.

Late in the game, those of us in the pressbox were wondering why Breakers coach Matt Beard was so animated, chastising his team and gesticulating wildly. After the game, the thoughtful and tactically shrewd coach explained that he was legitimately worried that the Spirit might come back, like Sky Blue has on more than one occasion this season. When you haven’t won a road game in a while, a little paranoia is understandable.

So yes, both teams were trying. It wasn’t just a couple of teams tanking to land Andi Sullivan in the 2018 draft. At this point, the Spirit seem destined to land their hometown hero. And tonight, they looked like they needed her. Some of the players on the field simply were not up to the task.

And it’s not as if the Spirit have many other options. They dressed 14 players for the game. (The Breakers, also limping toward the finish line of the season and missing game-changer Rose Lavelle, only dressed 15.)

Coach Jim Gabarra said quite candidly after the game that his team really didn’t have the training they needed to prepare. Too many games in a short time. Too many injuries.

“So you didn’t think it would be a good idea to run your players through a series of intense practice in 90-degree weather with only three available subs?” I asked (paraphrased).

“Probably not,” Gabarra said.

Spirit fans weren’t about to forget the birthday of their last remaining original player, Tori Huster.

Spare a thought for Spirit fans who’ve attended most of the games this season. They’ve seen a lot of bad soccer, and it’s not all from the home team.

Maybe it’s a strange thing to say about a team in last place, but the Spirit overachieved in many ways this season. Stephanie Labbe and Estelle Johnson were having great seasons until they abruptly ended a couple of weeks ago. Arielle Ship was better than expected. Meggie Dougherty Howard was way better than expected — even people who wish the next hurricane would race up the Potomac and destroy the Maryland SoccerPlex because they so despise Spirit ownership have pegged the late third-round draft pick as a solid pick for Rookie of the Year.

But Spirit fans really haven’t been treated to a lot of quality from their visitors, either. Portland showed little in Mark Parsons’ return to the SoccerPlex. Orlando wasn’t quite the Morgan-and-Marta juggernaut they later became. The Chicago Red Stars looked like they were playing old-school roller derby. The best game of the season, oddly enough, may have been the previous Spirit-Breakers game, when Boston goalkeeper Abby Smith flat-out robbed the Spirit (legally) of a win.

Call it bad luck, compounded by some personnel moves that will leave some lasting bitterness. Frankly, the quality of play in the NWSL has been poor this season. If you want to blame anyone, blame the referees who’d rather carry on conversations with players like Allie Long and McCall Zerboni rather than give them cards for any of the 349 fouls they commit each game. That needs to change.

One thing that’s not going to change — the occasional late-season game between tired, ailing teams at the bottom of the table. And if this game proved one thing, it’s that the women’s game is not ready for promotion and relegation, no matter how many U.S. Soccer presidential candidates try to win points by promising it. These coaches can’t afford a training injury, and there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by tossing Rose Lavelle or Cheyna Williams out on the field at this point just so they can avoid swapping places with WPSL champion Fire And Ice SC. (Granted, if the problem with Lavelle is that she’s flying too much, may I suggest a bus with adequate sleeping space? And no, I have no idea what possessed anyone to name a team “Fire And Ice.” Does Shy Ronnie play for them?)

Even in a no-good, horrible, very bad game such as this, you’ll see moments of quality. Smith didn’t have to pull the mind-boggling saves she made last time to get the shutout this time, but she was terrific when she needed to be. Mallory Pugh adds life to any attack, whether it’s the U.S. national team in full flight or whichever players the Spirit can scrape together around her.

The Spirit will be better-prepared when Seattle visits for the season finale. I’m predicting a 6-5 game with 30 saves. We’re due.

 

Promotion/relegation propaganda/reality, Part 3: U.S. Soccer

There’s no organization in the world quite like U.S. Soccer.

That’s not a compliment. That’s not an insult. It just … is.

U.S. Soccer is unique among major U.S. sports federations in that its mandate goes beyond organizing national teams and developmental programs. It’s responsible, by FIFA fiat, for regulating professional soccer competitions. (Or, in the case of the U.S. Open Cup, running those competitions outright.)

ussf-purpose

U.S. Soccer is unique among soccer federations in that the nation it serves is a massive economic power on a giant land mass in which soccer is not the most popular sport. The USA isn’t the only country that has its own indigenous offshoot of “football” that rivals or exceeds soccer in popularity — see Australia and, to a lesser extent, Ireland — but it’s the only one that has multiple team sports that garner more attention. As far as I know, it’s the only soccer federation in a country that has been openly hostile to the sport for generations.

And to my knowledge, it’s the only federation that was charged by FIFA with getting an honest-to-goodness professional league running in the 1990s. Every other major country already had one.

The most important election in U.S. Soccer to date was in the summer of 1990, when Alan Rothenberg unseated Werner Fricker. Rothenberg was under a bit of pressure to run. From 1994, here’s Steve Berkowitz, then of The Washington Post and later a demanding but fair editor who made some of my USA TODAY stories a lot better:

Rothenberg said FIFA officials, familiar with him because of his involvement with the 1984 Olympic soccer competition, initially contacted him about chairing the World Cup organizing committee. When he said he was interested in doing so, he was told that he also would have to become USSF president. He agreed, and lo and behold, Rothenberg unseated Fricker in August 1990.

And so Rothenberg went to work on getting FIFA’s cash cow, the World Cup, up to speed. He also had to fulfill U.S. Soccer’s other promise to FIFA, a pro soccer league. Rothenberg needed a plan, and so he went about hiring people — including economist Sunil Gulati and attorney Mark Abbott, on loan from Rothenberg’s law firm, Latham & Watkins.

Abbott sat with me for an interview when I was writing Long-Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer (please note: I did not choose that subtitle). Here’s what he said about Rothenberg’s unusually sprawling role:

At that time, there were very stringent procedures that were put in place to ensure that although Alan was the head of the soccer federation and leading the effort to make a presentation with respect to the league, he had been recused from the decision-making system in U.S. Soccer. There was a big meeting in December 1993 where we made our presentations. Alan was not part of the Federation board in making that decision. Also, and I think this gets overlooked, FIFA in awarding the World Cup to the United States did so very expressly for the purpose of using it as a springboard for a professional league. That’s what he was supposed to be doing, using this event to help start the league.

Still, the federation’s board voted to decide which of three bids would be awarded Division I status. In addition to Rothenberg’s group, the existing Division II-ish APSL put in a bid, as did Jim Paglia on behalf of League One America, which would take the old NASL’s Americanization of soccer rules to new extremes. (Jim, I know you’re out there — if you still have the video of the test games, I’d love to see them.)

The vote wasn’t unanimous. The tally was 18 MLS, 5 APSL, 0 League One America.

More from my book (because I can’t find Hersh’s story online):

Veteran national-team defender and U.S. Soccer board member Desmond Armstrong, who cast a ballot for MLS in the Division I vote, said his decision was strictly on merit. “I don’t have any love lost for the federation,” Armstrong told the Chicago Tribune‘s Philip Hersh. … “It wasn’t a matter of playing favorites, but of getting the best proposal out there so we can have jobs. I voted for Alan’s plan because it had all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted.”

The APSL grumbled a bit and for a short time was a legitimate competitor to MLS, signing quite a few players who were clearly good enough for the top tier but balked at the salary structure.

The next year (1994), Rothenberg ran for re-election. It got ugly, but he won.

The election was close in 1998. “Dr. Bob” Contiguglia defeated Larry Monaco 57.6% to 42.4%. Even closer was the race for executive VP, in which John Motta defeated … Sunil Gulati, then serving as MLS deputy commissioner. That was 372 (50.8%) to 361.

Maybe that was a rebuke of MLS officials gaining too much power in U.S. Soccer (though, note, this was before MLS hired Don Garber and well before MLS formed Soccer United Marketing). But such sentiment didn’t last long. U.S. Soccer then started staggering the terms of its top board members, and Gulati came back two years later to win the seat from Motta. And Gulati was able to point out in Fraser v MLS testimony that U.S. Soccer didn’t just rubber-stamp whatever MLS wanted.

Then Gulati succeeded Dr. Bob as U.S. Soccer president, and elections have come and gone with little fanfare or fire since then. The 2016 vice-presidential election was contested in gentlemanly fashion, with longtime independent director (board member) Carlos Cordeiro ousting Mike Edwards. Gulati hasn’t been opposed.

(This is an image of a Google search. Don’t click.)

gulati-votes

Wait, wait … you’re saying. What does this have to do with promotion and relegation?

Nothing. Because it wasn’t an issue.

We’re about the have the next biggest presidential election in USSF history. Is pro/rel an issue now? Or is it more about general arrogance and an unwillingness to push Major League Soccer to be more open, whether that means pro/rel or a looser salary cap? Or perhaps the historical view that the close ties between USSF, MLS and Soccer United Marketing that may have been necessary for survival in the mid-2000s are no longer necessary and perhaps harmful?

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZKR67THaA0/?taken-by=prorelfc

Gulati has often been painted as ruthless — player testimony in Fraser v MLS certainly made him look like a tough negotiator, to put it nicely. In my experience, he’s a pragmatic idealist. He has devoted thousands of volunteer hours to making the sport succeed, and he has laudable intent (and action) on trying to diversify the typically homogeneous Federation. Whether he has handled every situation in his long tenures in various roles is up to everyone to decide.

Gans is pragmatic as well. He announced his candidacy only after going on a “listening tour” of various constituencies, and he’s concerned about youth soccer dysfunction and the decision-making that led the Fed to renew Jurgen Klinsmann’s contract and then fire him. As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, his take on pro/rel is cautious.

That’s not far from what Gulati said on pro/rel earlier this year:

“It’s not the rules of the game that people came in on,” Gulati said. “When you buy into a particular structure, that’s what you expect the rules to be. … But if the leagues or a league wants to engage, we’re happy to be support that.”

Lapointe is more prone to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. His approach to Twitter, to which he’s still relatively new, resembles another president in the United States:

He recently proposed promotion/relegation in women’s soccer and a U.S. Women’s Open Cup. The Twitter reaction was skeptical, to say the least:

NWSL supporters on a lively Facebook group said “let’s get the NWSL in order first” and “technically, we have national Cups for women, but no one enters.” The latter point was emphasized by none other than John Motta, the former USSF VP who is now president of the U.S. Adult Soccer Association.

And Motta is himself considering a run. So is Jerome de Bontin, the former president of French club Monaco and general manager of the New York Red Bulls who is now the chairman of the sprawling Rush Soccer youth organization (sadly, not named after Geddy, Neil and Alex — or Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny, though like Rush Soccer, they hail from Colorado).

So will any of these presidential candidates bring forth promotion and relegation?

It’s complicated.

Like the United States themselves, U.S. Soccer is a representative democracy. Not a dictatorship. The president must contend with the rest of the board, the general membership and perhaps even the U.S. courts.

And even Lapointe sees a need to phase into promotion and relegation, not just throw open the whole pyramid at once. That might not reassure the PRZ (Pro/Rel Zealots), who insist any incremental step suggested by me or Peter Wilt is simply doing the bidding of Evil MLS.

In any case, pro/rel may be the least of the next U.S. Soccer president’s concern. As mentioned many times in the past week or so, the NASL lawsuit calls into question U.S. Soccer’s legal authority to regulate professional soccer, and it’s not the first. But the bylaws clearly state U.S. Soccer’s firm belief that it can’t simply let someone else take over any aspect of the game.

ussf-autonomy

(Except, apparently, indoor soccer. The boarded version of the game is operating outside USSF right now. For a while, it was associated with an organization called the Federation Internacional de Futbol Rapido, whose acronym FIFRA was hilariously close to FIFA. And except, apparently, college and high school soccer, neither of which is governed by U.S. Soccer. But I digress …)

So the Federation, and its president, must walk some difficult political lines. Filip Bondy, a longtime soccer writer now contributing to Forbes, put it best when he described the presidency as “a job opening you might want to pass on.”

Summing up Bondy’s take — the president gets to:

  • Accept blame for national team downturns
  • Deal with men’s and women’s national team contract disputes and potential work stoppages
  • Deal with FIFA and other officials of potentially dubious credentials and ethics (to me, this might be the toughest — how long can you swim in the FIFA cesspool without starting to stink?)
  • Collect a salary of $0.

Oh, and you have to put up with the NASL and Stefan Szymanski. If you didn’t see my Twitter thread on Szymanski’s declaration in favor of the NASL tweaking U.S. Soccer, check it out. Allow some time.

And it’s not as if U.S. Soccer simply rubber-stamps everything the president wants. (Also in that link: Note that U.S. Soccer changed the way it runs election, asking candidates to declare in advance instead of just presenting themselves on the meeting floor, and it instituted term limits. If Gulati runs and wins re-election in 2018, he’s out in 2022.)

So who votes? Let’s see if we can sum up Bylaw 302:

  • State association reps, both youth and adult. Their votes are weighted by the number of people they represent. (In other words, New York East is going to have a more heavily weighted vote than Alaska.)
  • Athlete delegates. There’s usually only a few, but by U.S. law, their votes have to be weighted to count for 20 percent of the final tally.
  • Board members.
  • Past presidents.
  • Life members of U.S. Soccer (weighted so that they have no more than 12 total votes, which isn’t much)
  • Delegates from pro leagues, national associations, national affiliates, other affiliates, disabled service organizations, etc.
  • Adult Council and Youth Council administrative commissioners (I have no idea who this is)

Further weighting: The Youth, Adult and Professional Councils will all end up with equal votes.

Here’s how it broke down in 2015:

vote

You know what I don’t see in the bylaws? Is the election “first past the post” (top vote-getter is president, even without a majority) or a runoff system (top two hold a runoff)? In elections for the “at large” representative on the board (which is rarely of interest), the bylaws specify a runoff. I haven’t seen anything about a presidential race with more than two candidates.

And as I’ve been writing this, Eric Wynalda has jumped into the race. Maybe. His platform seems to be simple: Sunil Out. Yet even he suggests promotion/relegation needs to start in the lower divisions before going up to Division I.

So will any of this bring about pro/rel? I don’t know. How’s Trump doing on draining the swamp? Or building the wall? Or ending Obamacare while making sure everyone has access to health insurance?

president

Overthrowing a dictator is a fairly simple process. Overhauling a democratic organization is much more difficult.

 

Podcast, Ep. 10 – Ronnie Woodard on women in coaching, youth soccer madness

 

Tennessee Soccer Club’s Ronnie Woodard is a legit women’s soccer pioneer — first scholarship player and goalkeeper at Duke, one of the first wave of women’s soccer players to move into the coaching ranks. She has coached college and elite youth teams, winning 2016 NSCAA Coach of the Year honors, while launching a consulting business for college prospects.

We talk about what’s keeping women out of coaching (10:20 mark) and what’s better or worse in youth soccer today (25:00). Then I rant about my youth soccer weekend (coach ejected!) and some upcoming Ranting Soccer Dad programming.

 

Podcast, Ep. 9 — Girls’ Development Academy with Travis Clark, plus a soccerpolitical rant

The podcast starts this week with a bit of a political rant. The news on DACA is hard to ignore, and we’ve had some ongoing overheated arguments in the soccer community.

The Travis Clark interview on the Development Academy starts around the 9:25 mark. A few landmarks:

  • Will the NWSL affiliates dominate? (19:45)
  • DA vs. high school (25:00)
  • Can we tame the chaos and still have multiple development pathways? (30:30)
  • A few clubs to watch in the DA (38:45)

Podcast, Ep. 8 — Youth development and women’s soccer with Kris Ward

Kris Ward has done a bit of everything in coaching at a relatively young age — high school, Development Academy, ODP, college, traditional clubs and NWSL. We talk about rec soccer, how the U.S. academy approach compares with other countries and what a curriculum really means.

Around the 40:30 mark, get ready for a detailed breakdown of all that isn’t working in U.S. women’s soccer.

Spirit-Red Stars: A mad night at the SoccerPlex

There’s just a lot of anger in the world right now.

Our president took a break from Twitter ranting to issue the most controversial presidential pardon since Gerald Ford fell on his sword for Richard Nixon, paving the way for a peanut farmer from Georgia to become president and then a truly outstanding ex-president. North Korea, apparently angry about being pushed off the front page by U.S. domestic shenanigans and a hurricane (and a preposterous fight), flung a few more missiles into the sea, which raises the question of how many North Koreans live in dangerous poverty while Kim Jong Un bombs the whales.

And in the ever-argumentative women’s soccer community, Backline Soccer had to deal with online threats after some woker-than-thou “fantasy” writer discovered an old op-ed about Jaelene Hinkle and deemed the entire staff homophobic, which would come as a great surprise to those who know the staff. (Should someone tell him about Orson Scott Card, who actually does work to deny gay rights and about whom he has said nothing on his site?)

cloud

So given all that, perhaps it’s little surprise that the Spirit-Red Stars game, which Chicago desperately needed to halt a skid out of the playoff positions, was a little on the aggressive side. The Red Stars, bringing a talented team against a makeshift Spirit backline, finished the first half with 11 fouls and one shot on goal. (Yes, one. Opta gave Washington keeper DiDi Haracic credit for a save when she pounced on a loose ball in a scramble.)

From the pressbox, it all seemed a little cynical. Time after time, a Chicago player would extend the arms on a shove while the ball was in the air, then turn to the ref in disbelief when the whistle blew.

But most of the physical play was rough but legal. The ref, like nearly every other ref we’ve seen in the NWSL this season, could’ve given out more yellow cards, but give him credit for calling the fouls.

And it worked. The Spirit players were rattled. Tori Huster, the Spirit’s most-fouled player, had a bad giveaway or two after hearing nearby footsteps from Julie Ertz or Kristie Mewis or Danielle Colaprico or anyone else who had knocked her around in the game. (The pressbox consensus seems to be that at least one foul attributed to Mewis actually belonged to Ertz.) Huster participated in a team-high 18 “duels” and only won six of them, a very un-Huster-like performance.

The Red Stars’ goals were the result of good old-fashioned hustle, with Colaprico keeping a ball alive to set up the recently traded Mewis for a goal against her old team and Christen Press finally beating the Spirit’s high line before rounding the keeper. But they were finished well. Things didn’t work for Mewis in Washington for whatever reason, but she can play.

It was a strange night in general. The medical crew carrying injured Spirit forward Arielle Ship off the field took the long way around and was nearly hit by a ball going out of play. (At least Ship was able to go past the Spirit Squadron, which roared for her and got a thumbs-up from the weeping Ship.) The fourth official decided it was cold (a surprise to the announcers who said it was hot and humid) and donned a black long-sleeve top, blending in with the game staff at the middle of the field.

Chicago coach Rory Dames started the postgame inquiries by repeating the first question he was asked.

“Thoughts on the game — it was pretty ugly at times,” Dames said with the expression of a dog that expected a piece of chicken but got tofu. “I would say that with the way they play — they’re very direct out of their end, and they try to get up into your end and press you, and they try to combine with their front players in your end. So there was no reason for us to try to play through their pressure, and nobody the last five games has tried to play through our pressure, so it was always going to be a first-ball, second-ball, ball winning-contest kind of game.”

He didn’t seem too frustrated with the Red Stars’ losing streak heading into the game. Neither did Ertz.

“I don’t think it was necessarily wrought-out frustrations in there,” Ertz said. “We really wanted to win, we really wanted three points. I think everyone does, but especially for us, the points these last few games really do matter for going to the playoffs or not. We wanted to make sure we won our tackles — first ball, second ball, that was a big thing for us — and when that’s your main focus, I think it does become a more aggressive game.”

And yes, the points matter more for Chicago at this point than they do for the Spirit, which was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention but was never really in it this season. In the long run, the Spirit would be better off losing and improving their draft position to make sure they get hometown hero Andi Sullivan, though possible league expansion could throw a wrinkle in that. My guess is that the Spirit will package the pick it received for Mewis with another pick and maybe a player to make sure Sullivan is at the SoccerPlex next season. Let’s be clear — they’re not tanking. They were pushing hard until the last second, spurred by Mallory Pugh, who grew into the game and played some actual soccer amidst the rugby/Aussie rules contest occupying much of the field.

Let’s also be fair to the Red Stars, always a class organization. They figured a choppy game would suit them and they’d be able to go Route 1 to Christen Press at some point. A better team than the Spirit would’ve punished them. A better ref would’ve showed some cards and put a stop to the midfield shenanigans.

Fans got their money’s worth. The weather was nice. The Spirit Squadron was in fine voice. The concession lines seemed to move at a decent speed. And Pugh and Press showed their national-team skills in flashes. They’ll see better games at some point.

The strange, surly night had a perfect capper. Throughout the week, Twitter was been abuzz with the possibility of Stephanie Labbe’s dog, Rio, going out on the field for National Dog Day. I was hoping to meet Rio because I’m a little silly about dogs. One thing I love about my house and my neighborhood is that I can sit in my living room or my bedroom and see dogs walking down the sidewalks. At my elementary school, I earned the nickname “The Dog Whisperer” when I wrangled a dog out of traffic, and all the dogs that turn out at departure time love me.

I met Rio on the way to the postgame interviews. He growled and barked at me. Before you think it’s just me, he did the same to Kevin Parker, one of the nicest guys on the planet.

So, yeah. It was that kind of night. It’s been that kind of week.

Here’s to a better month in September.