Alex Morgan and the Bedbugs That Ate the NWSL

As with many other Internet shoutfests, it all started with an innocuous tweet:

Can’t blame Sinclair for venting there. Bedbugs are every traveler’s nightmare. The big hype about bedbug resurgence came about a couple of years ago, and I’m still putting my bags up on hard surfaces to minimize the risk of anything hitching a ride back to my place. (I draw the line at the “pry the headboard off the wall, put your bags in the bathtub and wrap anything that you own in several layers of Saran Wrap” survivalism that was en vogue for a while.)

So we have one incident in which a hotel — one with a fairly notable brand name — had bedbugs. This won’t escalate into any sort of —

Uh oh.

Morgan’s since-deleted tweet says “There’s no other way to address continuing problems.”

If you go around and ask NWSL people, you’ll get the response, “What continuing problems? This was a one-time thing. It’s been handled.”

And bedbugs are, frankly, luck of the draw.

For the record, I was wrong about MLS. Alexi Lalas has clarified.

Morgan also mentioned mold, which should actually raise larger long-term concerns about this hotel because (A) it can make you sick and (B) given proper maintenance, it simply should not appear.

None of these nuances, of course, made it into the Twitter response.

But some on Twitter at least shifted blame from the NWSL:

And there were these clever ones:

And there’s this angle:

The mainstream media, on the other hand, pretty much took the ball and ran:

(From that story: “The bed bug fiasco is just one example of the inequalities between male and female professional soccer players. As a simple point of comparison, the all-male New York City Football Club announced its partnership with the four-star Grand Hyatt back in March. No bed bugs have been found there…yet.” Yeah, that’s a fair comparison.)

Well that’s fair and balanced.

Let’s be real clear ourselves here — no one is saying anyone should take a vow of silence over a bedbug encounter. And no one is saying we don’t wish women’s soccer players had it better. If it were up to me, women’s soccer players would live in Dan Borislow’s condos but have a professional training staff at all times. Best of both worlds.

But let’s also acknowledge this — professional women’s soccer is fragile. If you think living conditions and wages for the Ella Masars and Chantel Joneses of the world are grim, consider what Lori Lindsey, Sarah Huffman and Becky Sauerbrunn did when they played amateur ball. We can’t change this just by yelling at people.

You can certainly blame the media. They’ve added the “s” to “bedbug-ridden hotel” without making the slightest effort to clarify what Morgan was talking about with “continuing problems.”

And no one even asked the NWSL. It took me all of 12 minutes to get this response:

“During a recent road trip, a Portland Thorns FC player reported finding bed bugs in her hotel room at the team hotel in Kansas City. The hotel apologized, quickly provided a new room, and insisted the problem had been corrected. Upon learning of the situation, the League immediately spoke with both clubs, and FC Kansas City had already addressed the issue. For the remainder of the season, rooms have already been secured at another hotel. Player safety and comfort is important to all teams of the NWSL, and we are always seeking ways to improve our club and League operations. We regret this situation and apologize to the player involved.”

In any case, the damage has been done. The NWSL is now the league with the bedbugs. And if you care about conditions for players, you might also wonder if this was the best way to go about business for a league that still needs sponsors and a real TV deal to turn the corner.

Little wonder Morgan deleted the tweet. She knows the power of her words with her 2 million Twitter followers. If she didn’t before, she surely knows now. Because as much as we question the national team players’ dedication to the NWSL, they don’t want it to disappear. Right?

So maybe the next time something good happens in the NWSL, she might consider mentioning it?

U.S. women in the World Cup semifinals: Decisions, decisions

Jill Ellis made three lineup changes for Friday’s quarterfinal win against China, two out of necessity. The result: Still just a 1-0 win against a team that had little attacking punch, but the team looked better and felt better.

And it was the kind of performance U.S. fans had wanted to see. Amy Rodriguez was buzzing around making things difficult for China, Alex Morgan was a looming threat, and Carli Lloyd was unleashed. Not that the trio was perfect — A-Rod shanked a great chance like a beginning golfer, Morgan didn’t quite have the scoring touch, and Lloyd had a few giveaways. But this was not the lumbering attack we had seen in the past. Abby Wambach gave some inspiration from the bench and was ready to go if needed.

Then two players stepped up in surprising roles. The versatile Kelley O’Hara was a menace on the flanks, and young Morgan Brian looked like a composed veteran in a holding midfield role.

So now what? What happens when the USA takes a giant leap up in competition from a young, easily rattled Chinese team to a ruthlessly efficient German team that absorbed a couple of hours of French pressure and fought back to win?


Rodriguez: Did the German defense look a step slow against France? If so, they could be tailor-made for the speedy A-Rod. Then again, Sydney Leroux has some wheels, too.

Morgan: You just sense that it’s coming, don’t you? She made pivotal plays against Colombia and has the potential to create something magical.

Wambach: She may have another clutch goal left on her head or in her feet. She’d be perfect to bring in against a tired German defense in the second half.

Megan Rapinoe: Has to play. She’s the most creative winger the USA has.

Lloyd: Has to play in the same role she played last night. Don’t forget who scored the winning goals in the last two Olympics, and she scored again last night.

Brian: Clearly the best option at holding mid now. Lori Chalupny can play there at club level, but she hasn’t been tested there at international level in a long, long time.

Lauren Holiday: Unfortunate. She was miscast as a holding mid for months, and now it might be too late to get her back on the field in another role such as attacking mid or second forward. But we would’ve said the same about O’Hara before last night, right?

Tobin Heath: Just isn’t turning those nifty moves into anything concrete right now.

O’Hara: Maybe the best option on the right flank? Her pressure, passing and willingness to test China with an occasional medium-range bomb were outstanding last night.

Christen Press: Can she bring the same tempo-changing ability as A-Rod?

The defense isn’t in question — Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger have been so outstanding that we often forget Hope Solo is even playing.

So those five are sure starters, and I’d add Rapinoe, Lloyd and Brian to that list. Everything else is up for grabs.

Here’s one reasonable lineup that builds on last night’s success:

football formations

And here’s one that’s a little wilder:

football formations

But I’m not sure Ellis needs to do anything that drastic. She has already shown the flexibility for which I was pleading at SoccerWire. They did not play “Whack it to Wambach” for 90 minutes last night.

And as a result, I’ve gone from thinking Germany is a sure bet to thinking we may see an epic on Tuesday.

Things you didn’t know about Alex Morgan

I don’t see Grant Wahl’s story on Alex Morgan online yet, so you may need to rush out to grab last week’s Sports Illustrated before it disappears from newsstands. (The cover is “A Coach’s Courage,” referring to another worthwhile read inside.) Grant’s story is a good read for all levels of women’s soccer fan, from those vaguely aware of someone named Alex Morgan to those who regularly rant about the injustice of Portland getting her AND Christine Sinclair in the allocation process.

That leads us to the first of several things we all learned from this piece:

1. Did the entire existence of the NWSL hinge on getting Morgan to Portland so that Merritt Paulson would follow through on starting the Thorns? Here’s the passage (any typing errors are mine):

Portland investor Merritt Paulson was in talks to buy into the operation. He wanted Morgan, and he had leverage: He knew that the league wouldn’t exist unless he brought in the eighth and final team. Asked if he exacted any promises — say, being awarded Morgan — Paulson laughs and offers and exaggerated wink-wink. “Oh, no, no, no … Look, when the owners put in their requests for national-team players, there’s no doubt that Alex was Number 1 on everybody’s list.”

That won’t make fans from Washington state to Washington, D.C., feel any better about the allocation process.

2. The younger players on the women’s national team have stepped up their studies of the game, watching a lot of Champions League and EPL games.

3. Morgan also sought out Mia Hamm to come out and work with her at the Complex Formerly Known As The Home Depot Center.

4. On a related note, Morgan is sick of the split between the current group of players and the old guard.

It’s been cool closing the gap with the two generations. With [the current] national team it’s almost us versus the ’99ers, which I hate. I want us all to be one team.

Taking her game and the team’s to a new level. Trying to unify all parties. Future captain?

The Leroux celebration and unwritten rules of sports

Crash Davis, Bull Durham: What are you doing? Huh? What are you doing standing here? I gave you a gift, you stand here showing up my pitcher? Run, dummy!

Sports have written rules and unwritten rules. The written rules tell you the size of the field, what to do when a ball becomes defective in the course of play, what sort of socks aren’t acceptable, etc. The unwritten rules tell us so much more:

1. Hockey fights stay on the ice. The book The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL had all sorts of amusing anecdotes, my favorite being the one in which the guy losing a fight yells, “Loser buys the pizza.” The guy who’s winning says, “Well, I think you’re buying.” Then the losing fighter yells, “Yeah, but the winner buys the beer!”

Then there’s this, in which a veteran hockey enforcer gives an opponent a chance to impress his coaches:

I’m not saying the code makes a whole lot of sense. But it exists.

2. When a soccer player is down on the field, someone will kick the ball out of play so the trainers can run on the field. Then the ball is returned to the other side. That’s not in the written rules. Players do that on their own.

If you missed yesterday’s arguments after the USA-Canada women’s soccer match in Toronto, here’s the deal: Former Canadian U20 U19* striker Sydney Leroux, who has endured all sorts of abuse on Twitter and heard it from the crowd all day yesterday, scored a garbage-time goal for the USA and celebrated by waving the USA badge at the crowd and shushing them.

Canadian commentators weren’t happy. “Classless,” said Craig Forrest on TV. At TSN’s site, Gareth Wheeler summed up the unwritten rule in this case:

An act as such is an absolute no-no in soccer.  You don’t pay homage to the badge against your former team, let alone the country of your birth.

This rule was at the heart of yesterday’s Twitter arguments. A lot of WoSo fans insisted that they’ve seen men celebrating the same way, taunting fans, etc. Two issues with that:

1. It’s rare to see players doing such things, as Wheeler says, “against your former team, let alone the country of your birth.”

2. If, say, an English-born player did while playing for Scotland against England, that just might make the news. The ensuing riot certainly would. And you’d have plenty of English commentators calling the act “classless” or worse. I couldn’t find specific examples, but I think that’s because it just isn’t done. More common is the example of Polish-born German player Lukas Podolski, who scored twice against Poland in Euro 2008 and refused to celebrate at all.

So as with a lot of Hope Solo’s controversies, the “sexist double standard” argument doesn’t hold water. (And as someone who greatly appreciates men’s AND women’s soccer, I get rather irritated with false stereotypes in either direction, and then I tweet too much and get unfollowed by a bunch of disgruntled people. Sorry about that, though I’d also suggest getting Hootsuite and making a few lists so you can tune it out when some people in your feed start a lively discussion that you’re not enjoying. In any case, I’ll wrap it up more quickly in the future so you don’t have to adjust your timelines. All that said, I found a lot of the discussion helpful as I tried to clarify the situation, so thanks to those who stuck around.)

I haven’t seen much reaction from Canadian players (if you see more, please leave it in the comments). But here’s Christine Sinclair:

“Maybe not the classiest of moves,” Sinclair said of Leroux’s gesture. “She scored on us and an individual can do what they like. I probably wouldn’t have done the same, but we move on.”

Did the celebration arguments overshadow the game? Well, yes. But aside from Alex Morgan’s superb goals and the solid defense of 17-year-old Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan, it wasn’t much of a game. Canada brought a lot of emotion but little else.

Cathal Kelly:

Playing for the first time since that notorious night in Manchester, Canada showed little of the jump they’d displayed there. Nearly a year ago, they’d gone straight at the best team in the world. They’d played with abandon. It was a bar brawl.

Now in front of a boisterous sell-out crowd at BMO Field on Sunday afternoon, they tried to muscle the Americans out of their rhythm. This was a planned assault, and as plodding as that sounds.

Tactically, it was smart. Aesthetically, it was turgid. Functionally, it was useless.

The atmosphere was promising. The passion many WoSo fans have yearned to see at their stadiums was finally there. I thought it was clever to hear fans counting to six, a reference to the puzzling free kick that helped the USA in that Olympic semifinal, every time U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart had the ball.

So if you want me to respond to a comment, do it here. Out of deference to those who are done talking about this, I’m not going to bring it up again on Twitter.

I think the last word on Twitter should go to Heather Mitts:

Yes, they do.

Postscript: As I was writing this post, Sydney Leroux started a tweet with “When you chant racial slurs.” Plenty of Canadians, including some I know to have been at the game, vehemently deny they heard anything of that nature. If she heard it from one person one time, of course, that’s too much. But in light of Boston Breakers fans (ironically, Leroux’s NWSL team) being unfairly smeared as racist in a fairly prominent book, I’m not about to do the same thing to Canadian fans. I think we can agree that the overwhelming majority, somewhere between 95 and 99.99 percent of people in BMO, would abhor such things.

Sure, I’ve seen the video in which one guy is recorded yelling a couple of nasty (sexist, not racist, not that one is “better” than the other) words. That’s bad. But that’s not a “chant.” A chant involves many people saying and repeating the same thing.

I can’t say Leroux heard absolutely nothing, and I’m sure she’s received all sorts of abuse from random racist morons on Twitter. I don’t mean to diminish that or excuse it. But I’m not going to give any credence to the thought that racism was widespread at BMO yesterday until someone produces evidence to the contrary.

Now back to the NWSL, where we’re still taking up a collection to pay the fines of Seattle staffers complaining about a call that was, indeed, quite wrong.

*Correction: Leroux played youth soccer for Canada before FIFA adjusted its age ranges. She was on Canada’s U19 World Championship team in 2004. Some trivia: Her teammates included Robyn Gayle, Sophie Schmidt, Emily Zurrer, Jodi-Ann Robinson and Golden Boot winner Brittany Timko. Among the U.S. players: Ashlyn Harris, Rachel Buehler, Stephanie (Lopez) Cox, Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy Rodriguez, Yael Averbuch, Nikki Krzyzik, Angie Woznuk and Megan Rapinoe. Other teams: Veronica Boquete (Spain), Simone Laudehr (Germany), Celia Okoyino da Mbabi (Germany) and Marta (Brazil).

Germany needed a late equalizer and penalties to get past Nigeria in the quarterfinals, but the high-scoring team beat the USA 3-1 in the semifinals and took the title against China 2-0. Third-place game: USA 3, Brazil 0. The highlight for Canada: Coming back from 3-0 down to draw Germany 3-3 in group play.

Washington Spirit vs. Portland: The real deal

I had a lot of fun tonight on Twitter at the expense of the fans and the ref fawning over Alex Morgan tonight at the SoccerPlex, where attendance was one starting lineup north of 5,000.

But the takeaway from tonight’s game is this: The Portland Thorns aren’t just hype. They’re great.

All the preseason attention went to the star-studded attack allocations — Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair. They showed their skills, with Sinclair fully capable of being a playmaker as well as a target player.

Get past them, and you run into WPS/PSG veteran Allie Long in midfield. Then you hit former U.S. U-20 captain and two-time WPS champion Becky Edwards. Attack the wing, and you run into former U.S. defender Marian (Dalmy) Dougherty. Go up the center, and who’s that making the recovery and clearing the danger? Just national teamer Rachel Buehler.

And you have Nikki Washington, who scored the game-winner in the Thorns’ 2-1 win with a terrific far-post shot after Washington’s Ali Krieger coughed up the ball.

Even the relative unknown — Meleana Shim — played a terrific game Saturday night.

That’s just not fair.

You can’t hand the NWSL trophy to Portland just yet. Kansas City matched up well with them in the season opener. On a given day, Sky Blue or Western New York could give them a run. Maybe Boston, too.

The Spirit made a game of it. The home side (yes, Alex Morgan fanboys — Washington was the home side) had seven shots on goal to Portland’s five. Portland’s opening goal was a penalty kick awarded dubiously after Morgan seemed to be offside, was barely fouled and may or may not have been in the box. Ashlyn Harris was sufficiently incensed by the call to get a yellow card for dissent for her protests before and after the PK.

Fans will be happy to know Harris and Morgan hugged it out in the SoccerPlex’s main building after the game. The Thorns were gracious winners all the way around. When asked if the Thorns did anything to slow down Washington’s all-world midfielder Diana Matheson, coach Cindy Parlow Cone (can we just call her CPC from now on?) said, “I don’t know if there’s anything to slow down that girl. She’s all over the field.”

CPC also singled out the Spirit defense and holding midfield. By name. She listed everyone and apologized for not being able to come up with Domenica Hodak’s name, even though Hodak was making her first start. Quite a change from her old coach, Anson Dorrance, who refers to people as “that girl who used to score a lot against us” or “that other girl who used to give us a tough time” or “that tall girl.”

She might be a rookie coach, but CPC is an early front-runner for coach of the year. She says the right things, she’s intense at the right times, and this team is tactically sound.

And she believes firmly that, despite her team’s unbeaten record, the NWSL is a league of parity. “With only eight teams, every team is really good, and the Spirit is no exception. We were lucky to get out of there with the win.”

Lucky to get the PK call, maybe, and perhaps lucky that Krieger had an off night with a costly turnover. But the Thorns are surely a bit farther along in their development than the youthful Spirit.

Washington coach Mike Jorden sees the work to be done. He made the crowd-pleasing move of starting Caroline Miller ahead of Tiffany McCarty, but Miller was just as tentative as McCarty has been.

Jorden has plenty of options up front, but as my D.C. media buddy Aaron Stollar pointed out tonight, he doesn’t have that one player that requires constant attention from the defense. The Spirit has been most effective with players like Matheson, Stephanie Ochs and Lori Lindsey drifting into the attack. If Miller or McCarty can develop into that dangerous forward, the Spirit will be much better off.

On defense, Candace Chapman was once again on the bench despite pregame claims that she was available to play. But Tori Huster is growing into that center back role. After a strong performance against Abby Wambach and a more difficult time against Sky Blue last week, she had a terrific game against the big-name Thorns offense, making a few timely interceptions and generally minimizing the threats. Ashlyn Harris made one big save, but that was on a long-range Christine Sinclair shot.

Morgan had a few words with Domenica Hodak after a mild foul, then a few more with Diana Matheson after an even milder foul. She just shrugged it off as getting fiesty. “As players, we know that we need to put a good product on the field. We don’t get paid to go out there and fight, we get paid to go out there and play.”

Matheson’s late PK goal was just what the game needed, just enough to remind the crowd that the home team is worth supporting even when someone with nice hair isn’t on the visiting team. The big crowd, packing the SoccerPlex’s stands and the hill with the beer garden, deserved some late drama.

I’ve been insisting that you can’t write Washington’s name in Sharpie at the bottom of the table. I still believe that, especially after Boston’s demolition of Chicago today. They’re still due another couple of players — Chapman, Mexican midfielder Teresa Worbis, and an unnamed Europe-based defender. But it’s also a matter of confidence. The sooner the Spirit get that first win, the better they’ll be.

Until then, Washington fans should just take heart that they’re seeing some good games in a great facility. Enjoy.