Attendance check: Club over country?

Attendance at last five Atlanta United home games:

July 4: 44,974
July 29: 45,006
Sept. 10: 45,314 (first game in new stadium)
Sept. 13: 42,511
Sept. 16: 70,425

Attendance at last five Seattle Sounders home games:

July 23: 43,528
Aug. 12: 43,350
Aug. 20: 40,312
Aug. 27: 51,796
Sept. 10: 44,697

Attendance at last five U.S. men’s national team home games:

July 15: 27,934 (Gold Cup; Cleveland)
July 19: 31,615 (Gold Cup quarterfinal; Philadelphia)
July 22: 45,516 (Gold Cup semifinal; Arlington, Texas)
July 26: 63,032 (Gold Cup final; Santa Clara, Calif.)
Sept. 1: 26,500 (World Cup qualifier; Harrison, N.J. — sellout and a loss)

Attendance at last five U.S. men’s national team home friendlies:

Oct. 11: 9,012 (Washington)
Jan. 29: 20,079 (San Diego)
Feb. 3: 17,903 (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
June 3: 17,315 (Sandy, Utah)
July 1: 28,754 (Hartford, Ct.)

Attendance at last five FC Cincinnati (USL) home games:

July 29: 23,548
Aug. 5: 25,308
Aug. 23: 20,058
Sept. 2: 22,643
Sept. 16: 30,417

Attendance at last five U.S. women’s national team home games:

April 9: 11,347 (friendly; Houston)
July 27: 15,748 (Tournament of Nations; Seattle)
July 30: 21,096 (Tournament of Nations; San Diego)
Aug. 3: 23,161 (Tournament of Nations; Carson, Calif.)
Sept. 15: 17,301 (friendly; Commerce City, Colo.)

Attendance at last five Portland Thorns home games:

June 28: 16,199
July 15: 16,804
July 22: 18,478
Aug. 5: 18,243
Aug. 19: 19,672

What’s going on here? Do we officially care more about club soccer than international games? How can the Thorns outdraw the women’s national team? How can Atlanta, Seattle and Cincinnati outdraw men’s friendlies?


Jill Ellis, the U.S. women and whether a “wrong experiment” exists

Sometime last night, while the U.S. women were losing to Brazil (before the frenetic last 10 minutes yielded an improbable 4–3 win), WoSo Twitter was melting down.

And it wasn’t without reason. I found myself recalling that Tom Sermanni lost his job for far less experimentation than Jill Ellis has been doing in 2017.

But the consensus is that Sermanni was unjustly fired, isn’t it? Wouldn’t we (mostly) agree that it’s a good thing that no block of veteran players is going to grumble every time the lineup changes and force U.S. Soccer to start from scratch?

Some of the concern on Twitter was about this elusive “chemistry” that the team might lose by shifting things around. But we’re still two years from the next World Cup. As it stands now, the players in the best form are Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press. Who’s to say it won’t be Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath in 2019?

National teams have to experiment at some point. Otherwise, we get situations in which, say, only one goalkeeper and two central defenders have any experience. That’s not good.

Now the question is whether Jill Ellis is choosing the right experiments. She has plenty of time right now, but it’s not unlimited. The team won’t play enough games to try every possible permutation of 40 or so players. The 3–5–2 formation trotted out earlier this year may be best saved for the time the USA would actually use it — trailing late in the game (like last night). We may also wonder why Lindsey Horan is getting a run at forward when we have plenty of evidence that says she’s best as a midfield playmaker, a position the USA has never had in abundance. (Arguably none since Aly Wagner.)

And yes, Becky Sauerbrunn at defensive mid was an odd call. I can see a bit of a case — she hasn’t been flawless in 2017, she could surely do the job, and moving her gives other players an opportunity. But there’s little doubt her best position and the team’s greatest need are in central defense.

Yet the experiments do yield some results. At this point, the clear choice for defensive mid — a position occupied by converted forwards all too often — is Sauerbrunn’s former partner, Julie Ertz. And if you had to pick one forward right now, you’d have to pick Christen Press. We can also conclude that Megan Rapinoe’s run of form in the NWSL is no fluke.

All that said, Ellis may still need to try other people in those positions this year. Players lose form and get hurt. That’s why the U.S. men rarely field a recognizable lineup from one game to the next in friendlies and the Gold Cup group stage.

It’s taken us nearly 20 years to realize a national team needs more than 15 players. Don’t spoil it now!

And let’s be clear — a lot of the failings you saw last night had nothing to do with unfamiliarity. Abby Dahlkemper isn’t sending weak passes back to the keeper because she’s not familiar with her defensive partner. Alex Morgan isn’t failing to spot her passing options because she doesn’t know Press or Dunn. (Maybe playing a bunch of blowouts in Lyon didn’t sharpen Morgan’s form. I’d be tempted to argue that playing in England might have hurt Dunn and Carli Lloyd, but it didn’t hurt the English national team!)

And still — the USA didn’t play that badly last night over the whole 90 minutes. The first Brazilian goal was a shot that Alyssa Naeher saves 99 times out of 100. After consulting with the Laws of the Game and a few refs, I’d say the ref erred in giving an indirect kick for dangerous play instead of a penalty kick when Sauerbrunn took a Holly Holm-style boot to the face — the intent may not have been there, but the Laws do mention “contact,” which obviously was.

Rewind to the 2008 Olympic final. The USA beat Brazil in that game because Hope Solo played out of her mind and Carli Lloyd took a shot that changed her life. The gap between the USA and Brazil has historically not been huge.

If you’d said before last night’s game that the USA would concede a goalkeeping howler, concede a goal on a world-class free kick, be robbed of a penalty kick and see Dunn, Morgan and Mallory Pugh squandering chances, would you have predicted a 4–3 win? Probably not.

So let’s not excuse everything. Maybe spread some of the blame to the players, some of whom are simply not at their best right now for whatever reason.

And we can hope Sauerbrunn stays on the back line from now on. Otherwise, on to the next experiment … (maybe Campbell at keeper? Or Krieger with Sauerbrunn in central defense?)

Collecting the dripping info of U.S. women’s soccer’s CBA

First, read my piece at The Guardian. If you haven’t been following the saga of the Great Equal Pay Standoff of 2016-17, that’ll help you catch up.

You may notice there’s a lot we don’t know. It’s not as if U.S. Soccer and the union held a press conference and went over the CBA line by line. “It’s a private document,” I’ve been told by someone who wishes to remain anonymous. A BigSoccer poster captured the release of information perfectly:

Exact terms not to be disclosed until you’ve lost interest.

And indeed, the previous CBA and Memorandum of Understanding weren’t released until everyone started suing each other last year, and Jonathan Tannenwald tossed the whole thing up at for the world to see because he’s a great guy who works about 80 hours a week.

You may remember those days. Julie Foudy wondered why the U.S. women weren’t enforcing “equal pay” clauses in the existing deal. We all gasped as we realized the U.S. national team’s labor agreement dictated the terms of non-U.S. national team players in the NWSL.

And indeed, the limit on non-WNT pay is one of the few things that has come out about the new deal. You don’t find out by asking people. You find out when Grant Wahl goes on Fox and casually mentions it in passing while reporting on the Marta-to-Orlando deal (which has a lot of unanswered questions of its own, mainly why in the world Rosengard would give up Marta on a “free transfer” as suddenly as Trump changed his mind on Syria).

So here are some of the things we know about the deal, from various sources:

1. The maximum salary for a non-USWNT player in the NWSL is $41,000 (Source: Grant Wahl). (Or maybe $41,700, per Jeff Kassouf. * – see update below) That’s not a ton of money, but a lot of people in their 20s manage to live on that.

And with that said, bear in mind — U.S. Soccer may not have the right to dictate as much to the NWSL as we think.

(Also noteworthy from Jeff’s tweet: The minimum salary is now $15,000, comparable to what MLS “developmental players” earned many years ago. Still not enough to be fully independent of other sources of income, but maybe enough for me to shut up those people on the local youth soccer message board who scoff at the Spirit having “so-called pro players.”)

2. U.S. players have gained some measure of control over their image rights (various sources). We don’t have details. It’s hard to say what this entailed in the past as well. When a player writes a book, does she have to pay U.S. Soccer for a photo of herself? Or just the photographer? .

3. The minimum number of players under U.S. Soccer contract is dropping (Source: Grant Wahl). At first, that may seem like a “win” for the federation and a loss for the players. But maybe not. We’ve all fretted that U.S. coaches haven’t had much flexibility with the player pool in the past. Now, they should have more, and the players on the fringe of the national team also benefit because …

4. “Floater” pay will improve (various sources). We don’t know details, but it’s important to note that this was indeed addressed.

5. Players will “commit” to NWSL in exchange for improved conditions (Grant Wahl, plus my own reporting). One thing I understand from my own reporting: No, Crystal Dunn doesn’t have to immediately pack up and leave England. It’s more complicated than that. There are numbers involved, and the number of players that can be overseas will be higher in a non-tournament year (like this one) than it will be in a World Cup or Olympic year.

6. There’s no outright ban on artificial turf for home friendlies (Andrew Das). The men also played on turf recently in Chattanooga. But does the deal ramp up field inspections to avoid another Aloha Stadium situation?

7. The Victory Tour is … dead? Maybe? (my own reporting). Someone close to the players told me the new bonus structure might make the Victory Tour irrelevant. I hesitate to share something with such shaky sourcing, but I hope this prods people to give us a definitive answer.

8. Travel is better (various sources, including my own reporting). I asked specifically if this means a player based overseas would get a business class flight to come over and play for the USWNT. I was told she would. Other than that, I’m not sure how much else would change. The old deal called for business class or charter for any flight of three hours or more, and even the men’s team might be in economy for something shorter than that. (The men’s team, though, has more international games, so it may come up less often.)

9. The difference in men’s and women’s per diems over the past two years will be paid retroactively (various sources, including my own reporting). This was always a silly issue. Had cooler heads prevailed in 2016, the per diems would’ve been evened up. The cost to U.S. Soccer from a PR point of view is far greater than the financial cost of chipping in a few extra bucks per day per play. But perhaps because of that PR cost, the players used the per diems as a bludgeon against USSF last year.

And that’s just one of the many ways in which the USWNT’s stance from 2016 backfired. It’s not a question of a “hard line.” The players were still taking a hard line — they needed another three months after firing Rich Nichols and easing the more combative players to the back benches to make a deal. They were taking a reasonable line in every sense — a firm stance based on reason.

Add it all together:

Will players get better pay? It certainly appears so.

Did Jill Ellis and any future U.S. coach get more flexibility to bring in new players and have legitimate competition for places on the team? Also appears so.

Will this deal benefit NWSL players? This one’s a little murkier. Non-USWNT players still have an individual salary cap, and we’ll have to see what U.S. Soccer can really do about some aspects of NWSL life. The NWSL’s deal with A&E may bring about more change than anything U.S. Soccer does. But in any case, NWSL players are organizing separately. (Expect news on that sometime in the near future.)

And, again, the NWSL was not a party to these discussions or this agreement. U.S. Soccer does a lot to support the league, but the league is not a dictatorship, even a benevolent one.

How much money will the U.S. women get if they win the next World Cup? And here we’re in the complete unknown.

Something to consider on bonuses: FIFA is (or should be) under pressure to bump up the bonuses it pays out. The 2015 WWC champion (USA) got $2 million. That’s far less than a men’s team gets just for making it to the final 32.

So if you’re negotiating for the WNT, do you ask for your bonus as a percentage of the FIFA bonus rather than a flat fee?

I’ve been told players get nearly all of whatever bonus money FIFA pays. But wouldn’t you rather see that in writing?

In any case, there’s more to fair treatment than what’s written on a piece of paper. From my Guardian piece: “In some areas, what counts more than anything else is what actually happens over the next few years.”

At the very least, we have a fresh start. And that’s progress.

Update: The NWSL has released competition and roster rules. The former aren’t particularly interesting, though it’s always worthwhile to make note of the tiebreaking procedures, and I can’t remember seeing so much detail about who forms what committee on a lightning delay. (The TV producer is included in the conversation, though you’d have to imagine that’s just to keep the broadcasters informed.)

The roster rules are worth browsing, though they raise a few questions. The biggest questions in my mind are on the salary cap, which is $315,000 per team, “spread across a minimum of 18 Players … based on adjustments for Federation players.”

The quick math here: $315,000 divided by 18 equals $17,500. If a team carried the maximum roster of 20, then it’s $15,500. That would make it virtually impossible for any player to make significantly more than the league minimum.

So does that mean the “Federation players” (those allocated by the USA or Canada — Mexico is still listed as a Federation even though it isn’t allocating any players at the moment) are simply exempt from the cap? I’ve asked the league.


U.S. women’s soccer team: What we know, what we don’t

The U.S. women’s soccer CBA is, quite literally, a Big Deal. And yet we really know so little about it.

We know which players will be allocated in the NWSL, with the only slight surprise being Jaelene Hinkle’s omission.

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We also know, via the NYT’s Andrew Das, that there’s no outright prohibition on artificial turf.

We’ve seen some comparisons between the pay in the old deal and the pay in the new deal. But they’re not apples-to-apples comparisons. Saying players could make $200K-$300K tells us very little. It’s a boost if compared to their old base salaries, sure. It’s less than they made in several years in the past. Just check out the Form 990s posted at U.S. Soccer, which don’t list all player salaries but list the federation’s top-paid employees each year — a handful of administrators, the national team coaches, and a couple of players.

In fiscal year 2012 (ending 3/31/2013), the top-paid players were all female: Alex Morgan ($282,564), Becky Sauerbrunn ($274,871), Christie Rampone ($272,913). The next year, the top-paid player was MNT player DaMarcus Beasley ($187,600). The next year, with a World Cup bonus tossed in for the men, it was Clint Dempsey ($428,002).

I’m still trying to get answers to a few other details. It’s proving to be quite a challenge for reasons I don’t fully understand. Stay tuned.


U.S. women’s soccer: Always look on the bright side of life

Sure, they lost 3-0. But they learned a lot, and the crowds keep coming out to see them even when they’re not seeing a bunch of celebrities crushing some hapless, unfunded national team just happy to be staying in a nice hotel.

Go ahead and rip me on Twitter. I won’t be responding. At least until Easter, when all bets are off.

My analysis, quotes and words of comfort from what’s probably my last appearance in the RFK pressbox …

Source: USA women suffer worst defeat in a decade as France win SheBelieves Cup | Football | The Guardian

Steffi Jones’ homecoming, anthem update, other notes from RFK

German women’s coach Steffi Jones has every reason to be pleased tonight. Her team took an impressive 1-0 win over England, and she did it in her old home stadium from her Washington Freedom days.

“That was about 14 years ago, but I was still feeling home,” Jones said. “I remember so many great games here, the great fans. I was feeling good coming back. I know it’s going to be a new stadium coming, so me being in here one more time is a good, good feeling, yes.”

She was too polite to mention that the place looks like it’s about to fall down. A few newcomers to the RFK Stadium pressbox have been looking around in disbelief.  And the cookies and brownies in the hospitality room have disappeared.

But a good crowd has filed in here, despite the threat of rain. Sunil Gulati is here. So is Abby Wambach.

This is probably my last trip to the pressbox, so it’s a little sentimental for me, too.  So many memories of incomprehensible PA announcements, nachos and bad weather. And great soccer.

One note from the lineup: Former Spirit players Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn are NOT in the starting lineup. You could say Jill Ellis is a spoilsport, or you could say she simply cares more about developing her team than anything else.

And … it’s pouring again. This stadium always makes it interesting.

Thoughts on the game at some point tomorrow and later this week.

UPDATE: I also got a little bit more information about the national anthem policy (NOT BYLAW) and why it was not included in the “book” that’s released before the Annual General Meeting. The quick answer: Not enough time. Items from the February board meeting simply couldn’t be added to the book. (You might argue that they still could’ve sent out an addendum, of course.)

I was also told the when the policy appeared on screen at the AGM, the crowd of state and association reps from all over erupted with a loud cheer. Take that for what it’s worth or whatever you want to make of it.

U.S. women and 60 Minutes: What we still don’t know

Yes, Carli Lloyd actually said the women’s team deserves to be paid more than the men.

We still don’t know what that means.

So my Guardian piece on the matter covers some familiar ground. But we do have some news, and it’s probably not good. This labor dispute has no signs of progress. The next round of talks has been delayed, and we don’t know why. The EEOC doesn’t seem to be close to issuing any sort of guidance.

The women are willing to talk about the issues. But only on their terms.

A few other thoughts:

  • I’m not comfortable calling the women’s soccer team the greatest team in women’s sports history. Not when the USA had to catch up to other countries in basketball and is now overwhelmingly No. 1 in a sense that the women’s soccer team never was.
  • The piece wasn’t bad, especially given its generalist audience, but some of the editing made little sense. Rich Nichols made a point about the similarities (or differences?) between the U.S. soccer dispute and the NBA/WNBA, and the context of his point wasn’t at all clear. Hope Solo made a point about the men getting paid “win or lose” — in the context of U.S. women’s salaries that are paid, you guessed, win or lose. (Or sit out entirely.)
  • The points raised on travel are misleading if not outright false. The men travel business class when they’re flying to camp from their European club teams and on a charter when they’re going some place like San Pedro Sula. They’ve sometimes been in coach in other situations, though I don’t know how recently. The women’s Memorandum of Understanding says flights over three hours are business class or charter. If USSF is violating that deal, then that’s a point worth mentioning. (That said, the sides are trying to negotiate what happens in the future.)
  • We still don’t know how any of this affects the NWSL. Some people who chatted with me say it’s not fair to expect the U.S. women’s deal to have any NWSL ramifications. Maybe it’s not. But if U.S. Soccer is going to continue subsidizing salaries for its players in the NWSL, then it’ll be difficult to write a labor deal that doesn’t address that fact.

Here’s the story, which has a surprising number of comments considering that the U.S. soccer community has been preoccupied with the Klinsmann matter: The USA women’s national team are demanding equal pay. Is it realistic? | Football | The Guardian

Turmoil in U.S. women’s soccer and NWSL player pool

My latest for The Guardian looks at the start of a possible player exodus from the NWSL while the U.S. women’s national team negotiations — which directly affect the league — race toward the year-end deadline.

How turmoil in US women’s soccer could drive players to Europe | Football | The Guardian

Related: Yesterday’s post about Hope Solo’s court case showing no signs of ending any time soon.

Spirit dropped the ball, then Rapinoe dropped it again

My complex reaction to a wild night in which Spirit owner Bill Lynch tried to quiet Megan Rapinoe’s protests but wound up amplifying them — and then Rapinoe made horrible use of that platform.

Source: Washington Spirit gave Megan Rapinoe fans by stopping her anthem protest | Football | The Guardian