Protesting the FIFA pay gap

Look! Up in the sky! It’s … a banner protesting unequal pay between the men’s and women’s World Cups!

Yes, such a banner flew at the U.S. women’s ticker-tape parade on Friday.

That plane flew for three hours, over this route:

Flight map

So here are some questions:

  • Is this the most effective means of protesting?
  • What’s the goal?
  • What’s the likely outcome?

Maybe I haven’t spent enough time in Manhattan, but I’m a little skeptical of an airplane banner as a means of protest with such a distracting skyline. When I think of¬†airplane banners on the beach, advertising the latest seafood specials nearby. Planes sometimes fly over stadiums in an effort to get the coach fired. (I know, I know — the pro/rel guy wasted some money on it as well.)

But UltraViolet also brought its message to ground level, which looks a little more effective from a distance:

Another issue: Is this really taking the message to FIFA?¬†To my knowledge, no FIFA officials went to New York to honor the U.S. team. I’d hope the money went toward the parade, not putting up some Executive Committee member in a five-star hotel. And it’s a safe bet Sepp Blatter wasn’t there.

Perhaps, though, the banners will inspire some people to join UltraViolet’s more conventional (by 21st century standards) protests, petitioning and reaching out through social media. Molly Haigh, whose tweet you see above, explained by email:

FIFA officials have been hearing from our members since we launched this campaign–in the form of petition signatures, comments, phone calls and social media outreach–and that will continue as we go forward.

The next question: Is pay equality an attainable goal? In some sports, yes.¬†If you’re the overall winner in your discipline in track and field’s Diamond League, you get $40,000 and a nice trophy, whether you’ve won the men’s 100 meters or the women’s triple jump or anything else. Grand Slam tennis champions get equal pay, even though women play only three sets max.

Most individual sports in this BBC study were even — the exceptions were golf, ski jumping (if you don’t remember that fight, refresh your memory), certain cycling events, and the one we’re talking about here, football.

So give the International Olympic Committee and international organizations some credit. In most of our lifetimes, female Olympic athletes have had as much access to fame and fortune as the men. Think Lindsey Vonn, Michelle Kwan, Marion Jones, Misty May/Kerri Walsh, and so on. Even a Romanian like Nadia Comenici can garner global attention.

Team sports are trickier.

Part of the issue: Men’s team sports are huge. Gargantuan. Immense vortices of money and media. The Women’s World Cup does well in the USA. The men’s World Cup does well in every country with functioning televisions.

So asking for equality on the World Cup front is tough. We might be better off asking why FIFA gives prize money at all rather than sinking the revenue back into developing the game. Men’s players may strike if their home federations aren’t paying them (sadly, not all that rare), but I don’t think anyone is going to pass up the World Cup because the bonus money isn’t high enough.

In women’s soccer, the national team players in the USA and several European countries aren’t the ones who need the money. It’s everyone else.

Women’s soccer needs to catch up in so many ways. One is the talent pool for the national team. The U.S. men have entire camps in January — the now-legendary “Camp Cupcake” — that bring fringe players into the mix. Aside from Stanford player Jordan Morris, all of the men have solid salaries in MLS or Europe.

In other words: Women’s soccer needs the NWSL. We need an expanded player pool. We also need players to compete.¬†The rust on Abby Wambach’s game during this World Cup should reinforce the importance of playing club competition, as other players were doing while Wambach trained on her own.

No one wants to be the one to advise well-intentioned protesters to scale back their demands. “A dream deferred is a dream denied” and so forth. In this case, though, it’s not necessarily a question of letting FIFA off the hook. FIFA does women’s soccer wrong in general. By all means, keep yelling at Zurich.

But the more immediate need is right here. The bonus money for U.S. national team players is as much about symbolism as anything else. The pressing problem is the salaries for NWSL players, many of whom play for less than $10,000 a season.

That¬†needs to change. And you don’t get that done by yelling at people who’ve given a lot of money already to give a lot more. You get that done by getting the tens of millions of people who followed the Women’s World Cup in the USA to pay at least a little bit of attention to the league.

UltraViolet does have plans on that front, Haigh says: “Our members will be making their voices heard to any and every entity that has a stake in women’s soccer. We are huge fans.”

Great. Because if we don’t have a professional league in this country, U.S. players and fans are far less likely to see whatever checks they’re handing out to the winners, anyway. The countries that have figured out how to play pro soccer will gladly pocket that money.

 

Hope Solo and the timing of bad news: Q-and-EG

Questions and educated guesses on the Hope Solo situation:

Q. Why did ESPN air a piece on Hope Solo, with extensive comments from a family member with whom she fought, the day before the USA was due to play its first World Cup game?

EG: Because Solo has been receiving a lot of favorable press and sympathetic interviews that have allowed her to give her side of the story, painting herself as “a victim of domestic violence” who suffered a concussion in the scuffle with family members a year ago. She was on¬†Good Morning America, and she was in a glowing ESPN magazine feature.

So the main trigger was Solo’s recent series of interviews, which Deadspin called “Hope Solo’s Redemption Tour.” Deadspin concluded that said tour is … well …

And Solo’s half-sister, Teresa Obert, felt the same way about Solo’s redemption tour and decided not to keep silent.

That’s one aspect of it. The other aspect, which we don’t fully know, is how long veteran reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada was chasing after the depositions and other records that were part of the broadcast.

Could ESPN have aired this piece a month ago? Probably not. Not enough new info.

Q. What’s the big deal? Each side says the other is lying, and we can’t tell which is which.

EG. Or maybe they’re both lying. Or maybe everyone’s guilty of some sort of abhorrent behavior. Look at the depositions in the ESPN story and see what you think.

Q. Weren’t the charges dismissed?

EG. Not exactly. Prosecutors are re-filing charges and will be back in court July 13.

Q. Back up a second — did Solo say “concussed”?

EG. Yep. Do you remember anyone reporting a Hope Solo concussion last summer? She missed a Seattle Reign game after the incident, but injury wasn’t the given reason.

Q.¬†Wasn’t the media wrong for the whole way they handled Solo’s marriage to Jerramy Stevens?

EG. Ah yes — the accusation from the ESPN magazine story: “UNLIKE WHAT HAS been widely reported in the media, the Stevens and Solo love story did not begin two months before they wed but in fact sprang to life in college …”

Compare that with Solo’s memoir epilogue, released after the 2012 Olympics: “Adrian was beyond committed, a steady support system for me through these difficult¬†times. Somewhere in the past year, there had been a significant shift in our relationship, and our full commitment to each other became clear and ironclad. We decided to start looking for a¬†home, one where we could build our life together.”

Look, relationships are complicated, and we shouldn’t be so judgmental. But I think we can forgive anyone who read Hope’s memoir in September for being a little surprised when she turned up with Stevens a couple of months later. The fact that Stevens and Solo knew each other in college doesn’t erase pages from her memoir in which she talks about her future with another man a couple of months before marrying another.

Q. I still think ESPN just did this because they don’t have Women’s World Cup rights.

EG. ESPN also ran the sympathetic feature with the revisionist history on Solo’s relationships. (Disclaimer: I’ve written for ESPN. And Fox, which is showing the Cup this time. And, most recently, Fox News Latino.)

Q. Why does any of this matter?

EG. To a large degree, it doesn’t. The U.S. team has made peace with the fact that Solo is going to do her own thing. Solo is on the team not because she’s everyone’s best friend. She’s on the team because she has been the best big-game goalkeeper in the world over the past 10 years.

But when the media stop questioning stuff that clearly merits questioning, we’ve lost our way. Then, to give one not-so-hypothetical example, Solo can say a bunch of fans are racist without any serious repercussions or even anyone giving the other side.

Q. Why did the family skip some opportunities to tell itself when the case was first active? Not just to the media. To the court.

EG. That’s a good question, and I wish¬†Outside the Lines¬†had tackled it. (I didn’t see the full TV piece, so perhaps it was asked there.)

Q. How will this affect the U.S. team?

EG. It won’t.

Q. How will this affect Solo’s future endorsements?

EG. It’ll complicate them.

Q. What scares you about the whole situation on a personal level?

EG. The way so many people make excuses for her rather than accepting the fact that she’s a deeply flawed human being. The fight with her family, frankly, seems a little less disturbing than her attitude toward the police. (Unless the police were lying, but what’s their incentive to do that?)

She also does a lot of good, absolutely — if you’ve ever seen her with kids, you know that. No one’s saying you can’t be her fan.

But here’s a basic fact of life: Make a claim of being a victim, and you’d better be able to back it up. Especially when we see other indications to the contrary.

Root for her on Monday if you like. That’s up to you. But if you’re looking for victims to whom you send your sympathy, you might want to choose some with where the facts are clearer and their own roles in the situation are cleaner.

But all those are just educated guesses. Not “answers.” Please don’t accuse me of telling you how to think. Just tossing out a few things to think about.

 

USWNT vs. Mexico: Key moments and random thoughts

The USA advanced to the Women’s World Cup with a¬†lopsided victory over a Mexican team that left a couple of solid attackers on the bench and never threatened to come back from an early U.S. goal.

Costa Rica advanced in penalty kicks in the first qualifying semifinal, with Dinnia Diaz saving all three Trinidad and Tobago kicks she faced while the Tica kickers calmly converted their attempts. Costa Rica and the USA will play in the final for bragging rights but little else — even calling it the CONCACAF championship seems dubious when Canada (automatically qualified for the World Cup as hosts) isn’t participating.

As promised in the headline, here are the key moments and random thoughts (the latter in italic).

LINEUPS:

USA: Hope Solo; Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen, Christie Rampone, Ali Krieger; Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd; Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press; Sydney Leroux

Starting Leroux instead of Abby Wambach isn’t that much of a shocker; Jill Ellis has rotated attackers at times, and Wambach could always come in off the bench. The shocker is the omission of center back Becky Sauerbrunn, arguably the world’s best defender. She should be rested and ready to go. Why leave her out here?

Mexico: Pamela Tajonar; Bianca Sierra, Christina Murillo, Alina Garciamendez, Kenti Robles; Liliana Mercado, Arianna Romero, Lydia Rangel, Dinora Garza, Tanya Samarzich; Luz Duarte

Veronica Perez, Monica Ocampo and Teresa Noyola on the bench, leading the Fox broadcasters to question whether Mexico was simply writing off this game and resting players to try to clinch a World Cup berth in the third-place game instead.

FIRST HALF

10 seconds:¬†Boom, up to Leroux. She’s offside.

Despite that direct start, the USA spend its next several possessions going through the middle through Lauren Holiday.

4th minute: USA free kick, far right, 25 yds out. Rapinoe serves to box, nothing doing.

6th minute: GOAL USA 1-0.¬†As they had early in Monday’s game, the USA has too many players sitting in the middle of the box — three this time — but Tobin Heath’s excellent cross goes straight to the head of Carli Lloyd. Credit Holiday with switching the point of attack out to Heath.

9th minute: Quick ball from the left flank ahead to Press in the middle, and Tajonar has to race out to head it away awkwardly.

15th minute: Mexico has a possession in the U.S. half. Possibly their first, at least their first with more than 1-2 touches.

Mexico has been defending in two lines — the four at the back, then five at midfield, the latter about 30-35 yards up the field, trying to make it difficult for Holiday to distribute. They’ve been somewhat successful, but they only needed to fail once, and they have.

19th minute: Two U.S. shots,¬†the first (from a curiously open Press) saved, the second blocked. Rapinoe, slightly right of center, flicked it to Leroux at the top of the box, who one-timed it to Press. Then Leroux pounced on the rebound but couldn’t punch it in. The danger continued for another few seconds.

22nd minute: Good U.S. chance on a smart ball from Engen at midfield that floats over Sierra to Press. Her shot finds the side netting.

Not really sure I see that, but I’ve been watching Haiti play, so the bar has been lowered for me.

28th minute:¬†Good 1v1 play from Press on the right. Rapinoe can’t quite get onto the cross. Holiday blasts a follow-up shot well high.

29th minute: Penalty kick USA,¬†and on first glance, I don’t buy it. On the replay, I definitely don’t. That’s a dive from Tobin Heath. Lloyd converts it.¬†2-0

32nd minute: Free kick USA as Mercado tangles with Leroux. Rapinoe takes it about five yards outside the arc. Puts it on goal, but Tajonar handles it easily.

https://twitter.com/Sarah_Gehrke/status/525800962586578944

Indeed — Rapinoe is often up at center forward. Or Lloyd.

35th minute:¬†Ali Krieger gets forward, tries a cross, gets it back and gets hammered by Samarzich. Rapinoe’s free kick from the side of the box is easily cleared.

36th minute:¬†The first corner kick of the game goes to … Mexico! Robles works up the right channel and wins it. The ball bounds out to Mercado, who takes aim from 25 but sends it comfortably wide of the far post. First shot for Mexico, but nothing to trouble Solo.

38th minute:¬†Two more crosses from Press. Also an odd moment on the first one as a second ball materializes on the field. Mexico’s defense alertly clears both of them.

40th minute:¬†Another good cross from Press, this time to Lloyd, who ends up laying it back to Press. She tries to lob it over the mass of red defenders, but it’s over the bar as well.

43rd minute: Second U.S. corner kick, both within a couple of minutes, and Holiday shanks it over the end line.

45th minute: Press crosses to Klingenberg, which makes sense because the outside backs have gotten bored and are just racing into the Mexican box at will now. She receives it at an awkward height and sends it over.

HALFTIME

Shots: USA 11-1; Shots on goal: USA 4-0; Corner kicks: USA 2-1; Offsides: USA 3-0; Fouls: MEX 7-2. But the CONCACAF site credits Mexico with an impressive 16 clearances (USA four) and 27 recoveries (USA 1).

Mexico is playing with no confidence, no discipline, nothing to suggest they’re doing anything other than going through the motions before facing Trinidad and Tobago in the third-place game.

SECOND HALF

48th minute:¬†An actual attacking possession for Mexico, with two crosses coming from the right — one cleared, one out of play. First test of any kind for central defenders.

49th minute: Chance for USA.¬†Ordinarily, you’d laugh at someone who hit the crossbar from three yards out, but Leroux had to stretch out her foot after Rapinoe’s cross went past/was flicked on by/was dummied by Heath.

54th minute: Lloyd tries a little too hard to get something done in the box and is called for the foul.

MEX substitution: Sandra Mayor for the exhausted solo front-runner Duarte, who has not been able to get on the end of whatever hopeful balls the Mexican midfield has lobbed up in her direction.

56th minute: GOAL 3-0 USA. Leroux with a nicely weighted through ball to Press, who was kept onside by a stray center back. Press takes one touch as Tajonar lunges, then finishes into the open net. Rapinoe also could have finished it.

So here’s how fluid the formation is — the forward just played a through ball to the right wing, which she finished alongside the playmaking midfielder.

61st minute: Chance as Leroux hits the woodwork again, this time finding the right post from 18 yards out while her defender retreated.

Well, if it’s any consolation, it’s three now.

USA substitution: Abby Wambach in for Sydney Leroux. Not sure why, other than perhaps to please the crowd. It was not a popular substitution on Twitter.

62nd minute:¬†Cross from Press to Wambach’s feet. She’s wide open on the 6. Can’t get it. Perhaps not quite in the flow of the game after two seconds.

65th minute: Cross from Wambach to Holiday, whose header from 10 yards dead center goes wide.

It’s garbage time now.¬†

67th minute: Tobin Heath tries to keep the ball in play by leaning forward and kicking it like a one-footed scorpion kick. But it was already out. Did I say it was garbage time?

USA substitution: Morgan Brian for Megan Rapinoe.

71st minute:¬†U.S. corner kick sent to Wambach, who’s defended well enough that she can’t get the header on frame.

MEX substitution: Monica Alvarado replaces Murillo.

74th minute: Press with yet another terrific cross, Holiday dummies it for Heath, whose shot is blocked by the sprawling Robles.

USA substitution: Heather O’Reilly replaces Lauren Holiday. Surely, the USA will juggle the lineup somehow to account for the flank player subbing for the converted center mid, but does it matter at this point?

75th minute:¬†With the first kick after the substitution, a free kick is floated to Lloyd. She’s clearly offside, but everyone briefly celebrates her hat trick before realizing the flag is up.

MEX substitution: Noyola for Robles. They’re rolling the dice on offense now. Well, not really. They’re just throwing warm bodies onto the field until this is over.

Cat Whitehill tells us Abby Wambach has dropped into the No. 10 role. But she’s not going to try to be a playmaker like Rapinoe.

Meanwhile, Tobin Heath is dribbling like Curly Neal against the Washington Generals.

84th minute: Chance¬†as Wambach’s shot is saved by Tajonar. Press follows up but hits the left post.

Fox raises a pointed question: Given Hope Solo’s impending trial, do you play Ashlyn Harris in the final, just for the experience? Cat Whitehill agrees that it’s a good opportunity to play Harris.

Shot count is now 18-1 USA.

Tobin Heath is down holding her shin. From the replay, I’m not sure she’s wearing shin guards. Actually quite common for players to use tiny, flimsy shin guards, which baffles me. But Heath is back up quickly. And Whitehill is now lobbying for Ellis to play Julie Johnston in the final.

90th minute: The USA officially shifts to keepaway mode.

92nd minute: Wambach shoots from 25, easily saved.

So the USA advances for the World Cup, avenging a loss at this stage to Mexico four years ago that sent the Americans on an odyssey to reach the tournament.

The final against Costa Rica could be an interesting test of U.S. depth if Ellis puts out a few reserves. Costa Rica is clearly the third-best team in the region at the moment and should be the toughest opponent the USA will face until it goes outside the continent for opposition.

Choke! Why there’s no double standard for women’s soccer

Let’s rewrite history, shall we?

1. 1988 World Series: The Oakland A’s choked in Game 1, when Dennis Eckerley got out to an 0-2 count with two out in the ninth and a 4-3 lead but hung a slider that Kirk Gibson, so hobbled he might have been thrown out from left field, hit for a home run. (Sure, Nate Silver lists this as a choke in passing, but we remember Gibson in that situation much more clearly than we remember Eckersley. Silver also points out the ugly aftermath of living with a “choke” — Donnie Moore’s 1989 suicide.)

2. 1982 NCAA Championship: Georgetown gave away the national men’s basketball championship when Fred Brown passed the ball straight to North Carolina’s James Worthy. Oh yeah — some guy named Michael Jordan hit a big shot before that, a shot that some report today as a “buzzer-beater” even though it hit the net with 15 seconds left.

3. 2010 World Cup: Oh boy, did Slovenia and Algeria choke!

Get the picture?

Frankly, “choke” is a term that doesn’t interest me, mostly because I associate it with insecure guys trying to exert some sort of power over the sports they watch. It’s a word for the keyboard warrior and frustrated fan, and it’s not applied with any sort of consistency to either gender or any sport. If you think it doesn’t apply to women, talk to Daniela Hantuchova.

“Choke” is sometimes used as a way of distancing ourselves emotionally from a loss that would otherwise be painful. Our college hoops team lost? Oh, they choked. Our baseball team blew a 5-game lead in September? Choke! Scott Norwood missed a difficult 47-yard field goal — or a “chip shot” in the words of revisionists — that would’ve spared the Buffalo Bills the indignity of being perennial runners-up? Choke!

So in a weird way, yelling “choke!” is just a way of saying you care. Thanks?

Women’s World Cup: Small step for Japan, giant leap for women’s soccer

The penalty shootout wasn’t great, particularly for U.S. fans. But this Women’s World Cup was a wonderful event that demanded attention from around the world and got it.

Certainly Japan, which has suffered so much this year, won’t soon forget it. Neither will the USA, even the cynics who would like to forget it ever happened.

This tournament was full of great teams, great players and great moments:

– Germany got a sellout crowd in Berlin’s giant Olympic Stadium, and Canada gave them a game.

– Mexico, which upset the USA in qualifying, got a draw with eventual group winner England.

– Equatorial Guinea, particularly energetic attacker Anonman, was fun to watch.

– New Zealand was level with eventual winner Japan through much of its opener and got its first World Cup point with two goals in the dying minutes.

– Beautiful cities from Dresden to Augsburg got dressed up for the Cup.

Controversial at times, Marta is still a player to behold. (Yes, Jacqueline, we’d love her if she were American. Maybe not unconditionally. I haven’t read through all 698 comments to see if anyone made that point.)

– England, a wreck at times, put it all together for a win over the eventual champions and was unlucky to lose in the quarterfinals.

– A smart, skillful Swedish team beat the USA and shook off semifinal disappointment for a well-deserved place on the podium.

РLed by the ageless WUSA/WPS veteran Homare Sawa, Japan showed its skill in a 4-0 rout of Mexico in the group stage, showed its pluck in ousting host Germany and showed its heart in winning the title.

Then there’s the U.S. team. On paper, this was not the best team you’d want to send to a World Cup. Right back Ali Krieger still seems like a newcomer. Left back Amy LePeilbet is out of position. Central midfielder Shannon Boxx doesn’t have the spring in her step she use to have, and she and Carli Lloyd often struggled to maintain the possession essential to the game Pia Sundhage would like to play. U.S. fans knew Lori Chalupny would be dearly missed while the mysterious concussion saga goes on, and Lindsay Tarpley’s injury in a friendly against Japan was especially cruel.

And yet, as they did in 2008 without the injured Wambach, the U.S. players proved to be more than the sum of their parts. Question their skill. Nit-pick their tactics. Never doubt their heart.¬†Americans didn’t realize it, but they were cheering for the overachievers we so often claim to be and love to admire.

For those who need analogies to other sports — imagine if Butler’s Gordon Hayward had hit that shot from a neighboring county to beat a flawed but favored Duke in the 2010 hoops tournament. That’s what happened here, with Sawa as Hayward.

So what does this mean going ahead?

In the USA, repeating one more time, WPS has its own issues. League owners might be able to work things out and harness the goodwill of this great tournament to build a sustainable league. Or we might see the W-League or WPSL step forward as the most viable model. We’ll see.

Globally, this tournament should invigorate the game in Europe, where the Champions League is taking hold and teams are getting more professional. We can only hope Germany will better appreciate its Frauen-Bundesliga, which had players on many of these rosters and is already signing players who made an impact in this tournament. The game’s profile certainly won’t be hurt in Japan, either. And maybe China will be motivated to get back into it.

So don’t look solely at WPS attendance numbers and use that to gauge the health of women’s soccer. Again, WPS has its own issues. Repeat, WPS has its own issues. Repeat …

And one thing this tournament proved is that these games can be thrilling, full of skill and heart, and a lot of fun to watch. It’s not mired in the cynicism that plagued last year’s dreary World Cup final and too many MLS games this year.

Some people, naturally, confuse cynicism with intelligence. (Yes, I read your Tweets.) No one says we as soccer fans and sports fans have to accept that.

If this tournament showed nothing else, it showed this: Women’s soccer is a game worth watching.

Women’s soccer boom, version 2.0

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen people ask aloud whether the Women’s World Cup will boost WPS. My rote response on Twitter: WPS has its own issues that no goal in Moenchengladbach can solve.

Perhaps I should explain in more than 140 characters.

1. Big events usually don’t build leagues. The buzz always dies down quickly. The overly ambitious WUSA couldn’t build a sustainable league in the wake of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and MLS needed to survive many lean years through patient business planning. (Yes, a book on that subject exists.)

2. WPS has had the deck stacked against it. The league launched during a recession, which is obviously bad for sponsorship and attendance. The downsizing mainstream media wouldn’t touch it. AP ignored it. A small band of beat writers (Craig Stouffer, Jeff Di Veronica, William Bretherton and others I apologize for missing) got out and paid attention.

The good news was that a hardy band of indie media — Jenna Pel, Jeff Kassouf and Jennifer Doyle, along with ESPN’s Jacqueline Purdy and the enterprising staff of Our Game magazine — jumped into the vacuum and frankly everyone’s concepts of women’s soccer. (Suffice to say I’ll be reading a lot more of Jenna’s Frauen-Bundesliga notes this year after touring Germany and seeing the league’s players in action on several national teams.) They’ll be around whether WPS sticks around or not.

3. We don’t know yet whether magicJack owner Dan Borislow is saving or killing the league. Borislow bought the Washington Freedom, moved it to South Florida an renamed it after his company. For that, he can’t be faulted — plenty of people in the D.C. area have the money and the supposed interest in women’s soccer to have stepped up to the plate and kept the Freedom in place, and they did not do it.

Borislow and the Sahlen family, which moved its W-League team up into WPS as the Western New York Flash, kept the league at a viable six teams. They also showed the will to splash plenty of cash on players. The Sahlens signed Marta and a sizable chunk of the Canadian national team. Borislow literally has the spine of the U.S. team — Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach.

The Flash settled neatly into WPS. Borislow, on the other hand, has been feuding with the league all season over everything from maintaining a Web site to putting up signage for sponsors. (He says he’s willing to do both but that the league makes it too expensive or too difficult.) He has been defiant through multiple fines and suspensions.

And magicJack has not been a typical pro team in many other senses. Coach Mike Lyons was reassigned after a couple of games, and the head coaching role has been assumed by a revolving cast of assistant coaches, players and Borislow himself. (Borislow already is the team’s PR contact, and it’s unclear whether Briana Scurry, the GM at the start of the season, is still playing much of a role.) Players have been only intermittently available to the media, and when you talk with them, they all give pat answers about how their owner is a sweet guy who just has his own way of doing things.

The cynics would say they don’t want to rock the boat when they have perks such as nice condos near the beach. Borislow has been quite willing to send players packing when they fall out of favor for whatever reason, but so far, no one has left the magicJack organization and vented about anything.

WPS has expansion prospects. But the questions are these:

– Will anyone be put off by an owner who has demonstrated such contempt for the league office?

– Will anyone be willing to spend the money to compete with someone who spends like the New York Yankees of WPS? Even in the middle of the season, magicJack simply bought Megan Rapinoe — yes, the Megan Rapinoe whose crosses in this World Cup have become the stuff of legend — from Philadelphia, which has been a viable contender this season.

– Will some owners prefer the business models in the W-League and the WPSL? The main drawback in those leagues is the schedule, which is far too short because of draconian restrictions on the college players who must fill out the talent pool. But a couple of teams have tested professional models in those leagues, and perhaps there would be enough to break away and play a season of a reasonable length. Even back in the mid-2000s, players like England’s Kelly Smith and France’s Marinette Pichon hung around in the States to give the W-League a whirl.

MLS succeeded by imposing a top-down single-entity structure with a salary cap, containing costs and putting all owners in the same economic boat. That might not work for women’s soccer — it only worked in MLS because Philip Anschutz, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft stuck with it after everyone else bailed out.

No matter which leagues and teams survive the Darwinian battle of business models now underway, someone has to have the patience (and deep pockets) of Anschutz and the practicality of Hunt to make this work. They paved the way for sensible owners who have made soccer work in Seattle, Portland and even the long-derided Kansas City market. A few owners opening their wallets with starry eyes after another Wambach goal or Solo save in Germany won’t translate into a sustainable league.

All that said, as Pia Sundhage says in nearly every press conference, the glass is half-full. The USA has shown it can fall in love with women’s soccer more than once. The ratings for Sunday’s final may well beat the ratings for baseball’s All-Star Game.

And if that attracts a wave of patient, rational investors with reasonable expectations, pro women’s soccer will be here to stay.

Germany 6: Last legs

Yesterday, I had a pleasant but sweaty walk almost all the way up the 1.6-kilometer Hauptstrasse, a pedestrian strip in Heidelberg’s old city. I detoured through parts of the university and up, up, up into the castle. Photos are below, and I’m waiting on the video to pop up at espnW.

Then I took the train to Sinsheim for the game and decided to go all the way to the alleged “Museum/Arena” stop. It’s nowhere near the “Arena.” That walk was equally sweaty and less pleasant, up a strip of car yards and fast-food places. I skipped Burger King and plopped down in the McCafe about halfway through.

But my grumpiness faded quickly at the stadium. The media center crew is one of the nicest at the Cup, and I was able to spread out a bit because Mexico and New Zealand didn’t attract a huge press contingent. Then I saw one of the more remarkable games of the tournament. A volunteer who wanted to practice his English and talk about the USA gave me a ride back to the train station during a gap between media shuttles, and I caught an earlier train back to Heidelberg.

So now I’m almost finished. In 24 hours, I’ll be on a plane. It’s bittersweet, definitely. I can’t wait to see my family. I’m less thrilled about going back and picking up projects that don’t involve pleasant rides on comfortable trains in which the conductors make sure you don’t go more that 90 minutes without chocolate. I haven’t driven a car in two weeks, and I don’t miss it in the least.

Actual television might be nice, though. I finally got an explanation of German TV from my friend Tracy, who met up with me in Heidelberg — Germans apparently just don’t care enough about TV to produce much of their own stuff beyond news, sports, talk shows and the occasional cooking show. So that’s why all the comedies and dramas are dubbed-over American fare. It’s not that they’re so enamored of Charlie Sheen and company — they just can’t be bothered to produce anything to fill that space. I admire that. At the same time, I’d like to see some English-language sports programming. And I’m tired of missing UFC cards.

I’m also missing all the dogs I know (mostly mine, of course). I see dogs all over here, occasionally in unexpected places like train stations, hotels and restaurants. Yesterday, I saw two dogs with a family starting the trek up the hill to the castle — one bounding around with energy, one focused straight ahead. I said, “one old, one young?” “Mother and daughter” was the response.

So at this point, I’m very happy with everything. Happy to be here, happy to be going home. I’m only angry at one thing.

The Atlantic Ocean.

If not for the Atlantic Ocean, we could hop on a train in Washington and pop up in Frankfurt. Maybe Americans would learn a thing or two about all the well-run aspects of European culture. Maybe Europeans would learn not to make people pay to use the toilet in the train station.

To put a more positive spin on things — I wish the USA and Germany were closer. It’s remarkable that we can go back and forth so easily just a couple of generations after two devastating wars. But as the USA becomes more diverse, I hope we’ll keep looking to Germany and exchanging ideas, tourism money and cultures.

Except the food.

Final photos, barring something unforeseen in Wolfsburg, follow here:


From Mostly Heidelberg, posted by Beau Dure on 7/06/2011 (23 items)

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Germany 4: Stuck inside of Frankfurt with the Augsburg blues again

One of the reassuring aspects of going on a whirlwind tour is that any stereotypes you could form are quickly whittled away. Find yourself in an impossible situation with impossible people, and all you have to do is keep going to try the next situation.

I believe I left off in the middle of a train delay on the way from Bochum to Augsburg. As you can see from my two videos — one at an Irish pub and another in a public square that is stony yet warm — Augsburg was worth the wait.

Imagine that students at the University of Georgia or the University of North Carolina, instead of walking from the older part of campus to their favorite haunts on Broad Street or Franklin Street, all hopped on trams for five minutes and then walked around friendly pedestrian thoroughfares, writing Bach-style fugues in the windows of coffeehouses. (Yes, I asked the young music student what she was writing, and her English was barely good enough to explain.)

That’s Augsburg. Fun, friendly people all around. All in a city with remarkable historic buildings still standing or faithfully restored after the wars.

It’s also a city that has had a good run in soccer. The major local club, FC Augsburg, played its way up the ladder and will be in the Bundesliga for the first time this season. The stadium is a neat one with some idiosyncrasies — I had to bend nearly in half to duck under one of the rafters of the stadium roof just to get to my seat.

I also had my first serious encounter with media officials who simply didn’t see it as their role to be helpful.

The press conferences here are UN-style. You pick up a translation device, switch it to your language of choice and go from there. In Berlin, I was asked to sign my name to pick up my deice. In Bochum, they just handed them out.

In Augsburg, I was asked for my “press card.” Not my credential, not my ticket for the press conference. A card that’s apparently quite common among print journalists in Europe.

Well, I don’t have a “press card.” And as far as the woman handing out translation devices was concerned, I wasn’t getting one. As if I had somehow conned my way to getting a credential and a ticket to a press conference, all in hopes of absconding with a set of headphones.

A BBC World Service freelancer was in the same boat, and we more or less formed a blockade to get someone in some position of authority to come over and solve the problem. (German journalists neither complained about us nor offered to help. That’s fairly typical.) Someone in a suit came over, listened to us and said, proud of his English, “Yes, you give your press card.” I pointed out, yet again, that we freelancers had no such thing.

They agreed to let us use our credentials as collateral. Turns out, this was just a warmup.

I was sad to leave Augsburg. The InterCity hotel desk clerk I saw two straight days later recognized me as I left the “McCafe” where I had been working next door and said a nice hello to “Mr. Durrre.” I felt like I was making friends. Getting around on the trams was easy, even if one wasn’t going where it was advertised.

Another long-ish train ride awaited, so I hopped on the now-familiar ICE, which takes us at speeds up to 300km/h in stunning comfort, with people who come by every 90 minutes or so to make sure you don’t go too long without chocolate.

Candy is everywhere here. And the funny thing is that dental care doesn’t seem to be a priority. Shops in the train stations carry every sort of travel need imaginable — except toothpaste. One large shop in Frankfurt offered bras, which I suppose could be a traveler’s unforeseen need. Not so sure why it offered ice cream scoops.

I had used the handouts at Berlin’s Abion Spreebogen hotel, then visited an “apothecary” (pharmacy) to find really slim selection and a pharmacist who seemed befuddled not by English but by the very concept of cleaning teeth. I settled on Sensodyne, which is a Glaxo product of some sort. I’ve concluded that it’s actually Glaxo’s waste product, scraped off laboratory floors. It was absolutely disgusting, and I was relieved beyond belief to find honest-to-goodness Crest at another “apothecary” in the giant Frankfurt station.

I didn’t have much of a chance to investigate Frankfurt. All I can tell you is that it’s huge. It’s a big, big city. The InterCity next to the station is terrific. The station is roughly the size of Washington’s Union Station but far sleeker.

The train to the stadium drops you a good 10-minute walk from that stadium, but it’s pleasant. The road is lined with trees and occasional buildings offering grilled food and beer.

The first hint of trouble in Frankfurt was that the media center was a large tent about 200 yards from the stadium. A big fan zone was set up between the two. Before the fans arrived, this was fun — I played a fast, competitive game of foosball with a company rep of some sort and accepted a very rare loss (10-7 final) with good humor. The fan zone wasn’t as fun going the other direction, particularly when the crowd around a stage pretty well blocked the path to the stadium.

At most stops, I’ve been given a ticket either for the formal press conference or the informal “mixed zone,” where you try to stop players as they walk by. For Germany-Nigeria in Frankfurt, I was given a mixed zone ticket. Given my limited lingual skills, that’s not much help.

In Berlin, I had been encouraged to trade with someone to get into the press conference. I know from other journalists that this is pretty typical.

So I stood in the hallway in front of the press conference and mixed zone doors, asking people if they wanted to trade.

A bearded, bureaucratic type stepped up to tell me such trades were not allowed. I said they were allowed and even encouraged. In hindsight, I have no idea why I thought that would be the end of it.

The situation escalated over a couple of minutes. The guy would leave me alone a bit, and I actually got into a discussion about a possible trade. But then he finally said firmly that I needed to stop.

I was adamant, and I poked my head around the corner to say this was simply ridiculous, and I wanted to speak to someone else. I didn’t have the steward in mind, but he seemed happy for the opportunity to crack some skulls, at least metaphorically.

“Go!” he yelled. “Auf wiedersehen!” (I’ve heard “Auf wiederschen” instead of the less formal “Tchuss” maybe twice on this trip.)

“You have no authority to tell me to leave!” I protested.

He patted his orange steward vest and repeated himself. “Auf wiedersehen!”

I turned back around the corner. For a split second, I simply wasn’t going to give this guy the satisfaction, and I so nearly announced again that I was looking for a trade. But self-preservation kicked in — having a credential yanked from my neck would put a crimp on the rest of the trip, even if I managed to appeal and get it back — and I stormed back to the media center.

The desk people at the media center told me they had indeed been told we couldn’t trade. I said, “They’re telling you one thing and telling Berlin another!” They seemed crushed, and I abruptly switched gears to reassure them none of this was their fault.

And they were so nice to me. They made sure I could watch the press conference on a TV in the media center, not that I could understand the Germans.

So I left in a much better mood and walked toward the station with my English journalism friend Carrie, who got a kick out of hearing the whole story.

I left without finishing my story because I guessed, correctly, that we could end up stranded at the media center. The game ended at 10:45, the press conferences ended at 11:15 or so, and train service started to wind down after midnight. So I got on the crowded platform and found that it wasn’t so crowded at all if you got away from the doors. Somehow, the crowd never realized what a good idea it would be to spread out. So I had plenty of elbow room on the short ride back to the Hauptbahnhof (main station).

Again, I took up residence in a McCafe, which was nearly full. I worked until 1 a.m., when my connection started to conk out. No more trains were scheduled to depart, and they had locked a few doors — including the door from the McCafe back into the station. So I walked outside the other door and out of the station, then back in so I could walk out the north exit by the hotel. THAT was locked. Back to the main entrance, back around the station, back to the InterCity and a wonderful but brief sleep.

The Hauptbahnhof also had a Starbucks, so I parked myself there and caught up on my travel plans online before heading to Leverkusen, my first stop without a major train station. Koln seems to regard Leverkusen as little more than a suburb, which the romantic in me wants to attribute to soccer jealousy — Bayer Leverkusen is a perennial contender, while FC Koln can’t seem to stay in the Bundesliga.

Leverkusen itself has pretty neighborhoods. I know this because I got lost. I wound up walking with a Russian man from Vladivostok who was there to cheer for Japan, and we occasionally stopped people to ask for directions. One elderly woman did not know how to get to the BayArena. Or the football stadium, when we tried to use the generic name. This conversation took place while we could see part of the stadium roof.

Once we found it, I had a terrific time. The hotel is actually connected to the stadium. The media center crew couldn’t be nicer. They told me I could swap my press conference or mixed zone ticket all I wanted, and they laughed at my impression of the “Auf wiedersehen!” guy.

The only truly disappointing part was dinner. I ate in the hotel instead of McDonald’s — yes, those were the two viable options. I got the hotel’s burger, figuring they couldn’t mess that up. Oh, but they did. It combined the firm texture of a hockey puck with the taste of a hockey puck.

The next morning, the helpful hotel staff told me how I should *really* walk back to the small Leverkusen train station. It was a lovely walk through a park that had a river (really a creek) running in a straight line down the middle. The path takes you by Bayer Leverkusen’s extensive training facilities. And there are dogs.

I’ve changed my travel plans because one game I was supposed to cover will now feature two teams that have been eliminated. That rules out a trip to Dresden, which I regret — the unanimous view is that it’s unimaginably beautiful. Instead, I’ll spend my last five days here hopping between Wolfsburg and Heidelberg.

Big photo gallery follows:


From Augsburg-Frankfurt-Leverkusen, posted by Beau Dure on 7/02/2011 (25 items)

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Germany 3: Bochum’s bad rap

First up — gotta plug my latest espnW content:¬†My report from Japan-New Zealand, featuring the almost-overconfident Ferns and my second video from Berlin, opening with a joke about one of Julie Foudy’s prior endorsement deals.

Bochum. I used to pronounce it “BO-kum.” Excuse me — “BEAU-kum.”

But as I get used to listening to German, I’ve started to adopt some affectations. So it’s slowly morphing into “BO-khum.” Or “BO-(phlegmy sound)m.”

Some might say that’s appropriate. Bochum doesn’t have the best reputation as a tourist destination. In my Lonely Planet guide to Germany, it’s fully covered in two pages. On a Kindle. That’s like Earth’s entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Mostly harmless.”

Basically, it has a cool mining demonstration and a cluster of bars with a wild party scene. That’s about it.

As I looked out from my 13th-floor window at the sunset at 10:30 p.m. — somehow, I didn’t realize we were in the Arctic — I saw a few nice neighborhoods and a pretty steeple. Off in the distance, a few miles apart on the horizon, are a wind turbine and a nuclear reactor. And the gummy treats left on my bed are shaped like nuclear reactors. Other than that, I didn’t had a chance to see much else other than the stadium and the train station.

I do wish I had eaten dinner at McDonald’s rather than the hotel restaurant. The meal was fine, but they seemed a little agitated that someone insisted on eating at 8:45 even though they’re open until 10.

But say this for Bochum — I bumped into several people eager to chat. I have a tendency to wear my credential everywhere — at the Olympics, you pretty much have to, and I feel lost without it. Especially because it’s also my rail pass. A couple of people at the stadium tram stop saw it and struck up conversations about the games and the cities on my itinerary.

So on the whole, I’ll stand up for Bochum. Obviously, parts of it are pretty, and parts aren’t. The city center is kind of like Ballston (Arlington, Va.) except that you can go more than two directions on the trains.

The novelty of seeing U.S. movies and TV shows dominating the German airwaves has worn off. I watched something with Ray Liotta being systematically beaten up in a “Prisoner”-type scenario that probably made even less sense in English. I am a little sad that I missed Phineas und Ferb. “Hey! Wo ist Perry!”

Photos follow:


From Bochum, posted by Beau Dure on 6/28/2011 (6 items)

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Germany 2: Leaving Berlin, never easy

I’ll let the pictures tell the story for the most part. I’ve covered so much of my stay in Berlin for ESPN and espnW already. (See the game story, crowd story, day-before press conference story and video – hoping to see second video later.) They are paying me, after all. SportsMyriad is not. I should chat with the boss. (Or chat with the readers who aren’t clicking these ads.)

Berlin left quite an impression on me. So much so that I started ranking it among all the major cities I’ve visited. I count 20-30 cities in the USA, depending on your definition, plus two in Canada, two in Ireland (including Cork), one in England, one in France, one in Italy, one in China (not counting Qinhuangdao, because I just saw the glimmering stadium and the ghastly train station) and now one in Germany.

The only cities I can remember that rival Berlin in terms of being endlessly fascinating and charming are Boston, Seattle and Toronto. Salt Lake City is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the people are friendly, but it falls into a different category — it’s a mid-sized resort town. Honorable mentions would go to Chicago, Vancouver, Dublin, Cork and Beijing.

Location is everything, of course. Perhaps if I had been dropped off somewhere else in town other than this charming strip along the Spree, I wouldn’t have such a great impression. But I saw a good bit of Berlin from the train and on my two-mile walk from the hotel to Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz.

I could go on for days about the way Berlin’s past tragedies provide such a stunning backdrop for a celebratory city. The Wall has been down for two decades, and still Brandenburg Gate, the site of Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech, is full of people who seem to be celebrating. Within site of the Gate in what used to be East Berlin is a museum dedicated to the Kennedys, with a giant picture of Jackie in the window. It’s right next to the Starbucks.

Aside from the breathtaking parts of the city, the place is full of neat apartment buildings, all with balconies adorned with flowers. Someone even managed to grow some impressive sunflowers from a balcony.

Unfortunately, I made that ranking in my head while I was completely unable to sleep. But I’m doing pretty well so far this morning. I finally fell asleep a little after 1:30 and was still alert for my 5:30 wakeup call.

I made it with plenty of time to spare to Berlin’s massive Hauptbahnhof, or main train station. It took me five minutes or so to take in the scope of it and figure out where I was supposed to go.

I was nervous that my “train pass” — a sticker applied to my World Cup credential — would leave the conductor befuddled. But she didn’t question it, and I’ve had a carefree train ride from Berlin to Bochum, whipping up to 250 km/h past a giant wind farm on the way to Wolfsburg.

On board, I was able to plug in my headphones and listen to some radio stations. Radio Berlin played an eclectic mix including Eurythmics’ Love Is A Stranger. I still haven’t seen or heard anything related to David Hasselhoff, but Nicole Eggert is mentioned in Bild. And one of the U-bahn (subway) trains in Berlin had a news display that rotated abruptly from the Copa Libertadores (South America’s top soccer tournament) to something about Lindsay Lohan.

Yeah, yeah, we’re cultural imperialists. That’s OK. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Germany export some of its culture to the USA. Let’s start with the trains.


From Berlin 2: Heading East, posted by Beau Dure on 6/27/2011 (13 items)

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