Women’s soccer writing: 2004-2015

Selected women’s soccer pieces, including coverage of the Women’s World Cup (2011) and the demise of WPS:

Women’s World Cup 2011 (espnW/ESPN)

WPS dissolution/magicJack suit (ESPN/espnW)

Game stories and news 

Features and columns

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American women in Europe: Champions League soccer update

Can’t promise I’ll do this every time we have UEFA games, but with the round of 32 starting this week, it seemed like a good time to check out the Women’s Champions League and see how U.S. players and a few players with U.S. ties are doing.

(I’ve surely missed people. Please add them in the comments.)

These are first-leg games in the standard two-leg format. Home teams listed first:

Zurich (Sui) 1-1 Juvisy (Fra): Only one notable name — Germany’s Inka Grings, now playing for Zurich, has moved closer to the great Hanna Ljungberg’s European scoring record. (Update from comments: Zurich’s Sonja Fuss played at Hartford.)

BIIK Shymkent (Kaz) 0-4 Roa (Nor): Easy win for the Norwegian side. Lene Mykjaland (Washington Freedom) wasn’t in the lineup yesterday as Roa apparently dressed only 14 players, including Norwegian stars Siri Nordby and Caroline Knutsen. BIIK has a surprisingly diverse squad, with players from Brazil, Serbia, China, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria.

Birmingham (Eng) 2-0 Verona (Ita): Two second-half goals for the hosts, whose lineup includes Karen Carney (Chicago). Eniola Aluko didn’t dress for Birmingham.

Spartak Subotica (Srb) 0-1 Goteborg (Swe): The winning side started Americans Christen Press (Stanford/magicJack), Yael Averbuch (North Carolina/WPS), Camille Levin (Stanford) and Ingrid Wells (Georgetown), with WPS vet Anita Asante coming off the bench. Levin had the lone goal. The Serbian side is mostly Serbian, with a couple of players from Cameroon and one from Montenegro.

Apollon (Cyp) 2-3 Torres (Ita): American Sinead Farrelly (Virginia/Philadelphia) opened the scoring for the hosts but left the game before halftime. Apollon extended the lead to 2-0, but Patrizia Panico scored a natural hat trick for the visitors in 19 minutes to take the win. American goalkeeper Arianna Criscione (Boston College/UCLA) was on the bench for Torres. Michelle Betos (Georgia/Atlanta Silverbacks) played in goal for Apollon.

PK-35 (Fin) 0-7 Lyon (Fra): Ouch. Americans Liz Bogus (Arizona State/WPS), Casey Berrier (Loyola) and Megan Chapin (Washington State/WPSL) were on the field for PK-35 against the bulk of the French national team, including former WPS stars Sonia Bompastor and Camille Abily. Sweden’s Lotta Schelin and Japan’s Ami Otaki weren’t in the 18 for Lyon. Their other big-name foreign player, Switzerland’s Lara Dickenmann (Ohio State), scored Lyon’s fourth. As Richard Farley says at Pro Soccer Talk, the defending champions may simply be too good. Lyon outshot PK 37-2 (hey, subtract 2 from 37, and you get … 35!).

Olympia Cluj (Rou) 1-1 Neulengbach (Aut): One of the round’s most anonymous matchups but one of its most dramatic so far, with the Austrians getting a late equalizer and vital road goal. Neulengbach has Canadian defender Gillian McPherson, but she wasn’t listed on yesterday’s lineup. Cluj’s only foreign player is from Cameroon.

Stabaek (Nor) 2-0 Brondby (Den): Jasmyne Spencer (Maryland), the only foreign player on Brondby’s roster, got a couple of late minutes for the visitors in a mad dash to get an away goal.

Standard Liege (Bel) 1-3 Turbine Potsdam (Ger): The good news for Standard: They somehow shut down Equatorial Guinea star Anonma. American keeper Alyssa Naeher (Penn State/Boston) was on the bench for Potsdam; a few reliable people on Twitter have told me she typically plays the Bundesliga games and sits out the Champions League games. Alex Singer (Virginia/Washington) went the distance for Potsdam. Keelin Winters (Portland/Boston/Seattle) is on Potsdam’s roster but wasn’t in the 18. Standard lists American forward Carleta Arbulu (Ohio State), but she also wasn’t involved yesterday.

Barcelona (Esp) 0-3 Arsenal (Eng): Two of the biggest men’s clubs in the world, but you’d have to say Arsenal has a bit more experience on the women’s side. Still, the final score here flatters Arsenal. Barcelona put eight shots on goal, and Arsenal keeper Emma Byrne was superb. Arsenal had several familiar names — Katie Chapman, Rachel Yankey, Alex Scott (Boston), Gemma Davison (Western NY) — but Kelly Smith (Seton Hall/WUSA/WPS)  remained on the bench. Barca’s squad is all Spanish except for one player for Argentina.

Glasgow City (Sco) 1-2 Fortuna Hjorring (Den): Tiffany Weimer (Penn State/WPS) and Lisa-Marie Woods (U.S. collegian/W-League) played the full 90 for Fortuna. Nadia Nadim got both goals and missed a PK that would’ve given her the hat trick. Casey Ramirez (Syracuse) wasn’t in Fortuna’s 18.

Stjarnan (Isl) 0-0 Zorkiy (Rus): The biggest name here was probably the referee — Sweden’s Jenny Palmqvist, who sent off Stjarnan captain Gunnhildur Yrsa Jonsdottir in the 38th minutes. The Iceland side does include Mexican Veronica Perez (Washington/St. Louis/Seattle) and American Ashley Bares (Marquette), each of whom came on as a second-half sub. (Update: I overlooked Kate Deines, who played with Washington and the Seattle Sounders. She’s listed as Icelandic at UEFA.com.) Zorkiy has two Mexican players — goalkeeper Anjuli Ladron and midfielder Fatima Leyva — who also played at FC Indiana.

THURSDAY’S GAMES (will update with quick recaps)

Sarajevo (Bih) 0-3 Sparta Praha (Cze): Sparta has only one non-Czech player — Slovakian goalkeeper Lenka Gazdikova. Sarajevo has only one foreigner as well — American Jelena Vrcelj (Jacksonville). Neither played in this game.

Unia Raciborz (Pol) 1-5 Wolfsburg (Ger): Viola Odebrecht (Florida State) is in the lineup for Wolfsburg. Rebecca Smith (Duke/New Zealand) isn’t in the 18. The Polish team has three Slovakians and one player from Equatorial Guinea, Chinasa, who scored their lone goal in this rout.

MTK (Hun) 0-4 Malmo (Swe): Malmo starts Ali Riley (Stanford/New Zealand/WPS), goalkeeper Thora Helgadottir (Iceland/Duke) and mercurial Swiss forward Ramona Bachmann (Atlanta Beat). MTK’s squad is all Hungarian.

Den Haag (Ned) 1-4 Rossiyanka (Rus): No lineup info yet. Mexico’s Teresa Noyola (Stanford) and American Brittany Persaud (Dayton/Dayton Dutch Lions) are listed on the Den Haag roster along with my fellow Athens Academy alum Libby Guess (North Carolina/W-League). Rossiyanka counters with a couple of players from Sweden and Nigeria along with Brazilian Fabiana (Boston Breakers). Noyola and Guess went the full 90, while Persaud came on in the 88th. The Russian team must be pretty good.

The elephant in the women’s soccer room: NCAA

NY Fury coach Paul Riley, who led the Philadelphia Independence to two runner-up finishes in WPS, has a few thoughts about the future of the game, and it differs a bit from the Peter Wilt plan — more money, more months in the season:

The money issue is really just a question of what owners are willing to put on the table. If it’s $1.5 million per team, great. If it’s closer to the $300,000 at the low end of Wilt’s range, then that’s what it is.

The more interesting question here is the length of the season. Riley may be overstating things a bit — is Marta really going to get nine months of playing time this season between a 22-game Swedish season and the chronically undersupported Brazilian women’s team? But he’s right that these condensed summer seasons aren’t leaving much time to develop teams … or players.

Riley, like many others in the women’s soccer community, want everyone to get together and talk about it. USSF. USL. WPSL.

NCAA?

When it comes to length of the season, college soccer is the problem. A lot of this country’s top players are still in school. And the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, has pushed its season earlier and earlier into August while cutting the spring season.

That’s a problem — primarily for college players. They could get a compressed four-month college season and perhaps two months to play with a W-League or WPSL team in the summer. That’s a lot of downtime, then a lot of games in a short time — a good recipe for injuries.

Is it a problem for a future elite league? Directly, maybe not. For leagues below Division I — including the regular WPSL and W-League — it’s a problem because college players can’t play for pro teams. The WPSL Elite experiment of having amateur (college players allowed) and pro (NCAA? Stay away!) teams is intriguing. But that means the season’s length is beholden to colleges who won’t release their players until exams are complete and will demand their return in early August.

(This is a problem for men’s soccer, too. Suppose a PDL team made the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in August. Who could play?)

So I’ll toss out a trial balloon here, based on far less research and information than Peter’s plan:

1. Have a national league for full-time pros that splits its season between the fall and spring. Set the championship for late April.

2. Also enter those pro teams in summer regional leagues like the W-League or WPSL. (The leagues could still come together for a national playoff at the end of summer.) With national team call-ups, the pro teams would likely be weakened and would need to call in other players.

3. The pro teams would establish firm roots with youth programs. That would also give them extra players to call in for summer play — we might need an NCAA/amateurism expert to weigh in, but MLS academy kids have been able to compete in MLS reserve league games without sacrificing their college eligibility. So we could see someone like Morgan Andrews “play up” with these teams for the summer. (Current college players, no — they would play for summer-only teams in these regional leagues.)

The other side of the coin — get the NCAA to back off a bit. Beef up the spring season and let them start the fall season a couple of weeks later.

That’s the balloon. Take your shots …

The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is an economist by trade — which is good, because if you see the financial documents linked later on, you’ll remember that he doesn’t get paid for his role with the federation. (Perhaps it’s a little unfair that the person making the big bucks, CEO Dan Flynn, rarely has to face the media while we pester Gulati all the time. But I digress.)

So when we pestered Gulati before Sunday’s USA-China women’s game, he made one telling statement: “I’ve been doing this too long to get too up or down by individual data points.”

Whether you agree with everything Gulati does or not, this statement is one thing that separates his thought processes from most of us who yap about soccer on the Internet. We in the virtual soccer community can “prove” lots of things from single data points:

  • Hey, it’s 50 degrees in Chicago today! That proves MLS can play through the winter!
  • The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup! That proves the A-League is better than MLS!
  • We sold a lot of tickets for one exhibition game between Manchester United and Real Madrid! That proves that if MLS teams simply spent themselves silly, we’d have crowds like this every game!
  • The WPS games immediately after the World Cup drew huge crowds! That proves WPS has made it!
  • The U.S. men won in Italy! Why aren’t we ranked in the top 10?

In the long run, it’s a good thing the powers that be don’t make decisions based on isolated data points. They might see a few hundred people gathered for one of last spring’s WPS games and figure women’s soccer is dead. They might see empty seats in MLS cities — even in places like Toronto where the seats are apparently sold but not occupied — and figure MLS is struggling. They might notice that ratings trumpeted as big numbers for European broadcasts are in the same ballpark as the numbers that have fans of The Ultimate Fighter on edge.

Let’s look at a couple of data points and see how the situation is a little more complicated than it appears:

Continue reading The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

You want U.S. Soccer involvement in elite women’s game? Here you go …

I don’t see the press release at USSoccer.com yet, but there was a second announcement today in addition to Pia Sundhage’s roster for the Olympics. Here’s the key excerpt:

Following the FIFA Women’s World Cups for the Under-17 and Under-20 age levels this coming fall, the head coaching positions for those teams will become full-time for the first time. In addition, U.S. Soccer will hire another full-time coach whose main focus will be on enhancing the player development environment for young players from coast to coast.

So before today’s game against China, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati held a press conference with women’s technical director April Heinrichs and women’s development director Jill Ellis.

Does this sound boring so far? In some respects, it’s not a huge announcement. But these little announcements — like the hiring of Heinrichs and Ellis a while ago — are adding up to something, and the press conference led to a wide-ranging talk on women’s soccer.

So in the 20 minutes before this game starts, I’ll try to sum up:

– Heinrichs and Ellis say they’re trying to shift the focus of U.S. development from physical and psychological to tactical and technical.

– Will we see the women duplicate the U.S. U17 men’s Bradenton residency? Heinrichs and Ellis weren’t enthusiastic about that. Heinrichs says it’s a good way to win a U17 World Cup, but she and Ellis want to cast a wider net for players at that age for future national team development.

– Heinrichs says an 18-year-old American recently had to choose between college and a lucrative deal with Lyon in France.

– Might we see a national B team to keep more players in active international play? Gulati thinks it’s possible and said Heinrichs once drew up some similar plans.

– The big news you’ve already seen us tweet: In 30-45 days, U.S. Soccer will convene a meeting of various stakeholders in the women’s game: USL, former WPS teams … and yes, MLS, either teams or league staff or both. (I forgot to ask if Dan Borislow was invited.)

– An interesting WPS post-mortem piece: Gulati says U.S. Soccer offered 12 months ago to help WPS with league administration. They were turned down.

I’m thinking regular readers here might have some thoughts. Have at it.

Random bits of U.S. women’s pro soccer history

This week, I participated in a roundtable discussion (sort of — we didn’t see anyone else’s answers until today) on WPS’s demise, and Julie Foudy sent us scrambling down Memory Lane with an espnW column about the next steps in pro women’s soccer.

Taking the roundtable first: It’s a little humbling to answer a question and then have someone closer to the situation give a diametrically opposite answer. That’s what happened when I was asked about the effect the WPS’s folding will have on youth soccer. I said none. Melissa Henderson, who actually plays, said millions of little girls will have their dreams crushed.

In the tangible sense, I’m right. Millions of girls play soccer, and even if WPS had eight healthy teams, only a couple hundred of them would be playing in the league. In WPS’s last season, I think the league had fewer American pro players than my local club had at the U8 level. Thousands of women are currently in college on at least a partial scholarship; maybe 100 have any reasonable hope of getting paid to play anywhere. Generally, kids aren’t playing sports or participating in activities in the hopes of going pro. I never thought of being a professional piano player, even though I nearly wound up a professional music-type person. (My college music department loved me for reasons I can’t fully explain.) My elementary school’s chess club isn’t full of people hoping to be the next Nakamura — I doubt they even know who he is.

But in the intangible sense, Melissa’s right. Seeing women playing pro soccer gives a sense that anything’s possible. Losing that is a disappointment.

Over to Foudy’s piece: There is a small contingent of keyboard warriors (that’s the MMA term for guys who act tough behind their computer keyboards) who will never forgive Foudy for comments they’re not even sure she actually made back in 1999 at the height of Women’s World Cup mania. Let’s ignore that and focus on actual facts.

But there were some conflicts between the women’s stars and the U.S. Soccer establishment at that time. And that’s led to some interesting historical research in some quarters of the Web.

Summing up, randomly:

1. After the ’99 Cup, the USWNT sought to get paid a bit more. There was a player boycott for a 2000 tournament in Australia before the team and U.S. Soccer made a deal.

2. MLS’s Mark Abbott, the key man behind the single-entity structure and other aspects of MLS’s ultimately successful business plan, helped draw up a business plan for the WUSA, which the investors rejected. (Also interesting in that story: WUSA appealed to Phil Anschutz, who at the time owned several MLS teams, before it closed up shop in 2003. If only we could interview the famously reclusive Anschutz to ask why he said no.)

3. MLS made a late bid of its own to counter the eventual WUSA proposal, though details were sketchy. You can see the reaction here.

4. Women’s players had two reasons not to go with MLS at the time. First, they had a fresh dispute with USSF. Second, MLS was far from the juggernaut it is today. You might be able to dispute Point A. If you want to dispute Point B, talk to the lawyers who spent 2000 arguing for the league’s life in court or talk to your local Tampa Bay Mutiny fan.

All of this came about in the context of where women’s soccer goes from here. Foudy’s column suggested that MLS involvement would make more sense today than it would have in 1999.

Hard to see why that’s a controversial point. The disputes between the women’s national team and U.S. Soccer are largely a thing of the past. And MLS has come a long, long way from contracting two teams in 2001.

And yet, MLS and its teams have a right to be wary. They’re still not swimming in profit. A women’s league could be done cheaply — you could fund several good teams just on David Beckham’s salary — but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good investment.

That leads to one curious point, though. If MLS isn’t quite to the point at which it can support a small-scale women’s league today, why was arrogant of the WUSA founders (players and executives) to spurn MLS involvement when the league was in a downturn in 2001?

Starting a women’s sports league is difficult — only the WNBA is still around, and it might not be here if not for the NBA’s support. And starting a soccer league is difficult — the American pro landscape is littered with failed leagues, of which only two (the ASL of the 1920s/30s and the NASL of the late 60s-early 80s) made any impression.

So starting a women’s soccer league is doubly difficult. It requires a bit of trial and error. And it hardly seems fair to load it down with baggage from old conflicts few people fully understand.

Borislow unleashes anger at U.S. Soccer

Former magicJack owner Dan Borislow has been conciliatory toward other WPS alumni. Their lawsuit is settled, and everyone’s moving forward.

But he still sees an obstruction in the path of women’s soccer, and it’s the organization that collects the sanctioning fees. Here’s his statement:

My take on the whole matter is that WPS could have made it if the USSF granted money to the league instead of charge it. I have never understood why the most successful team and players representing the United States in the last 10 years are not taken care of like the national treasure they are. Why is Pia (Sundhage, the U.S. women’s coach) not extended a contract and make 20 times less money than the head coach of our men’s national team (Jurgen Klinsmann)?* Why wasn’t the USSF more involved in helping form and run a successful Women’s Division 1 league?

In the future, the USSF needs to give MLS an annual grant so they can run a women’s league. Right now the largest sport we have for kids and Women can’t get a few million dollars from the wealthiest country in the world and their governing body. It’s disgraceful. Billions here, billions there and not a couple million for the best team representing our country.

If you have to point fingers — in this case there is a guilty party, that is where you point them. But not these owners who put up the money and tried the best they knew how. Fire these morons running the USSF and replace them with somebody who understands the value and importance of girls and women playing soccer in the United States. They shouldn’t even be invited to the Olympics.

U.S. Soccer would argue that it pays the national team players pretty well. But it’s safe to say the organization hasn’t been pro-active about getting a women’s soccer league running. Is that their role?

Quick historical precedents: In 1993, U.S. Soccer solicited bids for a new men’s professional Division I league, and veteran U.S. Soccer officials were involved with the winning bid, MLS. And in 2010, U.S. Soccer administered a men’s Division II league, forcibly (and temporarily) merging the USL’s top tier and the nascent NASL.

* – Technically, Klinsmann makes 13 times what Sundhage makes, but the point is taken.

Boston Breakers statement on WPS

I’ll have more analysis at some point over the weekend, in case my story and analysis at espnW aren’t enough for you.

But I wanted to go ahead and pass this along from my inbox …

May 18, 2012 (NORWOOD, MA) – Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) further announces today that the efforts of all teams over the past six months have regrettably lead to the conclusion that the league cannot continue forward despite the efforts of all teams. MagicJack did everything possible to try and keep the league together and succeed as well. MagicJack helped keep the league alive in 2011. Unfortunately, collectively the ownership could not reconcile their differences about how to run the league and what the appropriate financial model for teams should be for sustainability and jointly made the decision to cease operations.

Boston Breakers’ managing partner, Michael Stoller, stated “Dan Borislow built a terrific team that created a great level of fan support and created a strong attendance boost after the World Cup ended for the league and each team. I know many players on the MagicJack team were very happy and would love to play for Dan again in the future. Unfortunately, collectively we decided that the number of issues we faced as a league, along with the overall economic considerations, were just too much to overcome presently.”

Thoughts?