My Top 15 Things from the 2015 Women’s World Cup

In no particular order…

1. The brilliant insanity of the first 16 minutes of the final.

2.
bassett

3. No torn ACLs. One broken ankle. All in all, not too bad.

4. Abby Wambach sitting – not to be cruel, or to feel vindicated. Because it was necessary. And it worked. And…

5. Morgan Brian’s emergence. She changed the tourney for the USA.

6. Australia 1 – 0 Buh Bye Brazil

7. Colombia 2 – 0 France

8. ⭐⭐⭐

9. Krieger – Johnston – Sauerbrunn – Klingenberg. Damsels in Defense.

10. Ivory Coast’s goal (mute it).

11. Ari Hingst, Kelly Smith, Heather Mitts, Leslie Osbourne, Briana Scurry, Kate Markgraf and Julie Foudy. So refreshing to see and hear them all month long.

12. Schwoop!

13. Nigeria 3 – 3 Sweden

14. War Elephants. Steel Roses. Lionesses. Super Falcons. Football Ferns. Matildas.

15. I mean, who does this?

 

And the 10 Worst:

1. FIFA – turf
2. FIFA – shared hotels
3. FIFA – prize money
4. FIFA – Robert Palmer girls
5. FIFA – Moncton
6. FIFA – Sepp Blatter
7. FIFA – “concussion protocol”
8. FIFA – rigged draw
9. Great Britain’s FAs
10. Laura Bassett’s devastation

“Where were you when the #USWNT won the World Cup?” “Which one?”

In 1999 I was with my Marauders teammates in a big home-theater setup. Just three years removed from my first U.S. National Team match, it was pure excitement to watch the team win dramatically, exhaustingly. I remember having so much pent-up energy after the whistle, while everyone else went back to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. I wanted to hug the whole room.

Spent tonight hunkered down on my couch with the phone off and Facebook closed, an old George Thorogood song the soundtrack for my plans: when I watch alone, I prefer to be by myself. No questions from friends or family, no distractions, just me and my team, ready.

It’s not been an easy cycle for us fans. We have a job to do too, you know, to support the team through thick and thin, to spread the WoSo word as much as we can, to fight against the sexism that both permeates FIFA and pops up in comical whack-a-mole HOT TAKES every time American women are on the verge of something great.

And there has been a lot of thin: surprise coaching transitions, roster stagnation, poor performances versus weak teams, ugly off-field issues, a superstar seemingly unaware of herself. The opening four matches of this tournament were frightening – we knew what the team’s talent was capable of, and watching them struggle amplified angst and anxiety four years in the making.

And on top of that, we can’t control anything that happens on the pitch. Abby Wambach talked of how difficult it is to not start, to not be able to affect a game. That’s what it’s like for fans every single time. Our fears and frustrations and joys and elation are the roller coaster we willingly sign up for. Tonight, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team thrilled us again. Thank you, you glorious group of women, for an amazing ride.

So, where were YOU when the USWNT won the World Cup? Which one?


For the purposes of this post I’ve focused on the two World Cup wins that captured the imaginations of the entire nation. If you have a story to tell about where you were for the 1991 World Cup win, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

A Brief Text Conversation with a Co-Worker About Hope Solo, ESPN and the Women’s World Cup.

Photo Credit: clappstar via Flickr

Photo Credit: clappstar via Flickr

me: i hope they don’t ask me about Hope Solo
CW: jesus
b/c you can only have opinions about female athletes
CW: because i know what they’re going to say
and it’s not what i would say
CW: what are they going to say and what would you say?
me: they’re going to say she should be suspended right away and that women’s soccer is dumb anyway
CW: eff that
football players kill people and they let them stay on
me: i would say i’m conflicted about Hope Solo because she did a shitty thing… coach & US Soccer totally bungled how they handed it (acted like it never happened… celebrated a record she hit & made her cap’t for a match)… then the case was dismissed in january… the ESPN story that has everyone up in arms used a court-sealed deposition, and i’m unhappy about that
and she’s also the best goalkeeper in the world and yes i want her in net right now
Conflicted.
CW: it’s only coming back up b/c they’re doing so well
me: No, it’s coming back up because of the ESPN report. That is the only reason.
CW: oh, gotcha
me: That deposition, along with Solo’s sister in law sitting for a video interview, has revealed a lot of detail that had otherwise been swept under the rug.
And they did it the day before the USA’s first game, even though she was arrested last year.
CW: ahhhhh
that’s not cool
me: It was a dick move about a shitty story. Solo hit her family members; her family members hit her. No one is the good guy here.
CW: right!
there’s no reason to bring it back up
except to get more ratings
me: Which is exactly why they did it – because the Fox network is carrying all the games.
CW: dammit
wait, why would they want to help out fox
i thought we watched that usa game on espn
me: But then you toss in the fact that Solo went on Good Morning America, and did a lengthy (print) interview with ESPNW that amounted to a “redemption tour” and she kinda set herself up for this.
CW: ohhh
well, shit, if she keeps on playing like she did on monday, then maybe it’s all worth it
me: Which is why she won’t be suspended.
plus the case was dismissed by the judge because the sister and nephew refused to appear for depositions.
CW: gah!
it’s worse than a soap opera
me: So technically she’s been cleared by the court (though even that’s not 100% resolved as there might be an appeal). Went on her “redemption tour” and then ESPN released the sealed documents, and then she saves USA’s bacon in Winnipeg and it’s just… Hurricane Hope.
And people – talking heads – want black and white answers. If Tim Howard had hit his niece, he’d have been suspended, no question. So there’s a clear double standard here.
CW: ah, true
me: Thus… I’m conflicted.
CW: how can espn get away with releasing sealed document?
me: Good question. I asked a lawyer friend if they could “get in trouble” for it and his response was – “it would depend a lot on the applicable state statutes/case law and the terms of the court’s sealing order”.
CW: that’s crazy

The HappyGoSnarky Altogether Predictable Women’s World Cup Prediction

She said what?!

She said what?! (Photo by “Love @11″ via Flickr)

Greetings, all. Welcome to The HappyGoSnarky Altogether Predictable Women’s World Cup Prediction!

The last year or so since the dismissal of U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Tom Sermanni certainly has been interesting. While the rest of the world seems content to work on “technical skills,” “ball movement” and other foreign concepts, the USWNT has stockpiled veterans from the 2011 team and focused on Route One soccer, all led by a coach who appears content to fit square pegs into round holes, results be damned.

And at the end of this roller coaster? A walk through CONCACAF, losses to France and Brazil, a draw with Iceland (ICELAND!), and a return to the top of the Algarve peak, albeit out of a very weak group.

Uneven performances from a team couched in a difficult group, coupled with new verve from France, typical German strength (except in goal), and formidable challenges from Sweden and ’11 winners Japan – plus about 1,947 teams in the competition – make this tournament a tough one to predict. But alas, I will try:

I haven’t seen enough from Team USA in the last year to convince me they can win the Women’s World Cup. But I’ve seen enough of them in the last 19 years to know the heart in this team. And I think that heart, that American toughness, fire, physicality and yes, Carli Lloyd, will get them into the semis. Some may pine for a change in these tactics to ensure the USA can keep up with improving teams, but it would be foolish to ignore the power of the American core approach. (These things are not mutually exclusive, of course, unless you’re Jill Ellis).

After that? Let’s just hope they’re not playing Iceland.

Best of luck to all the teams. Here’s to exciting games, full stadiums, and no horrible injures.

Go USA!

2015 Update: Women’s Soccer Pro, Semi-Pro and Pro-Am Teams in North America

This map is interactive. Click on the little white square to expand the menu. Select a check box to show or hide a league’s teams. Zoom in or out with the +/- buttons. Move the map around with the hand.

Click here to go to a larger version.

The teams’ pins are at stadium locations when that info was available, otherwise I used what contact information I could find. Twitter handles are included for most teams.

Enjoy!

A Rant on Why it Matters that the USWNT is Not the #1 Team in the World

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A Rant on Why it Matters that the USWNT is Not the #1 Team in the World

An HGS guest post by @Fitzcamel

It’s hard, seeing something you love go astray. Worse, when you are powerless to do anything but watch it happen. I suspect that’s true in many areas in life. Me, it’s how I’ve felt about the U.S. Women’s National Team for oh, the past six months. Many aspects of how the WNT has been run have left me dismayed, or frustrated, or sad, lately. If I had to pick just one as most aggravating, though, it might be the continuing insistence of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s PR arm that the WNT is the best team in the world ™. We’re not, of course. I’m not sure anybody who follows women’s soccer closely thinks that we are. Who is? Germany, probably, or Japan. Might be France, if they ever figured out how to match their talent with results in big matches. But not us, not any more.

That doesn’t stop the federation from saying so, though—over and over again, at every opportunity, during the play-by-play of every meaningless friendly against second-tier opposition. It’s no different from the way WNT press officer Aaron Heifetz and his minions try to gin up statistical triumphs for the fanbase to be excited about: running up the score against Guatemala in 2012 Olympic qualifiers, say, or the number of international victories in 2013 (mostly in meaningless friendlies against second-tier opposition), or, God help us, #chasingMia.

I find it hard to believe that USSF is so ignorant or naïve as to believe the hype. No, it’s BS, a Potemkin Village to fool little kids and casual fans. Serious fans know it, the soccer media knows it, and USSF knows it. It’s still just PR, though. So why so infuriating? Because as far as I can tell, the federation’s whole approach to the WNT since at least the last World Cup has been a desperate (and unavailing) attempt to maintain that façade. That would explain the consistent choice to give starters minutes in frequent friendlies scheduled against beatable teams, rather than the world’s best; and, conversely, the consistent failure to use the Algarve Cup as a developmental opportunity for young and fringe players, a la the MNT’s January camps. And of course, the decision to fire Tom Sermanni after the 2014 Algarve, and to install Jill Ellis with a mandate of steady-as-she-goes.

The true number one team in the world would not be so scared. The best sides know they’re the best, and thus that they have margin for error—they can pick experimental squads, rest key players, try out new approaches, take risks. They can lose, without the sky falling. A defeat here or there in a friendly doesn’t ultimately say much about a top international side. What matters are the big ones—the World Cup, the Olympics, the continental championships. At least, that’s what I would have thought; but plainly USSF doesn’t agree with me.

No, evidently in the federation’s view it is crucial to make sure everybody still believes we’re the best in the world. That’s apparently how USSF thinks it can get the best return on the money it’s spending on women’s soccer—carefully craft a celebrity image for certain players (Abby, Alex, Hope, Syd, Pinoe), and surround them with a best-in-the-world halo. I guess the idea is that if USSF stops hiding the fact that the halo isn’t actually there any more, it all falls down—endorsers and fans won’t be interested in spending money on the WNT if we’re number two, or three, or four. And who knows, maybe USSF is right? Maybe the best way to make money, in the short-term, is to prioritize the WNT’s image and marketing over its soccer. Of course, USSF is theoretically in this to further the sport of soccer in this country, not maximize short-term shareholder value. Maybe that’s only true when it comes to the MNT.

The flip side of the federation being worried that the money spigot will dry up if fans know where the WNT actually stands on the international stage is that those who are bringing in the money now are the ones calling the shots. And thus did the gods bring us player power. Or, at least, the power of certain players. And those players, beyond the natural desire for playing time and success, have every reason to be keeping a weather eye out for their own financial futures, given where women’s soccer is right now. So the veterans have too much incentive to push to keep themselves in the squad and the lineup well past time; and the federation would rather try and eke out one more World Cup with the old, familiar (lucrative) veterans rather than take the risk of switching things up now. After all, we’ve seen what happens when a side is in the middle of a tactics/personnel transition—and no team has ever gone from the seventh-place match at the Algarve to triumph at a World Cup, right? (What? Oh.)

These problems are only exacerbated by the sheer insularity of the USSF when it comes to the WNT, above and beyond the quasi-club-team structure and culture of the national team itself. The federation genuinely seems to think that it can do what it wants regarding the WNT without ever being held accountable by the media, or anybody else, either. The tone-deafness of its handling of the Hope Solo mess over the last two months is only the latest example.

To be fair, USSF does have good reason to think no one will be held to account for how the WNT is run. It hasn’t happened yet, after all. For one, there’s still not much money in covering women’s soccer. So there are very, very few people who are able to report on and write about the sport full time, let alone with enough of a readership to have much leverage with USSF. That, in turn, allows Heifetz et al. to bully and blackball their way out of facing much serious criticism or negative coverage from people with a deep, passionate knowledge of the subject.

And the journalists who have developed, or are handed, more of a megaphone? There aren’t many who know enough about women’s soccer to ask the right questions, who care enough about the sport (and have the editorial leeway) to write about it regularly, and who have enough critical distance and professional pride to go beyond the first layer of glib, canned responses from the team and the federation. The result tends to be sporadic spikes in media attention, followed by a return to the usual lull—the fire alarm, not police patrol model of journalism. And too often the coverage that does occur merely invents the wheel fresh each time, rather than building on what was learned the last time around.

The result is that USSF and the WNT never have to face consistent, searching scrutiny grounded in a thorough knowledge base. Has there been meaningful investigative journalism into the revenue model of WNT friendlies and player endorsements, and where that money goes? No. Do many people ask whether it makes sense to have named April Heinrichs as the overall technical director on the women’s side, after she coached the WNT to defeat in the 2003 World Cup semis and won the 2004 Olympics playing longball? Not that I’ve seen. After Tom Sermanni gets fired, the party line that the WNT needs a coach who “properly understands the American mentality” appears in endless stories. Attempts to get an honest answer about what that actually means? Not so much. The U17 team can fail to qualify, and the U20s flame out humiliatingly in the current youth World Cup cycle, to a chorus of dismay; but when it becomes clear that the coaches who presided over these fiascos aren’t going anywhere? Crickets. Jill Ellis talks a good game about a fluid possession game and all that—does anybody from a major media outlet question whether it makes any sense to keep starting the same limited set of players and send a squad with an average age of 28 to World Cup qualifiers? For that matter, is there serious critical attention paid to Ellis’s decision to forgo selecting any specialist defensive midfielders in favor of sticking Lauren Holiday, of all people, into that spot? Ha.

No, instead of meaningful journalistic oversight, we get too much happy talk, and recitations of the WNT’s gaudy record (mostly in meaningless friendlies, etc), perhaps leavened with the suggestion that the WNT needs to modernize its tactics, and that the rest of the world is catching up. The notion that we’ve not only been caught but passed hardly enters the picture.

And this, ultimately, is what gets to me. I have little doubt that USSF’s desperate attempt to maintain the lie that we’re number one will ultimately be self-defeating, at the World Cup and beyond. In the meantime, as a WNT supporter I have to swallow the spin from Ellis and from the federation (as duly passed on by some in the media), while watching the technical and tactical gap between the U.S. and France, Germany, and Japan continue to widen. The USWNT is not the best in the world; and if the USSF continues as it has been, we’re not going to be the best again for a good long time.

We Need to Talk: Meaningful or Meaningless?

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TV’s first all-female sports talk show hit the air Tuesday night. Toward the end they ran a segment called “Meaningful or Meaningless,” i.e. is Orton over Manuel at QB for the Bills meaningful or meaningless. I thought I’d use that tactic to share my thoughts on the show. So fasten your garter belt, here we go!

Meaningful or Meaningless: There is an all-women sports talk show on national television.

HGS Sez: Meaningful

Whether or not you feel this show is necessary, or has questionable goals, or can succeed, giving a platform to voices that have traditionally been marginalized is a good thing. There is unprecedented visibility for women in sports media right now and rather than wait for an invitation to the men’s sports-media table, a group of women have seized a table of their own (though yes the timing is coincidental and fortuitous). The show may not run for 10 seasons, but it will provide an outlet for fresh voices and a showcase for the participants that may lead to more opportunities down the road.

Meaningful or Meaningless: The 10-minute domestic violence segment touched on the Hope Solo situation for less than 30 seconds.

HGS Sez: Meaningful

Why so little time spent on the Solo issue, which was 48-point headline material less than a week ago? Was that what they felt the (non?)story was worth, or were they loathe to criticize a fellow female athlete? I’m certainly not suggesting the Solo horse needs to be beaten further, but I was surprised they blew past it so quickly. But maybe they needed more time for…

Meaningful or Meaningless: Dara Torres, Lisa Leslie and Swin Cash all spoke candidly about their personal experiences with domestic violence.

HGS Sez: Beyond Meaningful

Not only was it extremely powerful to hear these women discuss how domestic violence directly affected their lives, it was compelling to watch Leslie and Cash defend the differences in how each dealt with the men who abused them. It seemed as though Leslie challenged Cash about the way she handled her relationship, while Cash’s trembling voice revealed just how difficult it was for her to escape. These are two of the most successful basketball players in USA history, and my gut wretched as they shared their personal struggles. That kind of honest, unscripted storytelling made for excellent television.

Meaningful or Meaningless: Lisa Leslie said Derek Jeter is “fine” during a segment on Jeter’s retirement.

HGS Sez: Meaningless

If any male sportscaster capped a broadcast with “And you forgot to mention, Alex Morgan is fine,”  he’d be excoriated on social media and disciplined by his bosses for blatant objectification. You simply cannot comment on a player’s looks like you’re sitting around your living room with your girlfriends. If you want to be treated like a pro, act like a pro, and that includes not talking about how cute you think a player is. What a player looks like is meaningless when it comes to his ability (or legacy) as an athlete.

Meaningful or Meaningless: My opinion

HGS Sez: Meaningful AND Meaningless

You know what they say about opinions… they’re awesome! And since I’m probably the ONLY blogger who will write about this…

Overall I liked most of “We Need to Talk.” I usually watch sports on mute because I get so tired of the commentators filling space with nonsense, so I’m not exactly the target audience for a show that trades in opinions. What I did enjoy was hearing from the athletes. In particular, having Torres in-studio the day Michael Phelps was arrested for DUI and former Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask on-hand the day the Raiders fired coach Dennis Allen – while incredibly lucky timing – provided much more informative and personal perspectives than a reporter could give. You won’t be surprised to hear I preferred the part where Swin Cash challenged Roger Goodell to the part where Cash and reporter Allie LaForce danced in front of a big-screen TV. But I guess the guys on ESPN/Fox/Etc have their own antics and so it’s hard to criticize them for having fun. The lack of testosterone was completely refreshing; let’s not overdo it with the estrogen. We get it. You’re women.

Of course as with any new show there were bobbles – a cameraman tip-toeing into a shot; the questionable decision to have five people border a round table resulting in wide shots that too often featured the back of Torres’ head. And there were nerves all around (except perhaps the rock-solid Andrea Kremer) that contributed to a rushed feel. They crammed a lot of topics and segments in there, maybe too many. But it’s just the inaugural show, plenty of room for tweaking.

So will I be back next week? Yes. This is appointment television for me because I believe in the growth of opportunities for women in all facets of sports. And if they invite a few hockey players to the show, that’ll make me happy too.