Leah Fortune: The Pearls Profit

For the past week or so, women’s soccer is the busiest that is has been since 2008. Last night, NCAA  released the post-season playing field for D-I and D-II. The US scraped out third place in world cup qualifiers. Canada and Mexico played a much-improved game that Canada got the best of–but hey, Mexico still has the honor of having cut the US down! There was further talk about Florida State, about Leslie Osborne being invited back to save the national team, and whether Alex Morgan is actually going to finish her college career.

But a significant part of my evening dealt with Leah Fortune and the news that she had been injured. As soon as “MRI” was mentioned–well, that says it all, doesn’t it? Leah left University of Texas to take full advantage of her opportunity to play for Brazil. From a soccer standpoint, I understand her decision. I am wary of her reasoning, though, as I don’t share her religious views–but to each their own. I have continued to follow her. Somewhat cynical, I mentioned to a friend that I wondered which verse Leah was going to use to explain the misfortune of leaving school to pursue a national team, only to have it all cut short in her first game. Really, what I was wondering was, is Leah someone that would write this off as part of God’s plan, or would she dig into it, interrogate and grapple with it? Because I cannot understand the first, but the second can make a person (of any persuasion) stronger.

The conversation that followed my comment isn’t important, but Leah’s blog is.  It’s easy to doubt a person when you don’t share their deeply held beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that you are rooting against them or can’t connect with them at all. I read the first line and almost laughed with relief. It’s terrible that this athlete has torn her ACL, but I seriously admire her response to the situation. She isn’t passive. She isn’t letting herself be carried. She is going to fight like hell.

And I want to take note of this because, as my co-writer has said, bloggers are quick to criticize or mock athletes who cite faith as their motivation. So, to be clear, I don’t share Leah’s convictions, but that doesn’t stop me from finding inspiration in her journey.

World Cup Qualifiers: Mexico and Canada

Canada after the 4-0 win over Costa Rica

There are not enough pictures of Mexico's historic 2-1 win over the US

And what is the word from the US camp?

“We needed to use the flanks a little more and get a better transition. We tried to keep possession in the wrong situations, so when we had the chance for transition to play that final pass, we didn’t. We waited to long.” -USWNT Head Coach Pia Sundhage (courtesy of ussoccer.com)

Let me boil that down for you: We waited too long.

How unfortunate was a US-Haiti opener for the U-17s?

Having been in a teaching program, I have been cautioned not to publicize my political beliefs, then listened to discussion after discussion about how teaching (both our practice and content) is and can’t help being a political act. The same is true in writing: as a journalist-in-training, you are cautioned not to allow bias, but every decision that goes into your practice and content expresses bias. Etc.

It’s hard not to feel at least some pressure to talk politics and world affairs during major international tournaments, and sometimes during the smaller tournaments as well. It’s especially hard when you feel the need to examine and pick apart the media–you can’t help letting your biases and beliefs come into play. I can’t, anyway, and I like to be up front about that.

I have a strong opinion on the US-Haiti relationship. I know this colored my perception of the media surrounding the U-17 game. I know this quickly pushed me to ignore talk about game, especially after a brief disagreement with a friend.

I would just like to clarify that I don’t think the U-17 players were disrespectful. I don’t think they ran up the score against Haiti (a 9-0 result). I don’t think it would have been respectful for them to play any differently than they did, and if you look at this game in context with the others, the US beat the other two teams in their group by greater margins (14-0 and 10-0).

But I do think that what the media chose to focus on takes something away from the US-Haiti U-17 interactions on and off the field, and I think that is partly because it undermines the integrity of that experience by overemphasizing one specific story without exploring the greater context of the YNT programs, the tournament, the earthquake, and the bigger-than-soccer and not-so-flattering history between the US and Haiti.

The links below are (mostly) as far as I could bring myself to go in my media consumption outside of watching the game. Some of these rubbed me the wrong way, and some didn’t offend me at all.

Opening windows and tidying up.

The past week has felt like spring around here, so I have been cleaning. I have also been fact-checking, belatedly. A friend pointed out that what I said in the podcast about Lydia Williams filling an international spot was wrong–oops. That doesn’t negate that she has to be a decent goalkeeper in order to have filled a WPS roster spot and have a place on Australia’s senior national team, but I do stand corrected.

Fact-checking also led to finding the mention of Brittany Timko’s ACL tear. Given that I’ve been mostly positive about Canada’s Cyprus coverage compared to how US Soccer handled Algarve, I’m disappointed that I didn’t know about this sooner (on the bright side: that might be my own fault). A little extra searching led me to this:

Sinclair doesn’t particularly concern herself with personal accolades, but admits reaching the century mark was a relief.

“It was exciting,” she said. “In my head I was just thanking God it was all over with. I was sitting on 99 goals for eight or nine months.”

The humble Sinclair describes the milestone goal as anti-climatic. Actually, Sinclair was just as concerned about teammate Brittany Timko being hurt on the play.

“Half the team was cheering for my 100th, the other half concerned with Brit crumpled on the ground,” she said.

The severity of Timko’s injury is unknown and there is heartfelt concern in Sinclair’s voice. This shouldn’t surprise, as Sinclair always has been a consummate team player. Her genuine appreciation of her teammates’ contributions to her success makes it all that much more endearing.

This is unfortunate, but the timing isn’t terrible. Timko could be back in form for the World Cup squad, although she will probably miss qualifiers.

On a related note, CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament for the Under-17 Women’s World Cup begins 3/10 with Haiti taking on the US: “Like the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship in January, all matches from the U-17 event will be streamed live free of charge at CONCACAF.com. Each game will also be available on-demand shortly after its conclusion.”

So much for draft thoughts.

One of the perks of having two writers at this blog is that we often don’t focus on the same teams or topics. I don’t have much to say about the LA Sol except that this is a nice approach (notifying the fans of what to expect from the LA web presence) and I really wish FC Gold Pride wasn’t doomed to be the next Marta’s Team, but I’m not holding my breath. I liked the early rumor that Athletica’s big trade was to put it in a position to draft her.

While the past few days have seen things happening in the WPS, the CONCACAF U-20 tournament was winding down. I caught 15 or 20 minutes of the final replay on FSC after having watched it live on CONCACAF’s stream. I still prefer the stream, choppy as it was sometimes, but I can appreciate that FSC actually aired games from a women’s youth tournament. I wonder what prompted that.

A friend suggested that I actually write about my thoughts on the games at some point. I don’t know what prompted that, either, and I worry that I have let too much time pass to say anything specific.

Ahead of the semis, I called a Mexico-US final because Canada seemed to have struggled in group play. Something wasn’t clicking, to the point that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them lose a game in group. I didn’t expect them to completely run out of luck in the consolation match, though. Costa Rica was good–I think the result was fair, given how unconvincing Canada was–but I am going to miss having the chance to follow the Canadians this summer.

I think the US got a taste of competition once they got out of group. They faded quickly after their first game. This is still a decent team, but it doesn’t seem to be a good team the way last cycle’s was. They don’t seem to be clicking. Mexico is good, but the US has some great players at its disposal. It would be nice to see a few roster changes before the World Cup. I have some suggestions, but I think I used all of my brownie points on Henninger.

Mexico’s performance, by the way, almost makes up for not having Canada at the World Cup. I can see them making it out of group as long as the draw doesn’t land them in a group of death.

At the end of group in Guatemala.

As of last night, group play is over in the CONCACAF qualifiers. Since I don’t have FSC, I can’t speak to that experience, but CONCACAF put together both live and on-demand video of each game. The viewing experience was mixed–because of my schedule, I was only able to watch a few live feeds. Mostly, I relied on the archive. I appreciate this option, but there is some loss in the experience. Live feeds include some pregame commentary and postgame interviews, neither of which is included in the archive. Clips from interviews are included in the “Up Close” videos, but I have yet to find the interviews in their entirety.

CONCACAF’s galleries have been interesting, too. Unlike previous cycles, the US does not appear to have a photographer at the qualifiers, so what CONCACAF posts is what the US gets. These are a lower quality and strictly game-focused, but it’s a step up that these galleries exist at all. Canada provides a gallery scroll, buried at the bottom of the CSA’s main page, but the images are small and hard to find once they are bumped from the main page.

I haven’t watched the end of Canada-Guatemala or either of yesterday’s games yet, so I don’t have much game commentary to offer. My general impressions so far are mixed. Canada’s lack of dominance surprised me. The US has assumed its usual role, and I worry that the team will struggle at the World Cup if they aren’t tested in the next few months. I found it fitting that Mexico scored on the US, and I was pleased that Costa Rica advanced to the semis.

I wish US Soccer would give its women’s teams more respect. The U-20 team has been fun to watch. In particular, I like seeing how Nairn and Leroux have changed since I first saw them in 2008. They were both good then, and they are even better now.

U-20 WNT coverage might be one of my favorite topics.

Last week, when talking about U-20 coverage, I said that FSC was going to air the games “instead.” Glad I had that wrong.  FSC is going to air a few games, but only a couple of US ones and post-group play. CONCACAF.com is going to stream the whole tournament, live and (fingers crossed) on demand. Way to go CONCACAF! First with YouTube in 2008, now on your own site. This helps me overlook the 2008 highlight video’s error in saying that the U-20 World Cup was played in China, and the misplacement of Noyola as one of Mexico’s U-20s.

All 16 games can be watched at CONCACAF.com’s video portal, CONCACAF TV, the first time a continental confederation has offered free comprehensive live coverage of a youth tournament online. Users will have to sign-up to view the games, but there is no charge for the one-time registration.

“Our internet coverage of this tournament represents a major milestone for CONCACAF and the football world,” CONCACAF President Jack Warner. “We are now able to provide live streaming free-of-charge for this and other youth tournaments which previously lacked broadcast distribution.”

Check out those quotes. No gender qualifiers. This is not the first time a “women’s youth tournament” will have comprehensive live coverage. This is not a major milestone for “women’s football.” The gender is neither highlighted nor exclusionary. It’s true that the CONCACAF site still somewhat maintains the mainstream hierarchy (as discussed in “Making Masculinity and Framing Femininity”) but CONCACAF’s redesign seems far less supportive of Meân’s division than the mess USSoccer.com decided was an “upgrade.”

Today’s games will be Canada vs. Costa Rica (3 p.m. EST) and Guatemala vs. Cuba (5:30 p.m. EST). Tomorrow’s games will be Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico (3 p.m. EST) and Jamaica vs. US (5:30 p.m. EST).

Musing on the youth national teams’ coverage.

Coming into this U-20 cycle, I had my fingers crossed that CONCACAF would be posting the games from the qualifying tournament to youtube, like it did in 2008. Instead, it looks as though the games are supposed to air on FSC.

US Soccer seemed to ignore the 2008 U-20 World Cup compared to the U-17 tournament that happened just a few weeks before. Of course, that means the organization missed out on covering a championship team but gave an awful lot of attention to a second-place squad. Covering the U-17 tournament was understandable, given that it was the inaugural tournament for that age group, but I’m not sure why the U-20s were ignored. Speculation and theories are mostly just me being cynical. It seems silly to abandon them simply because of a second place finish in qualifiers.

Fortunately, what coverage the US did not provide for the U-20s, other outlets seemed to make up for. I was able to watch all of the games that I wanted (including non-US ones) on ESPN360. Compared to 2006, when the US covered the team but I wasn’t able to watch games, having an alternative to matchtracker was thrilling. The commentary was intelligent, although I can’t remember who provided it. The other nice thing about ESPN360’s coverage was that it was archived, at least briefly, for later viewing.

The other nice–or interesting, in retrospect–thing about the coverage of the 2008 U-20 team was the student-athlete blogs or postcards that their respective schools posted. Off the top of my head, I remember Parkhill (Minnesota) and Marshall (Colorado), and a notable lack of Fowlkes (“notable” because Notre Dame usually has this). Then the coach’s document; that was a twist. What was left out, and why weren’t certain details omitted? What would a similar document have looked like for the U-17s? For the 2006 team that floundered to fourth place?

Or this: given the 2008 results-vs-coverage imbalance, how will US Soccer coverage treat those respective age groups this cycle? Will the U-20 team continue to get less than the U-17? With the U-20 team–some of which were on the 2008 U-17 team–get more? Will both age groups be ignored this time? Will both age groups get more attention?

What about going the WPS/old U-21 route? Let the team cover itself, if US Soccer doesn’t want to do it. Not that the players should be responsible for anything but playing the game and progressing through each stage, but it would be interesting to see what kind of narrative these young women would present. At the very least, it could be a step towards making up for the way the organization seems to downplay the group’s accomplishments.