Chile, look the other way

Last night, the conversation got rolling on Twitter about why I dislike Alex Morgan’s inclusion on the USWNT roster right now. As I’ve said, I understand that when a player gets that call, she goes, because a spot on the World Cup roster is what every women’s soccer player aims for, right? And as we have seen with Leslie Osborne, chances at these spots can be taken away so easily, so a player doesn’t pass up an opportunity when it presents itself. I’m sure Morgan has weighed the pros and cons and clearly she made her decision, but for various reasons, this call-up doesn’t sit right with me.

Disclaimer: I don’t cheer for Cal, and I don’t root against them. I don’t dislike Alex Morgan, but my criticisms of the way she plays are nothing new.

Let’s start with the “big” picture, the senior national team, which doesn’t seem to have cultivated or developed new forwards in the past three years. With the World Cup less than a year away and CONCACAF qualifiers happening now, I should probably be grateful that the new blood comes “late” rather than “never.” I shouldn’t question that Alex Morgan is the new blood, in particular, because she scored the game-tying goal against China’s U-23s… which should tell you something about this World Cup run.

This USWNT isn’t going to win the World Cup. Even if the tournament wasn’t being held in Germany (a hostile environment, to be sure) the US wouldn’t have good chances. Set aside, for a moment, that the athletes have to be in a winning mentality and have to think that they can do it–yes, miracles happen. Realistically, what are the US’s chances of getting that miracle? Realistically, what are the chances that Alex Morgan is going to perform that miracle or contribute to it in any way?

So Morgan has belatedly committed to a national team that hasn’t decided it needs her. The US will need her down the road if she reaches her potential, yes, and considering how long Amy Rodriguez has been around, Morgan could stick on the roster forever regardless of her performance. But if you pay any attention to CONCACAF, you know Morgan isn’t needed right now. This trip, for her, is about finding her small place on the team and filling a spot on the roster. Definitely, chemistry is needed for a strong team. Definitely, the coaches should have been working on that sooner. This call-up reeks of half-hearted experimentation. The 2010 senior WNT depressingly resembles the U-20 WNT, in that there are problems no one is truly fixing. This is a team that could get out of CONCACAF, but they will only progress through the knock-out stages of a World Cup if they feel like showing up on game days. They might not.

Flash back to when Christina DiMartino was called up to the USWNT. I never expected that to happen, even though I love the way she plays. That is a player that can provide a real spark and doesn’t care what size the opponent is. Nothing stops her. She is small (short and slight), though, and I would think that could have been a concern. Maybe chemistry was a factor, too. Maybe she wasn’t filling any of the currently open roles. But she plays a speedy, graceful, dangerous game and she doesn’t crumple when an opponent sneezes on her. Maybe Morgan has the chemistry. Maybe she is filling Tasha Kai’s role. She is speedy and graceful, and she has scored a couple goals, but per DiCicco’s report in 2008, we know that she has more issues than injury and equilibrium. Even if she has solved the nutrition problems, she is still the wilting violet on the field. These aren’t U-20s or college kids that she would be up against in Germany.

While we have DiCicco’s report and 2008 on the table, let’s not forget that Alex Morgan did make a commitment when it came to the U-20s. She made the commitment well in advance of the college season (her sophomore year, by the way). This year, in her senior season, she is a team captain. She has played in 11 of 17 games, totaling 915 minutes. 11 Bears have scored this season, and of 37 goals, 14 are Alex Morgan’s. In the Pac-10, Cal holds a 2-3-1 record. This summer, I asked, “Will Alex Morgan try to make something of her senior season at Cal?” The games she missed were at the core of Cal’s schedule: Portland, UCLA, both Arizonas, Stanford. Cal meets Oregon today Friday, but the Bears haven’t had any luck so far against the teams below them in the Pac-10. They close against Oregon State, currently unbeaten in conference play.

Although the statistics are hugely in Morgan’s favor, she doesn’t carry her college team alone. Often overlooked, Megan Jesolva is a key part of this team, even when she isn’t at 100%. DiCicco nearly took her to Chile and spoke highly of her in his report despite only having her in one or two camps. She has since played for the U-23s (although thanks to ussoccer.com, you wouldn’t know that). Morgan and Jesolva combined would have made Cal a solid team this year, despite the loss of players such as Lisa Kevorkian (all the rage at Boston University now), last year’s captains, and a starting keeper. Jesolva recently voiced her intent to continue her soccer career past NCAA, which is a pleasant surprise–but is it likely? She keeps narrowly missing opportunities. Her fellow players voted not to take her to Chile; by the time the U-23s scooped her up, the Nordic Cup was no more; she is graduating to the pro leagues in a year where WPS is massively scaling things down (possibly for its final run) and the women’s soccer world will focus on the senior World Cup. Jesolva’s chances with Cal have steadily decreased the longer Morgan has been away as part of the USWNT’s attempt to integrate some youth.

Overall, I really doubt Jesolva (or anyone else) begrudges Morgan this one shot at the USWNT. But I think it’s a gamble, and it’s selling Morgan, Jesolva, and Cal short. The Bears aren’t a Final Four-bound team, but they are much better than their record. They just weren’t prepared for Morgan’s Once In A Lifetime shot at the ailing USWNT. All the best to her, of course, but I have to wonder at the cost. In the sea of voices showering her with nothing but praise, I’m sure at least one blog entry of doubt is merited.

Edit to link: There is not enough anger in my post. Now a word from someone much more invested.

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Episode 17 – Rival Schools United By Podcasts

Kendall Johnson and Maxine Goynes

New Episode! Recorded October 27,2010 and it is alive with lengthiness! This is our first proper episode since the UP-SCU project. We had a lot to say about the game this year and the coverage from ESPNU.

(About the title: If you don’t know what Rival Schools means you should be ashamed to not know and spend time around pimply Best Buy employees who can tell you all about it.)

Full show notes after the jump: Read more of this post

How are the U-20s doing in the NCAA season?

Since we are about a month into college play and certain U-20 influenced teams are having surprising results (both good and bad), I feel as though it would be beneficial to check up on the NCAA-based youth nationals. This list might be incomplete, as it’s mostly based on the clubs submitted to FIFA for the rosters. If I know that the players are with NCAA teams that aren’t included on FIFA’s rosters, then I have listed them (a couple of Mexico’s, for instance), but otherwise, I have probably missed a few internationals. Because Canada did not qualify for the World Cup, I have not included those players.

Arizona is 2-3-1 so far with wins over Cal Poly and Tennessee. This is a rough start to the season, and Pac-10 play won’t be any easier.

  • Renae Cuellar (Mexico) has played all six games. She has taken 26 shots (14 on goal), put away six goals (one game-winner), and recorded three assists. Overall, the Wildcats have 11 goals this season. You do the math.

Auburn is ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2007, at 21/25, having started the season 5-2-0. One of the highlights so far was beating Florida State 3-2 in an overtime game.

  • Ashley Kotero (Mexico) has played two games and already recorded two shots and a goal.
  • Bianca Sierra (Mexico) played all seven games with two starts. She has taken three shots and notched one assist.

Boston College (5) holds a 5-0-1 record, having tied Stanford in the season opener. They have had a decent non-conference schedule, but it’s not as competitive as some other teams’.

  • Victoria DiMartino (USA) is having a standard season: 19 shots (nine on goal), seven goals (two game-winners), and one assist.
  • Kristie Mewis (USA) has 18 shots (nine on goal), three goals (one game-winner), and five assists.

California is 4-0-2 on the season and ranked 18/19 in the nation. We might get a chance to see how they fare without Alex Morgan this season, as she is still getting call-ups for the USWNT.

  • Betsy Hassett (New Zealand) started in four of the six games she has played this season. She has taken seven shots, two of which were on goal.

Creighton is 4-2-2 and (unsurprisingly, as this is a Missouri Valley Conference school) not ranked.

  • Gabriella Guillen (Costa Rica) started two of her six games so far. She has taken six shots, one on goal, and recorded one assist.

Duke is having a good season, starting 5-1-1 and ranked 14/15 depending on whom you ask. The loss came at the hands of Stanford, and the tie was a scoreless draw with FIU.

  • Mollie Pathman (USA), a freshman, has played all seven games. She is credited with 15 shots (10 on goal), two goals (one game-winner), and two assists.

Florida State isn’t necessarily struggling, but 5-2-0 with losses away (Auburn) and at home (Florida!) could be troubling. At the very least, that home loss to Florida must smart. The Seminoles are ranked 8th in the nation.

  • Ines Jaurena (France) has started and played in six games (DNP vs Stetson). She has taken three shots (two on goal), scored one goal and assisted on another. She has also converted a penalty kick. Too bad she couldn’t play for the US.
  • Toni Pressley (USA) has also converted a pair of PKs this season. She has taken six shots (five on goal!) and scored two goals (one a game-winner). She also has an assist.
  • Casey Short (USA) hasn’t taken PKs, but she does have 13 shots (six on goal). She’s tallied one goal in seven games played.

Georgia has advanced to 21 in the national polls and is 4-2-1, with losses to surging Duke and strong Stanford teams and a recent tie with Santa Clara.

  • Ashley Baker (England), a redshirt freshman, has started all seven games for the Bulldogs. She is credited with 41 saves, has seven goals-against, and notched an assist in the Georgia State game. Right on, keeper.

IPFW is 2-5-0 to start. This probably won’t be the Mastadons’ best season.

  • Erin Nayler (New Zealand) has started six of the seven games she has played as a freshman. She and junior GK Kristen McFadden split netminding duties in a 4-3 loss to unbeaten SIUE. Nayler has 14 goals against and 37 saves.

Lynn University is a DII school in Florida. The team has a 3-0 record.

  • Melissa Ortiz (Columbia) has played 200 of 273 possible minutes. She leads the team with 17 shots taken. She has one goal and one assist.

Mississippi State is off to a 6-1-0 start but will probably struggle when meeting with Oklahoma State this weekend. MSU’s schedule doesn’t seem to have been strong so far.

  • Monica Alvarado (Mexico) started and played six games this season. Eight shots (five on goal) and one assist. She missed the recent game against Jackson State.

North Carolina, ranked No. 1, etc, etc. 6-0-1 with a tie against Stanford. Second verse, same as the first… twenty or so, right? Anson Dorrance has 700ish wins and says his team probably shouldn’t be No. 1. Okay then!

  • Amber Brooks (USA) is a regular starter for the Tar Heels. She has taken ten shots (half on goal) and scored with three of those.
  • Crystal Dunn (USA) is also a regular starter and has played at least a hundred more minutes than Brooks. She has taken a shot and notched an assist.
  • Meg Morris (USA) is a starter and only has about 400 minutes on the field, but she has taken four shots (one on goal) and tallied an assist.

Pacific spent September playing a surprisingly tough schedule against ranked teams. They are 2-4-1, highlighting with a recent tie against Oregon.

  • Angelica Figueroa (Mexico) started six of her seven games for Pacific. She has taken six shots, two on goal, and scored once. She also has three assists and a yellow card.  Her game-tying goal (and her yellow) came in the Oregon game.

Penn State is struggling more than expected this season. A strong schedule has left them 1-5-1 after a month of play. They have lost five straight games and mercifully dropped out of the top-25. Things are only going to get worse with Lexi Marton injured.

  • Maya Hayes (USA) has started six of seven games in her freshman year. She has 13 shots (seven on goal), two goals, and one assist. Not bad, compared to…
  • Christine Nairn (USA), one of the U-20 captains. She has started all seven games for the Nittany Lions, taken 27 shots (put only 8 on frame), scored two goals, and assisted one. This is a very frustrating season already. Edit: given my later comment on Leroux, it’s important to note that Nairn had a PK blocked (by 2008 U-20 GK Chantel Jones) in the game against Virginia. She did convert in the game against Portland, but the final result was disappointing.

Portland is, as my co-writer says, flying under the radar at No. 3 in the nation with a decent schedule (comparable to UNC’s, probably) and 8-0-0 record.

  • Kendall Johnson (USA) started all four of the games she has played in and took two shots. [A/N: knee injury, but not season ending?]

Oklahoma State, 5-1-0, has been okay against okay teams. They ended August with a loss to Portland.

  • Adrianna Franch (USA) has been sharing the net with two other keepers but played all six games. She has 19 saves and three goals against.

San Diego has played a good schedule so far and kept a decent 4-2-1 record. Their recent loss to UC Irvine is surprising, but they beat USC in the preseason!

  • Natalie Garcia (Mexico) is a regular starter. She has taken four shots, all on goal, and has one assist.

Santa Clara has played a mixed-strength non-conference schedule to a 4-1-2 record. The Broncos’ ties with Cal and Georgia are probably a good indicator of what can be expected this season. Somehow, SCU still sits at 9th in the polls.

  • Bianca Henninger (USA) has played all 670 minutes in goal for the Broncos. She has made 26 saves and has five goals against.

Stanford is off to a 4-0-2 start and ranked No. 2 in DI under UNC, who they tied soon after tying Boston College (both road games). All of the Cardinal’s U-20 players have been regular starters in all six games.

  • Alina Garciamendez (Mexico), Courtney Verloo (USA), and Rachel Quon (USA) are all playing on a backline that has only allowed six goals so far. Verloo has two shots and one assist. Quon has one shot, one goal, and one assist.
  • Teresa Noyola (USA) is an attacking midfielder with 16 shots (nine on goal), three goals, and three assists.

Texas is doing alright (5-1-1) so far, but the Longhorns are not in the top 25.

  • Leah Fortune (Brazil) has taken 21 shots with 12 of those on goal. Of two goals, one was a game winner. She also has three assists. She is a redshirt freshman this year, having lost most of 2009 to an ankle injury.

UC Irvine is Joan’s randomly chosen second favorite team! Their 4-1-2 record is highlighted by wins over Gonzaga and San Diego and draws with Cal and Pepperdine.

  • Mar Rodriguez (Mexico) has four shots (three on goal) and one goal!

UCLA is not off to an impressive start, but at least they aren’t as bad as Penn State. 4-1-1 so far, the Bruins lost to Northwestern, tied UC Santa Barbara, and needed overtime to beat Notre Dame. UCLA is ranked 10th.

  • Zakiya Bywaters (USA) has taken 19 shots (9 on goal), scored twice (one game-winner), and assisted once.
  • Sydney Leroux (USA) has taken 28 shots, half of them on frame. She has five goals, one assist, and (no joke) didn’t manage to convert her PK attempt. Maybe her four-goal game against Cal Poly makes up for that.
  • Jenna Richmond (USA) beats Leroux’s four goals with two against Notre Dame. 16 shots (11 on goal), 4 goals (2 game-winners), and an assist. As a freshman.

Webster University is DIII. They are 1-3-0 so far.

  • Maria Arias (Costa Rica) is one of two players on the roster not from Missouri or Illinois. I don’t think she’s played yet this season.

Cal Bears 2009, in which Alex Morgan resembles Hope Solo (only better)

Although I was initially going to make this post along with (or instead of) the one about Hope Solo’s latest comments, I’m glad I held off. The discussion in the comments of that post has been good, and the delay gave colleges time to throw all sorts of preseason news at us–including this gem from DailyCal.org:

McGuire Looks to Build Unity After Late-Season Struggle

[U]nity was an obstacle last fall. [Head Coach Neil] McGuire quit briefly for personal reasons following a loss to Sacramento State, and the remainder of the season seemed to reflect internal conflict. […]

Although he attributes the downturn in Cal’s performance last season largely to injuries and is monitoring the players’ health, there could be other reasons to the Bears’ late loss of momentum.

The team’s record prior to McGuire’s short departure was 6-3. Following his absence, it was 5-6-1.

While he is aware of some of last season’s problems, McGuire also believes that the Bears’ have a fresh start this year.

“This is the 2010 team.” he said. “It’s not the 2009 team. It’s a different team, it’s a different attitude, it’s a different vision.”

I think that the average women’s soccer fan, if they pay attention to California Berkeley at all, do so because of Alex Morgan. I used to pay attention because the Bears have given my teams some grief over the years (and they gave up Chioma Igwe to SCU), but in recent seasons, I’ve paid attention because Cal is a friend’s alma mater. Knowing someone that is on-campus and cares about the team certainly does affect how I perceive the team. So with that in mind, I realize that not everyone was as caught up in the Bears’ 2009 season as I was. Not everyone is going to be insulted by The Daily Californian‘s new stance on the team and McGuire.

My unease with McGuire started early last last season, with the 4-1 win over Nevada. Alex Morgan had a hat trick and Lisa Kevorkian tallied a goal as well. In the writeup, only the coach is quoted:

“Lisa’s reading the line very, very well for us,” McGuire said. “She’s kind of a goal-a-game player. Sometimes it can be a first-class goal, and sometimes it can be off scrap.” […]

“Morgan has to credit the service she received,” McGuire said. “The first goal she worked for because she won the ball and scored. The rest of the goals she scored came from tremendous work from her teammates. That’s what our offense is all about – whether it be Alex scoring the goal and receiving from her teammates or her passing to her teammates.”

My discomfort came particularly from McGuire’s phrasing in talking about Morgan’s goal. “Has to credit,” and so on, as though Alex Morgan, whose modesty isn’t affected or simply fed to the media, wouldn’t have credited them herself? Morgan is Cal’s goalscorer (and what a shame that they have lost Kevorkian to grad school) but Megan Jesolva is the key component behind the forwards. I’m sure the team knows this. When she is injured, the midfield–and subsequently the team–struggles.

And Jesolva did get injured last season. Her first game out, Cal (ranked 7th at the time), lost 1-0 to Cal Poly. Even McGuire acknowledged where the problem was, if not how the team ended up that way: “One of the problems we have been having is that our midfielders are trying to do too many peoples’ jobs. That drill is meant to confine our midfielders to a given space and give them a real sense of what their responsibilities are.”

The Bears followed up with a 1-0 loss to Sacramento State. Immediately following the game, McGuire quit the coaching position: “Reportedly, McGuire was so upset after the game that he told his squad in the locker room that he was done, leaving the Bears without a head coach for Sunday’s matchup against No. 11 Santa Clara which resulted in a 1-1 draw.” This from student journalist Joseph Cannon, who had an established relationship with the team and would continue to cover the situation as it unfolded. The news broke, however, through star player Alex Morgan’s twitter account:

October 3

  • @alexmorgan13: you turned your back on us once we can and will turn our backs on you for good. you are not welcome back
  • @alexmorgan13: practice time… will there be an unpleasant surprise? i hope not
  • @alexmorgan13: happy about how practice went…so READY for tomorrow’s game!!!

October 4

  • @alexmorgan13: game [today] vs. santa clara… i have a good feeling about this one
  • Santaclarabroncos.com noted in its original release regarding the game that Neil McGuire was not with the visiting Bears.
  • Callbears.com: Volunteer assistant coach Kelly Lindsey managed the team today as head coach Neil McGuire was attending to personal matters.
  • @alexmorgan13: bears tied the broncos 1-1… we wanted it more…we fought until the end. 110 minutes later. good job bears i love you girls

October 5

“I wasn’t happy or sad. I was indifferent. My team is the only thing that matters to me. And if (McGuire) ever comes back, then we will deal with it then.” McGuire has shown his emotions after losses before, like last year when he kicked the team out of the locker room after a brutal collapse against Cal State Fullerton. But he has never done this before.

“It’s really important for us to sit tight and let Neil and the administration work through this,” Lindsey said. “We just have to try to keep the wheels on the bus until a final decision is made and we can all move forward.”

Cannon’s article came late enough that it was published on the same day as the “official channels” at Cal announced McGuire’s return:

Head Coach Neil McGuire Returns to Team. Neil McGuire, who missed Sunday’s game at Santa Clara to attend to personal business, has returned to the team and will continue as Cal’s women’s soccer coach. Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour reiterated her support for McGuire, who has guided the Golden Bears to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearance in his first two seasons at the helm.

The juxtaposition of Cannon’s articles to the official statements given by McGuire and Barbour (echoed by The Daily Californian here) could raise some eyebrows… or some ire, as demonstrated by Andrew Brining on Bleacher Report. He wasn’t the only one. Alumni weighed in, and Morgan continued to tweet.

October 6

  • @alexmorgan13: long long day. big headache, tired, frustrated. Thank you for all the support in the past few days.

October 9

Cal would salvage their season and make the postseason tournament despite McGuire, which I think bears a lot of quoting here.

“I think we took the team as far as we could have taken it, considering all the adversity we were up against,” junior Alex Morgan said.

It wasn’t much of a team at all, though. The Bears were divided, players versus coach.

“A coach is a coach, players are what make a team,” senior co-captain Brianna Bak said just days after McGuire temporarily left the team for personal reasons.

That statement became almost a mantra with the players, who would turn any question regarding “the situation” with their coach into a chance to talk about the bond they shared as sisters.

“It’s in the past now,” McGuire said less than a week after the incident, which was chronologically correct but realistically improbable, as he had yet to speak with each player individually.

There weren’t any examples of dissent from the players in games or during interviews, yet it began to surface in their record. After starting off with a promising 6-3 record, Cal finished the season going 5-6-1, tossing together a rough 4-5 trip through the Pac-10.

And while I think it’s telling that Kelly Lindsey (yes, that Kelly Lindsey, the one that turned Sky Blue FC’s season around last year) was named associate head coach in February 2010, Shek Borkowski probably says it better than I could.

McGuire is right. This year’s Bears are not the 2009 team. The individual players combined for a striking whole, but who’s to say whether 2010 could overcome the same kind of adversity? I have a lot of respect for the 2009 team and the seniors that graduated, and not just because of how they functioned as a team. Sandwiched between the coaching mess at Sky Blue FC and Hope Solo’s recent outburst on Twitter, the Cal debacle informs and reinforces my pro-player, pro-social media stance at any level of the sport.

I don’t have faith in the “appropriate channels.” I don’t think the Cal story could have unfolded like it did without new media components. I think that if Alex Morgan had taken her complaint to the “appropriate channels,” not only would nothing have been done (as we see in McGuire’s continued head coaching position), but nothing would have been said, either. The players, their relationship with the student journalist, and their willingness to take advantage of the open forum of the internet made the other side of the story public.

But as we’ve discussed in comments on my previous post, just because the information is out there, doesn’t mean people have or will see it. I know I wouldn’t have been able to read as much as I did if I wasn’t guided to the sources by someone on that campus who cared enough to find the news and share it. Since so much of women’s soccer has to be passed along this way, I don’t see why people are so quick to discredit it. A degree of judgment needs to go into how much of each story you accept, but how do you justify telling Alex Morgan, Joseph Cannon, and the 2009 team that their side doesn’t count, simply because it hasn’t been filtered by a system that doesn’t want to acknowledge them anyway?

In honor of the NCAA preseason starting this week

A few weeks ago, an anon on tumblr asked who my top 5 players were to watch for this upcoming college season. That is a really hard question to answer, because I presume the question is meant in terms of skill and record-breaking and the like. Those aren’t the reasons I find players worth following. Besides, you know everyone is going to be keeping an eye on the current seniors from the 2008 U-20 team. Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux are going to be the ones under scrutiny. They’re a two-year tired story. Obviously, the players you really need to keep an eye on if you liked 2008 are at Portland.

So I came back to the question with a somewhat better, if redirected, answer. Switch “teams” for “players,” and I can give you a Top 5 and honorable mentions. This hasn’t changed, even now that the U-20s finished their crash and burn cycle.

Here are my top 5 teams to watch this season in NCAA women’s soccer, and my reasons to jump on the emotional roller coaster with them.

  • Santa Clara. I always watch Santa Clara – for the injuries, for the chemistry, for the mocking (so many captains!), for the goalkeepers and backlines. I waited patiently through the injuries of 2006, 2007, and 2008 for the team’s return in 2009. I think a lot of their comeback can be attributed to the strength and determination of the two senior captains, the energy brought by the freshman class, and the confidence and skill of their starting goalkeeper. I think Olivia Klei’s health and the team’s overall fitness and chemistry will factor into SCU’s ability to contend with an equally strong, more consistent Portland team.
  • Boston College. This is a team that finally burst out of the ACC shadow last season, again because all of the pieces were in place: senior leadership, freshman energy, team chemistry, and a wild but underrated goalkeeper. The question this year is whether the team can maintain their focus without the graduating class, and now that they don’t have the element of surprise.
  • Stanford. Kelley O’Hara and Ali Riley were huge in the Cardinal’s resurgence. This team still has big names, though, and the incoming and future freshmen are solid bets. But can they dominate UCLA this year? Will Alex Morgan try to make something of her senior season at Cal? The Pac-10 is worth watching, and I will be taking it in from a Stanford angle.
  • Penn State. The only question I have related to the graduating seniors is who will the Nittany Lions trust in goal? Otherwise, I am excited to see the sophomores and freshmen carve out new space for themselves on this team. I want them to do well. I think they can, and I want to enjoy that. From youth, they can only get better. [Additionally, I can’t wait to see how Nairn approaches this season, considering how the U-20 WWC went down.]
  • Notre Dame. Again, a team I always follow. This year, I feel more mellow than usual. Lauren Fowlkes is a senior, and who knows what position she will end up playing this year. Leon and Laddish are joining the team. Melissa Henderson might keep scoring! A couple of last year’s non-seniors have left the team. Etc. This team entertains me year in and year out, and I love their coach, Randy Waldrum. He is one of the few coaches in any sport that I like and respect both on the field and off. The rumors that are going around about his being back on the market worry me. The fact that he’s signed with LTA worries me. So I am watching very, very closely this year.

My honorable mentions go to Wisconsin and Virginia. The Badgers have the potential to challenge Penn State again this year. The Cavaliers might or might not make a real showing this season, but I like to have the background when I feel like something big is coming. I definitely feel like their future recruiting classes are going to bring something special to a team I already like.

And as I said above (so it shouldn’t require any mention at all), it’s important to watch Portland this year. They have the seniors.

Overly invested musings on Our Game and NCAA coverage.

I skipped the WPS chat last night, and after catching parts of it in my feed and through conversation, I’m glad my time was better spent elsewhere. NCAA coverage by Our Game Magazine was brought up–and NCAA coverage is a topic that I am passionate about. My favorite part of the fall is the internal (as opposed to external/mainstream) coverage of the sport.

Notre Dame’s localized coverage might be my favorite across the entirety of women’s soccer. Pete LaFleur was a role model of mine as an undergraduate in journalism and public relations. The athletic department has been consistently conscientious with regards to women’s soccer–probably other sports as well–in text, video, and now social media. For a while, Marcus Snowden provided amazing photography. The level of coverage has dropped slightly in the past year or two, but it remains among the best in the college game.

Since mainstream stories mostly focus on UNC, college-age USWNT players, and a select few undefeated/top scoring/top recruit types, it’s important for this kind of comprehensive localized coverage to exist.  UNC is a powerhouse, and USWNT players are (sometimes) top players, but it leaves mainstream coverage saturated with the same story, over and over again. Commentary is stale, and it’s pedantic when former Tar Heels are on the broadcast crew.

There is no narrative arc with a program like UNC. There is nothing to connect with–plenty to feel good about if you aren’t the sort to emotionally invest in a team, but compared to other teams, there are no struggles, no obstacles to overcome. There are players who are good, have always been good, and expect a free pass to greatness. So if you watch college soccer only for UNC or only with mainstream coverage, you miss out on so many up and coming players, so many teams with engaging stories from season to season.

True, sometimes you hear about UCLA or other frequent Final Four teams in the mainstream. That is the most that the average fan will hear. There is no obligation to dig deeper, and I wouldn’t suggest that there is. It takes energy and effort to find the stories–but isn’t that what a magazine like Our Game is for? To go beyond the stagnant mainstream to bring the insider perspective that external sources don’t bother reaching for? To offer something new by way of women’s soccer content, to increase awareness?

Women’s soccer can’t and shouldn’t ignore UNC, but to truly increase awareness of the women’s game, it’s important to dig deeper into the ranks. Three of the highest profile USWNT players aren’t former Tar Heels: Abby Wambach played for Florida, Hope Solo played for Washington, and Natasha Kai played for Hawaii. Did anyone pay attention to California Berkeley beyond Alex Morgan and the televised game against Stanford last season? Or to Stanford, prior to the undefeated season? Or to Penn State, which has struggled in the past two post-seasons but still turns out some seriously solid pro and national team players? Or to UConn, which happens to have more women’s sports programs than just basketball? These are the programs that young WNT players are coming out of.

While I trust Our Game Magazine‘s vision, I’m still afraid of it breaking my heart over DI coverage. Maybe more so, because I want the magazine to deliver on the implied mission of changing women’s soccer coverage, including the college level. It would be so easy to slip up and go mainstream here.