“Can Twitter save women’s soccer?”

If you are on Twitter and in the women’s soccer community, you have heard the rumblings of a hashtag-slash-trending-topic movement to draw attention to the USWNT game versus Italy on November 27. ESPN3.com will be carrying the webcast, and folks want to prove to ESPN that people give a damn about the game.

I understand why women’s soccer fans expect and demand more of ESPN and other major media outlets when it comes to coverage of the sport. I don’t necessarily agree, as I’ve said in previous entries, but I get it. When the internal media production stagnates and is unwilling to evolve, it’s time to beg for outside help. It’s also time to take matters into your own hands.

I do believe in the power of Twitter, particularly in the hands of players and fans. I do believe this game needs to be watched by casual fans of US soccer. And I think it’s really important that fans are exposed to the background of how the USWNT ended up in the mess they’re in. I think it’s important that fans be dissatisfied with the lack of media coverage both internal and external, because in a way, that played a part in the past six or so years of complacency.

Of the two of us here at Cross-Conference, I am probably the wrong one to be writing this post. But I was asked, as a women’s soccer blogger, and even though I don’t root for the USWNT, I do admire the initiative. If you get enough people talking about and pushing for change, becoming part of the change, you have a better chance of effecting it.

Use #uswnt when you tweet about the game, and tweet often. This isn’t just about the national team–it’s about women’s soccer in the US.

Or it’s about Alex Morgan. Who can say, for sure?

Musing on Borkowski, fan contributions, and narratives

Although there are points on which we don’t agree, I do think that Shek Borkowski writes a good, thought-provoking blog. I went to his site to find a link to his 9/16 entry, found that he had written more in the meantime, and got caught up in reading the more recent entries. So here is a small plug for his site, and he is on Twitter @shekborkowski.

Last week, Borkowski posted this entry on WPS and the German Bundesliga. Is less of a “Germany is better, nya!” and more of an explanation as to what advantages players have in the German setup, despite the potential in the US. Rather than putting the reader on the defensive by saying “Germany is superior and the US will fail,” Borkowski lays out his points and foregrounds his concern: “I have a vested interest in seeing women’s professional football succeed in the US but I am worried.” After the comparison, he continues, “Today and tomorrow, WPS represents the only real, long term chance American women’s football has in staying competitive internationally.”

Then:

In America, we the fans of women’s football, participants, administrators, referees and coaches are the only asset WPS owners have. […]

Nothing else. Without us, the fans, unlike in European countries where women’s football is subsidized, they are doomed. […]

All of us involved in women’s football always can find reasons not to attend games, but 2011 is the year of no excuses.

We must do all we can to support WPS, we can’t count on baseball or basketball fans to support the league, we must do it.

This morning, my co-writer reminded me of the lesson that I grew up with, as a Catholic, that there are basically two ways to contribute to an organization or cause. One way is monetarily. You put your money where your mouth is. Buy the ticket, go to the game. I am the sort of fan that would much rather buy a ticket to a WPS game than a USWNT game. The league adds another layer to development, where players that aren’t crowned in NCAA are getting the opportunity to show on home soil that not every American player peaks in that limited four-year time-span. The league is where the US pool can diversify and build both talent and consistency, which is admittedly lacking at the W-League/WPSL level. There needs to be recognition that just because the USWNT no longer formally has months of residence and frequent friendlies doesn’t mean that the USWNT player pool hasn’t been in a residency, playing competitive international-level games April through September. Supporting WPS goes a long way towards supporting our national team, so you can have Natasha Kais, Hope Solos, and Abby Wambachs in the future, after those names have retired.

The other way of supporting is through service. Time and energy. Volunteering for those jobs and positions that the teams and league can’t afford to spend money on. Becoming active in keeping this league. Speaking as a monetarily-challenged (read: poor) grad student with a 1.5- to 2-hour drive to my nearest WPS teams, my opportunities to be involved with traditional volunteer positions seem limited. My co-writer, who is about 600 miles from her nearest WPS team, has even more limited options–but that doesn’t stop her, or me, from doing what we can. We have the knowledge and means to talk about the league, teams, and players in various types of media. So we do. We write and podcast, and we’re gradually stretching to see what more we can do and add.

Additionally, I do go to games when I can. I am fortunate to have returned to a part of the East Coast where I have relatively easy access to US women’s soccer at all levels. I did not go to the WPS playoff game between Philadelphia and Washington, but that was because I was already locked into plans to go to the Boston College-Rutgers game, where a number of future professionals and internationals were playing. I feel a little guilty about missing that WPS game, because I know from living in St. Louis that any WPS game could be the last. But then, instead of a WPS game, I was at an NCAA women’s soccer game, not at home on the couch playing video games.

Hope Solo is half-right about statistics. There are intangibles that matter. If you can’t affect the numbers, there are other things you can be doing. One of the intangibles that keeps sport alive and relevant is story. If you know the history, if you know what inspires you to care about the sport, you can pass that on to share or strengthen the same interest within others. (For instance, I don’t care if one keeper has a better statistical average against a team. I care that the other keeper earned the starting position over time and has dedicated her performance in this tournament to a recently deceased relative.) You know how Our Game Magazine is trying to drum up subscribers? They have some of the stories that the mainstream media isn’t hooked into. When you talk someone into going to a game or following a team or player, you have those stories, too.

To come back to Borkowski, he’s right. It’s packaging as much as product. Sometimes it’s packaging more than product. The stories are part of the packaging. Mechelle Voepel, a women’s basketball journalist, grasps and executes that well–she draws me in when I’d just as soon ignore basketball altogether. When you can describe why someone could care instead of just telling them that they should, you can sell. Teach a man to fish, and all that. Our experiences as fans are just as much a part of building the league and interest in the league as anything the leagues or teams are doing.

But of course, in order to share those experiences and stories, we have to have them, first.

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?

Hope Solo – Gonna take a mighty swipe at the high hog

Hope Solo, WWC 2007Does everyone remember back in 2007, when Hope Solo watched the USWNT get their asses kicked in the World Cup, then made a statement to the Canadian media that amounted to, “Greg Ryan is an idiot for benching me because I am this US team’s number one GK, and there are no stats in goalkeeping–shut up, Heifetz, I’ll say what everyone is thinking if I want”? Originally, the video of this statement was available online, unedited, but I guess what aired on TV were the incendiary clips that got Solo kicked off the team. Rioting ensued, Solo apologized on MySpace, and she became the major storyline of the USWNT for the next two years.

Now it’s 2010 and Solo has returned to filing complaints in public spaces. This time, however, she is skipping the middleman. Earlier this season she complained about American soccer commentators

I’ve heard the best commentating throughout these wc games! All from other countries. We have a long way to go here in the US! They truly know how to let the game be played and speak for itself. They have funny little comments and then return to the game. And they don’t over analyze!!!! It makes watching the games much less frustrating and much more enjoyable!

WPS reffing and discipline

Here we go again… Protection

What are we the legal system now? Perhaps jail time too? An orange jumpsuit? The guillotine? Trying to make an embarrassment out of people? Should I be laughing! I just don’t know anymore.

Anybody want to join us for some community service? Its a tough task laying out by the pool while trying to put back tasty beverages.

[A/N: The above occurred around a red card incident with Solo’s Atlanta teammate Kia McNeill, who came studs-up (about shoulder height) at opposing goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. This was McNeill’s third red card in two years. The discipline committee reviewed the incident and added two additional suspensions–a total of three games missed–and four hours of community service, which clearly means little in WPS. An appeal was made, to no effect.]

and in response to team/league press releases

Lucky? I don’t think so. When will little old atlanta get a bit of credit. Who writes these press releases?

Most recently, Solo has caused a stir following Atlanta’s 2-0 loss at Boston (which she preceded with a minor rant about officiating).

To all the boston fans and especially the young kids that I didn’t sign autographs for I’m sorry. I will not stand for An organization who can so blatantly disrespect the athletes that come to play. Perhaps the WPS or Boston themselves Can finally take a stance to the profanity, racism and crude remarks that are made by their so called “fan club” To the true fans, I hope to catch you at the next game. Thanks for your support and love for the game.

There is a lot of discussion right now, with Boston’s Riptide defending themselves and both Boston and Atlanta’s front offices talking about making a joint statement. Et cetera. I agree that the issues that have been raised by Solo and the ensuing reactions definitely open the main door on the soccer-and-race discussion for WPS, but since it looks like the “discussion” is about denying racism instead of acknowledging that it is a mainstay in soccer and–founded or not–Solo’s allegations can be used as a chance to combat it early on in the league…

Admittedly, I let myself get distracted by the media issue. One of the things that people have been saying is that Solo should have filed her complaint about the Riptide through formal channels instead of making her accusations in front of 1.8k followers on the internet. She should have signed for the young fans and spoken to the media immediately after the game.

Wait, what?

Solo is not the most PR- or Twitter-savvy player on the USWNT or in the WPS, but she seems to have learned her lesson about speaking to the media (the mediators) immediately following an infuriating match. Regardless of her intentions, not engaging with fans–particularly the young ones that are often clamoring for signatures while wearing the opponents’ gear–immediately following an infuriating match is probably a good thing, considering her temper and opinionated nature.

Solo’s grasp of Twitter and microblogging leaves much to be desired, but she is her account’s sole mediator. She bypassed a more immediate outlet (the fans and press at the field) for a slightly less-immediate outlet where she would have control over expressing her message. WPS established Twitter as one of the league’s legitimate media components from the start, so this platform stands above a statement made on MySpace–I don’t see any comparison between the two except that they are both player-controlled and on the internet. These 140 characters can’t be edited at the source, only posted or deleted. Nearly a week later, nothing has been deleted.

Last year, when Sky Blue FC axed two coaches in mid-season, there wasn’t any transparency. Complaints were filed through the “right” channels and implied in mediated ones. Information from all sides of the story was sorely lacking. We see a lot of this in women’s soccer, so it’s key when the players, especially, take possession of the messages that end up in public.

Even more so, it’s fascinating to see the high-profile Hope Solo adjust her approach to a tension-filled situation in a positive and slightly more controlled manner now that her options for mediation have changed. It’s taking so long for the “right channels” to address this formally that it’s hard to believe the fans ever would have heard about such a serious accusation if Solo hadn’t taken it upon herself to apologize to young fans for her absence.

Edited to include the “joint statement” from the Breakers and Beat, poorly named “Solo statement”:

Westwood, MA (August 9, 2010) –The management of the Atlanta Beat and the Boston Breakers have worked together over the past several days to look into the alleged incidents of fan misconduct and the subsequent post-game public comments of beat goalkeeper Hope Solo during the Breakers-Beat game at Harvard Stadium on Wednesday, August 4th.

After interviewing fans, players, security personnel and team employees, it seems clear that a few individual fans shouted comments towards the field that crossed the line from traditional heckling to abusive language that is neither respectful of the players, nor apppropriate for the family friendly entertainment environment that the Breakers pride themselves on. The Breakers organization extends an apology to all members of the Beat team & staff and to any Breakers fans that were offended by the actions of these unidentified individuals. The Breakers have also pledged to place additional stadium security in closer proximity to the stadium sections adjacent to the visiting bench and goalkeeping areas to further ensure a safe and enjoyable game environment for all participants & spectators.

The coordinated review of the Breakers and the Beat also conclusively showed that at no time was there any organized or coordinated singing or chanting of racially insensitive slogans or profanity by the Riptide supporters group or any other group of fans. The Beat regret that a member of their organization used social media to make public allegations against the Breakers organization and its supporters group without first bringing her concerns to the attention of either club. The Beat and its players understand that the remarks were from a few individuals and not representative of the Breakers organization or the Riptide supporters group.

Both teams look forward to contesting the remainder of this exciting WPS playoff race on the field and to their next head-to-head competition on August 21st, when the Breakers and the Beat meet at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain, Connecticut.