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.

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.

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.

Now, a word from Coach Tony DiCicco

I was looking for some old research materials this morning and came across Tony DiCicco’s in-depth recap of the US U-20s 2008 campaign, in which they won gold at the World Cup in Chile. The 100+ page report opens with this really great reminder:

However, we cannot confuse our success in 2008 with “everything is right with USA girls’ and women’s soccer.” […] the fact is we are losing ground in the women’s game worldwide.

Emphasis his, not mine. This recap came right after the US won gold at the Olympics and at the U-20 level, and the U-17 won silver in their inaugural tournament.

I have a love-hate relationship with this document. I am not a fan of DiCicco and I don’t like how he handles players, but I don’t think that makes his overall assessment wrong. I really do appreciate how he broke everything down in this document and gave a frank assessment of the team over the course of the year that he had them.

On the day of the U-20 WWC semifinals

Closing in on the semis with the US knocked out, I’m not surprised that there isn’t much to say on the US front. The WNT blog has yet to say “That’s a wrap,” although it does indirectly bring up a great possibility. Could Teresa Noyola play for Mexico, if she wanted to? Wouldn’t that be awesome? The US doesn’t seem to want her, and Mexico does have that US-based contingent.

I do have one US U-20 link to share, regarding Mollie Pathman and getting me ready for the NCAA season.

Everything else is from FIFA, but it seemed unfair to stop relinking their news just because Mexico is out of the tournament. Skipping the 2011 mascot crap, we have…

The U-20 WWC knockout rounds begin!

Tumblr is having difficulties this morning, so it’s time for another post o’ links. Today is game day for Germany-Korea DPR and Sweden-Columbia (is Sweden already down by 2?) and the only one I’m sorry I’ll be missing is Germany-DPRK.

Let’s look at US business first, since I have been ignoring them.

I’d like to highlight the commentary we’ve been getting from the ESPN3 webcasts. The commentary on the Mexican games has been wonderful (especially if you’re sick of FSC’s WPS games). One quote, which I cannot remember word for word, essentially boiled down to, “If you’re struggling with the pronunciation of names, ask the players and coaches.” In the game against Nigeria, after a sub came on, it was, “There are two Sundays in the game now… suppose that makes it a fortnight.” If you are going to commentate a women’s soccer game, you have to relax and enjoy it.

Here is the FIFA business:

By the end of all this collecting, Sweden has not managed to come back. 2-0, Columbia advance. Time for me and the Swedes to pack and hit the road!

Alina Garciamendez and the goal

I hear that the US Soccer matchtracker gushed about Mexico’s goal to tie Nigeria yesterday, and it sounds as though there were repeated uses of “brilliant” with regards to Alina Garciamendez’s shot. FIFA.com named it the goal of the day.

I agree, that is pretty and impressive coming from the Stanford defender, but why are you following the US games through ussoccer.com’s matchtracker? The ESPNs have all of the US games, usually with better commentary.

For good measure, here is the final celebration, as this 2010 squad have advanced Mexico’s U-20s to their first appearance in the quarterfinals.