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.

My W-League bias and fickleness, let me show you it.

My team loyalties at the W-League level aren’t as strong as they are for WPS or NCAA. These teams change so much that I go season to season, bouncing my attention around three or four teams depending the the rosters they put together and who actually shows up.  The Pali Blues had me hooked in 2008, mildly interested in 2009, and apathetic in 2010. The Vancouver Whitecaps have always had some degree of my interest, but rarely hooked my support–too many youth national players in 2008, too few of the CWNT in 2009. 2010, though, reminds me of the rosters in 2005 and 2006. When Kara Lang committed to them this season, that was it. There’s my loyalty for this year. Pali’s signing of two Irish, two Cardinal, and Alex Morgan cannot buy my love.

This year, the Whitecaps are a mix of Canadian international experience. Here is their lineup from Sunday’s 3-2 win over Pali:

1.Siobhan Chamberlain; 16.Robyn Gayle, 2.Emily Zurrer, 19.Martina Franko (3.Shannon Woeller 76′), 21.Danielle Sweeney; 13.Sophie Schmidt, 17.Chelsea Stewart, 15.Kara Lang (18.Monica Lam-Feist 79′); 10.Jodi-Ann Robinson, 6.Amy Vermeulen (11.Desiree Scott 45′), 14.Melissa Tancredi (23.Nikki Wright 90′)

Subs not used: 27.Stephanie Panozzo, 25.Rachael Pelat, Ranee Premji

If you follow the CWNT or their youth national teams at all (which I suspect is not likely), most of those names are familiar. The likes of UCLA, UNC, Portland, and Notre Dame are represented here.  There are two former WPS starters. A handful of these players have won W-League and NCAA championships in the past. Most of them have played together at various levels.

In the past couple of weeks, the Whitecaps have dealt Pali two losses, including the first in the Blues’ history. I respect Pali’s history and Charlie Naimo’s ability to put together an amazing team, year after year, and I’m glad that when Pali finally fell, it was to a team of Vancouver’s caliber.