Monthly Archives: November 2011

Will WPS Have A Hollywood Ending?

We’ve seen this movie before. The housekeeper finds the jewels that the Fratellis missed in the marble bag and the Goonies don’t have to move. Eddie Valiant figures out where Marvin Acme’s will is, and Toontown won’t be turned into a freeway. It’s a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and th— oh, wait, that one’s a different metaphor.

And this is where Women’s Professional Soccer sits now. Waiting for a marble bag full of One Eyed Willie’s treasure or that curmudgeonly Eddie Valiant to do a song and dance number and figure out that he had the will the whole time and – oh em gee! – it was just written in disappearing and reappearing ink! [1]

Players and fans have been coming out of the woodwork to beg and plead and hashtag and make petitions and write heartfelt things [2]. If Twitter existed in 1985, Mikey, Data, Chunk and the rest of the Goonies could have just done a quick #savetheGoonDocks hashtag and not had to worry about that whole pirate ship business. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone has an actual marble bag full of actual treasure, so we’ll call that the Dan Borislow and the League Kiss and Make Up Option. Otherwise, sometime in the very near future WPS’s fate will be decided.

First off, the league (or its coaches, at least) seem determined to trudge on, with or without the USSF’s blessing. The difference between sanctioning and not is more about what names are on the backs of the jerseys than if there will be jerseys for those names to be on the backs of. Without sanctioning from U.S. Soccer there’s a chance that the 2012 season will not feature players from either the USWNT or other National Teams, as playing in an unsanctioned league would put those players on rocky ground with their respective national federations. A 2012 season without those players is certainly feasible and really wouldn’t look that different from the large chunk of the 2011 season that was played while those players trained for and participated in the World Cup.

Of course, the league would have to do some serious work behind the scenes to bring in new investors and new teams for 2013 and beyond. But even one season of unsanctioned play doesn’t come without risk. While a rogue league might be admirable for its nobility, idealism isn’t the thing that’s going to make money, and at the end of the day WPS is still a business – not a charity. Committed followers of the league know that the level of play in WPS is extremely high, even without those big names. And once people come to a game and see that, they might come back, regardless of whether Abby Wambach and Hope Solo are on the field or not.

But 2011’s post-World Cup attendance numbers reveal an undeniable fact [3] – those players are the ones who get the first-timers and casual fans through the gates. Without them, the whole thing could come to a screeching halt. No stars, no new interest, no new money, no more league. I’m sorry if I made you sad with that last part, but that’s where we’re at. I’d love to think that Scrooge McDuck appreciated the play of McCall Zerboni and Jen Buczkowski [4], but he’s not even coming to check out a game in this “world’s best league” that can’t even guarantee the world’s best players.

So, how did we get here? Well…

U.S. Soccer has become the target of much of the anger of this whole situation, and certainly the federation’s decision seems on its face kind of like they’re just being jerks about the whole thing because they can. And there’s certainly some merit to that anger – hell, it was my initial reaction too, although I was far less eloquent about it [5]. But it isn’t that simple. According to US Soccer’s official policy (on pages 14-15 of the PDF titled “Policy Manual” that you can find here):

(d) The competitive divisions referred to in subsections (a) – (c) of this section shall consist of professional leagues. Each professional league shall be:

(1) certified by the Board of Directors (BOD) based on standards established under these policies;

(2) subject to the authority of the Federation;

(3) comprised of at least 8 professional teams certified by the Board of Directors; and

(4) subject to all rules and regulations of the Federation, autonomous in its operations.

Oops. In the history of WPS the league has had played just one-quarter of one season with the required eight teams, the first six games of the 2010 season – when St. Louis Athletica was still a thing. Technically, the league once made it to nine teams, but L.A. never made it much further than the 2010 draft. If only that rule said “comprised of 8 teams ever in your history.” Because that number is eleven and then it would all be okay. But the USSF doesn’t roll that way, and it’s apparently based on teams that actually exist now. U.S. Soccer has, in fact, been letting WPS slide on the whole eight teams thing for three years. Why the federation made this decision now, why five is too low and six is okay, who knows. If the USWNT had really crashed and burned at the World Cup, U.S. Soccer could have made the argument that the league was somehow a problem for the National Team. Except the U.S. made it to the final and despite the loss in PKs, it was probably the team’s best complete game of the tournament and overall, one of the greatest World Cup matches ever. So, there goes that.

It is understandable that U.S. Soccer would want total control over its players heading into another major tournament – in this case the 2012 Summer Olympics – but would the federation really sink the entire WPS ship on a premise that’s already been proven to not really be a problem? Or is it that U.S. Soccer is asking the question that all of us are, maybe not out loud but in the backs of our minds – is anyone going to take a five-team league seriously? And is it worth risking injury and fatigue for USWNT players for that? Or maybe it’s that all the crazy infighting and wars of words do nothing to help the game and can you really blame U.S. Soccer, and the USWNT – who are still riding the good feelings of the World Cup – for wanting to distance themselves from a whole lot of nonsense and legal battles? Of course, the argument can certainly be made that U.S. Soccer doesn’t actually lose anything – and maybe even gains something (a better system for scouting players, a larger pool to cull players from, a way to avoid the costs of residency, etc.) by sanctioning a five-team WPS, even if it’s as a Division Two league. And it would be easy to blame U.S. Soccer, to say the federation is just flexing its governing muscles and reminding WPS who really is boss, but take a step back: U.S. Soccer didn’t really create this whole mess. Or really create this mess at all. In the end they’re the parent who’s got to come in and ground the kids because they just can’t. stop. fighting.

Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – 7 Thoughts on The Elite Eight

Duke

Happy Devils - Duke Are Kennesaw Bound After Beating Long Beach State

-Stanford Holds Their Nerve

It was a situation ripe for a letdown for the national title favorites in Palo Alto on Friday night. Stanford had struggled to take the lead against a dogged Oklahoma State team despite dominating in the run of play and shot count for a little more than a half. The Card would gain the advantage shortly after the break through Kristy Zurmuhlen but would then experience a major shock as Sarah Brown brought the teams back on level terms after some rather lackadaisical defending with a lob over Emily Oliver from twenty-five yards out. It would’ve been easy for many teams to slump their shoulders after conceding such a goal and being back on level terms so late in the match after dominating proceedings for the most part. Then again, Stanford showed again on Friday why they aren’t most teams. Repelling renewed efforts from a newly confident Oklahoma State after their goal, Stanford would end up in extra time with the Cowgirls, a rarity for this Cardinal team. But coach Paul Ratcliffe made a proactive switch tactically to win the match in extra time, throwing Camille Levin forward to add attacking punch to the lineup. Levin wasn’t involved in Lindsay Taylor’s match winning goal, but the sentiment of the switch was the same, as Stanford went for the jugular from the kick-off right from the start of the extra frames and hit the jackpot just a few minutes into the first half of the extra period. The relentless drive to make it to Kennesaw was a resounding success. Now it’s just a matter of maintaining that relentlessness through Sunday afternoon to bring home the program’s first national title.
Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Stanford vs (2) Oklahoma State

Lindsay Taylor

Chioma Ubogagu & Stanford Hope To Bid Adieu To Cagan Stadium With A Win Over Oklahoma State

(1) Stanford vs (2) Oklahoma State – Palo Alto, California – 10:00 PM EST

It’s irresistible force vs immovable object time in the Elite Eight in Palo Alto on Friday night as two clubs who’ve combined for just one loss in 2011 (and that was right at the death) meet up for a titanic clash and a spot in Kennesaw and the College Cup. Stanford have looked like a team on a mission after coming up short in the previous two National Title matches. Stanford’s mowed through most of their regular season opponents, with just Maryland able to take anything off of them all season. It’s been easy street for the most part in the NCAA Tournament, with the Card rolling to convincing wins over Montana, South Carolina, and Boston College, though they were forced to fight a bit more for the win over the Eagles. These may be trying times in Stillwater, but the Cowgirls are doing their very best to push through and achieve their dream of making it to the College Cup. A swarming, smothering defense has shut down almost everyone in their path this season, including shutout wins over Illinois and Maryland to help get them to this point. But the Cowgirls were bitten hard by the injury bug against the Illini when a leg injury to Carson Michalowski, one half of the team’s dominant center-back pairing, took the junior down and out for the rest of the season. That’s a foreboding sign against one of the nation’s most potent offenses.
Continue reading

Notables for Black Friday 2011

  • This article in the New York Times ran yesterday and provides an overview of the current WPS/USSF situation and features recent quotes.

 

  • WPS this morning released a statement on the status of the sanctioning. It didn’t contain anything revelatory, which isn’t surprising. The bottom half reads as so:

“While we take very seriously the issue of U.S. Soccer’s classification of us as a Division 1 league, we are both confident and undeterred in our mission to continue and to be the best women’s professional soccer league in the world,” said Women’s Professional Soccer CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan. 

“WPS enjoyed our strongest season in 2011 setting new attendance records, increasing sponsorship and engaging our growing fan base through social media. Our brand was bolstered by the FIFA World Cup and we expect continued momentum from the 2012 Olympics next summer. Given these factors in addition to our long-term plan for growth, extensive expansion franchise pipeline, and the investment and commitment of a core group of owners, we would hope that the Federation would continue support for the only professional soccer league for women in the United States.”

While no final decision has been made by U.S. Soccer on the sanctioning of WPS for 2012, U.S. Soccer has given WPS additional time to resolve the issues they identified in the League’s annual report.  WPS is engaged in positive dialogue with U.S. Soccer and will continue ongoing discussions in the coming days to determine what is necessary for the League to retain its Division 1 status. 

 

  • The Orlando Sentinel has a piece on UCF’s unbelievable journey to the Elite Eight.   

 

  • The Brazilian Football Federation reports that Jorge Barcellos has replaced Kleiton Lima as head coach of the Brazilian Women’s National Team. The news item also says that Brazil will face the USWNT in a friendly next April in Japan.

  Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Duke vs Long Beach State

(1) Duke vs Long Beach State – Durham, North Carolina – 7:00 PM

Libby Jandl

True Blue - Libby Jandl & Duke Hope To Take The Final Step To Kennesaw On Friday

David vs Goliath? That’d be a little harsh on Friday’s visitors who didn’t arrive here sheerly by luck. But there’s no question that the 49ers are the biggest underdogs still standing and will have to play the match of their lives to earn a trip to Kennesaw in a week. The Beach have been the queens of pragmatism over the last month, winning their last four matches by a 1-0 scoreline. It’s been the perfect formula for a club looking to gatecrash the College Cup for the first time for both program and conference alike. But they get a tough draw in the form of a Duke team that just happened to come out on top of the most challenging conference race in the history of college soccer by winning the cutthroat ACC this season. Even though the program suffered a setback with defeat to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament semi-finals, it’s hardly seemed to affect the Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Duke had little trouble brushing aside Radford and Georgia before meeting up with Ohio State last Sunday. The Blue Devils wouldn’t blink despite going down to OSU, calmly fighting their way back until they snapped the Buckeyes’ resistance en route to a 2-1 win. The pressure rises with each successive round though, and Duke knows that LBSU aren’t about to make an easy time of it on Friday night.
Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Wake Forest vs UCF

(1) Wake Forest vs UCF – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – 7:00 PM

Jackie Logue

Battle of The Black & Gold - Jackie Logue & Wake Forest Hope To Defend Their Turf Against UCF on Friday

Previous Meeting:

08.21 – UCF 0 – 1 Wake Forest

Three long months ago, Wake Forest traveled to Orlando for what, at the time, could be regarded as a nice acid test for themselves and hosts UCF. In the end, Wake Forest prevailed in a 1-0 contest that ultimately both sides could feel relatively pleased with. The Demon Deacons had done well to come on the road and pick up a nice non-conference win. UCF had lost but had hardly looked bad in the process, and their fine defensive work would look better and better as Wake Forest proceeded to cut teams apart throughout the season. The odds of a rematch looked quite slim though with both teams in cocoons of regional rivals and unlikely to be grouped together early in the tournament. They looked slimmer still as UCF entered the Big Dance reeling from a spotty Conference USA campaign, while Wake Forest entered as a #1 seed after coming back to life in the ACC Tournament after a rather unconvincing end to the league campaign. Both sides would have difficult second weekend tests with challenging groupings. Many expected Wake to come out of their regional. Few could say the same about UCF. While the Demon Deacons turned back Boston University and Penn State, a stunned nation looked on as the fiery Golden Knights first dumped out hosts Florida on Friday night before causing another shock by downing North Carolina on penalties. And so Wake Forest does end up with a rematch at home on Friday night…just not the one they might have been expecting.
Continue reading

NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight Preview – (1) Florida State vs (2) Virginia – Chapter Three

(1) Florida State vs (2) Virginia – Tallahassee, Florida – 2:00 PM

Tiffany McCarty

Kennesaw In Sight - Tiffany McCarty Will Try To Fire Florida State Into The College Cup on Friday

Previous Meetings (click for highlights):

10.08 – Virginia 4 – 3 Florida State [aet]
11.04 – Virginia 1 – 2 Florida State [ACC Tournament in Cary, North Carolina]

It’s the rarest of rarities in the world of college soccer: A third meeting between two teams in a single season. And scarcely has a trilogy been more warranted than in the case of Friday’s combatants. Virginia and Florida State have played two classics in 2011 so far and will be playing for keeps on Friday with the stakes having escalated to a berth in the College Cup. The team’s first meeting in October is a contender for match of the season, a 4-3, back and forth affair that saw Virginia take the lead three times in regulation, only to be pegged back three times in turn, including a last minute equalizer from Tori Huster. The Cavs would win early in extra time though as Caroline Miller added to her growing reputation as a clutch performer. There was likely a sense of deja vu for Florida State in the team’s rematch in Cary in the ACC Tournament as Lauren Alwine gave Virginia a lead going into the break. But Florida State would not buckle or fold this time, coming back to equalize early in the second half before an absolute bomb from range by Janice Cayman ensured that they’d be beating Virginia for the first time in program history. En route to an ACC Tournament title, Florida State had also evened the season series between the teams at one apiece. Having each vanquished three opponents in the last two weeks, the Noles and Cavs set their sights on each other for one final and deciding clash in 2011.
Continue reading

23 Thoughts On The Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament

-UCF Arrives…

For the longest time, Central Florida has been a program possessing great potential and a burdensome past. The home of former USWNT legend Michelle Akers and multiple trips to the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament a few decades ago, UCF has been searching endlessly for a route back to the glory days of the past. The search may have ended decisively on Sunday, something of an odd statement when you consider that the Golden Knights Sweet Sixteen result against North Carolina was technically a draw. But for a program that has been knocking on the door of the big time for the better part of a decade, that penalty shootout win was the sweet payoff for years of close calls and near misses in the postseason. UCF has proven plenty capable of beating just about anyone in the regular season, topping Florida State a few years ago and Penn State this season. But until this year, that success has not translated in the NCAA Tournament. All things considered, this might not have been the likeliest bunch of Golden Knights to smash through the glass ceiling. Their league form had been fitful, and UCF had gone down in the C-USA Tournament quarterfinals to an unfancied East Carolina side. But elite competition has a way of usually bringing out the best in this club, and so it was on Sunday. Amanda Cromwell’s side had no intention of parking the bus in Gainesville and battled tooth and nail with Carolina until scoring the opener in the second half. Most likely expected UCF to fold after the Tar Heels’ late equalizer, but the Conference USA side never swayed despite pressure from UNC. That will would not be broken by penalty kicks, and the Golden Knights held their nerve for a potential program changing result. With confidence surging after bouncing North Carolina and Florida before them, could another upset on Friday against Wake Forest be in the cards?

-…and So Does Amanda Cromwell

The recognition has been a long time coming for UCF coach Amanda Cromwell. One of the greats of the college game in her playing days at Virginia, Cromwell made an almost seamless transition into the coaching game, winning eight major trophies in her first five seasons with the Golden Knights. Despite raking in the silverware in Conference USA, the question though was when the Golden Knights were going to take the next step after coming into this season having been stopped at the NCAA Tournament second round for four straight seasons. But the team that took the pitch on Sunday was a fair reflection of their coach: tenacious and unrelenting. Despite facing storied opposition and being dealt a setback with UNC’s late equalizer, UCF kept coming and fighting and got their reward after spot kicks. Cromwell has long been tipped for great things in the college coaching game after more and more have taken notice of the scrappy contenders down in Florida, with the UCF boss seemingly tipped to make a move to a bigger club every offseason. But now so, more than ever, it looks like those great things might just be happening in Orlando with Cromwell masterminding the program’s ascent into the limelight.
Continue reading

U.S. Soccer Holds Off On Sanctioning WPS, Gives Time to Find Sixth Team

U.S. Soccer has delayed its decision to sanction WPS for the 2012 season, and has granted the league time to find a sixth team.

U.S. Soccer Federation standards require that professional leagues have a minimum of eight teams. Each season WPS has obtained a waiver in order to secure sanctioning. On Sunday WPS’s waiver request for a fourth season was reviewed by the Professional League Task Force. Its recommendation was then passed to the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors.

U.S. Soccer sent the following statement:

No final decision was made by the Board. The WPS was provided additional time to determine the possibility of adding a sixth team.

As per the WPS Players Union, U.S. Soccer has given WPS 15 days to find a sixth team. WPS Players Union Executive Director Jennifer Hitchon also says, “WPS is trying to fast track a sixth team, but would not reveal the location of this potential team.”

In addition to Connecticut, Detroit has recently emerged as a possible expansion candidate.

WPS currently has five teams. On October 27 the league chose to terminate the magicJack franchise. On November 18 team owner Dan Borislow filed a lawsuit against WPS claiming it violated league protocol in its termination process.

NCAA Tournament – 16 Burning Questions For The Sweet Sixteen

1. Can Kristen Mewis Avoid Falling Into The Clutches Of Mariah Nogueira?

Finding a way through Stanford’s defense often starts with trying desperately to avoid the massive presence of Mariah Nogueira in the middle. While Nogueira definitely captured the headlines on Friday with her headed goal to give Stanford the lead against South Carolina, it’s her deadly defensive work that gives opposing teams’ fits. Boston College’s undisputed #1 weapon in attack is midfielder Kristen Mewis who has taken much of the scoring load upon her shoulders given the inconsistencies of her fellow attackers. But to minimize Nogueira’s impact, it might be up to BC coach Alison Foley to move Mewis into a more advanced position on the pitch. Then again, Stanford’s backline isn’t anything to sneeze at either.

2. Can Boston College Find The Next Gear To Compete With Stanford?

Let’s be honest, it’s going to be a real ask for anyone to topple Stanford in the Card’s latest form. But if Boston College plays like they did against Cal, where they put one, ONE shot on goal en route to a shootout win, they could be sent pacing back to Newton in brutal fashion. The Eagles’ offense has been all over the place this season, with Kristen Mewis the only Eagle with more than five goals. That might mean that BC will have to get it done with defense, hoping to do the near impossible and stifle the Stanford attack. Jillian Mastroianni will be as vital as ever for the Eagles’ hopes. The senior star in goal helped get BC here with her shootout heroics. She’ll have to have another big game if the Eagles are to pull the upset.
Continue reading