What was significant was not the message itself, but who it was from. My friend Steve (the name may or may not be changed to protect the guilty) is not a soccer fan. He’s certainly not a fan of women’s athletics, occasionally prone to both negative comments about soccer (“How could you call it a sport if you can’t use your hands?”) and women that play sports (I’ll let
you insert your own sexist remark here).
Maybe (or maybe not) like you, my life is divided into “soccer people” and “non-soccer people”. They usually stay as far away from each other as possible.
But for a magical week or two in July, as the noted philosopher George Costanza first theorized, my worlds were most definitely colliding.
People like my mother – whom I love very much but I can probably count how many soccer matches she’s watched on television on my fingers – wanted to know when the U.S. was playing next. Radio stations that I’d heard the week before begging to go to their website to vote for “The Hottest Moms in Connecticut” were talking up the semifinals and finals (and not just Alex Morgan and Hope Solo). People turned down Yankees tickets because they wanted to stay
home and watch the games in the knockout stages.
In some ways it seems like years ago, and in some ways, the final shootout against Japan seems like yesterday. And I can’t thank Jenna enough for the opportunity to give analysis and perspective for All White Kit. It was probably the highlight of my year, and I’m guessing the World Cup might have been the highlight of some of yours as well.
I began in June on AWK with my (horribly wrong) previews this way:
“Jenna and the finest women’s soccer website on the planet has been nice enough to ask me to add my two cents (or $2) on the Women’s World Cup. I spend most of my time writing on MLS and the men’s game, but I am a big fan of the women’s game. In my coaching career, I’m primarily a girls coach these days, and it’s always nice for them to have someone to look up to. Sadly, some of the youngsters I coach were barely born in 1999, and obviously have no
recollection of that wonderful summer.”
And 1999 mirrored 2011 in so many ways. Well, except the end, of course. But after spending years trying to get my players to learn by watching games on television, suddenly everyone has seen the games.
“That girl Necib is awesome on the ball.”
“Look how quickly the Japanese play, all one-touch stuff.”
“I wish I could head the ball like Abby Wambach.”
“Alex Morgan never stops running.”
When the high school season began, the girls had not only seen the games, but some could talk intelligently about individual players and teams. A few had even watched the WPS as its season wound down.
Ooooh, did I mention WPS? That brought our party to a screeching halt, didn’t it?
Seemingly just weeks after our glorious time in Germany was over, there was the WPS in the hospital again, near death. I don’t need to rehash the reasons, you can find them splattered all over this site, surely. But it did make me a combination of sad and angry.
I’d like to say I was on the ground floor on the women’s soccer front. I wasn’t. My sister played and I thought some of her teammates were cute, so I watched plenty of games in high school. Although I was a radio broadcaster for the Syracuse women’s basketball team and covered the men’s soccer team, SU didn’t have women’s soccer when I was there (its first season was 1996, just months after I graduated).
And so – while I was hooked on MLS since the beginning – the first game I watched of the 1999 Women’s World Cup was the final. But I watched it with some “non-soccer” folk from start to finish, and we were all on the edge of our seats (well, duh). Coincidentally, it was soon after that that I started coaching girls teams, and therefore I was with WUSA from the beginning
(including taping the weekly PAX game with a VHS).
After attending a couple of games both in New Jersey and Boston in 2009, the folding of the Los Angeles Sol left me a little jaded, and when the St. Louis Athletica quit in the middle of the 2010 campaign, I was done. I actually brought the WPS up twice this summer on AWK, once after the
“Might today’s victory – in the manner in which it happened – aired on a Sunday afternoon with very little else going on (it seemed to have buzz with people I normally don’t associate women’s soccer with), help save the WPS? Obviously, that’s very speculative and Jenna could answer that question (at a later date, perhaps) with much more evidence and validity than I can.”
And again after the final:
“I’ll be honest, the whole St. Louis fiasco turned me off to WPS last season, but I did watch my first entire match of 2011 tonight (Western New York-Sky Blue). It wasn’t great, but
I’m willing to try. I’m thinking of heading to the Boston-WNY game next week.
Will others follow (and stay with the league into 2012)? I guess only time will tell.”
I did go to that Boston-WNY game (which was fantastic) and the Boston-Sky Blue season finale (which was OK), both of which had decent crowds.
Obviously, I’m a sucker, and what brought me back in 2010 was simple coincidence. The Boston Breakers were playing a game in Connecticut in August, and I had helped purchase 125 tickets for my club before the season started. The Atlanta Beat surprised the Breakers that afternoon, 3-2, but there were two things that I took away (other than the youngsters that got to fill the
stands and watch women at the highest level play) that made me want to root for WPS even more.
First, on the eve of the game, after the Breakers’ practice, they held a clinic for any young players that wanted to come. It was planned to last an hour, but Tony DiCicco and his team stayed for a good 90 minutes afterward with the (mostly) young girls. The picture that’s still in my
head from that evening is a smiling Jordan Angeli signing autographs, and almost
having to get dragged into the bus by team officials so they could leave and get
to dinner on time. They didn’t have to do all the stuff they did that day, but they wanted to.
(I can also remember before the 2010 season, a local coaches’ event the Breakers hosted where an under-the-weather Leslie Osborne was nice enough to give me a 15-minute interview for the now defunct Set Piece Analysts, even though she had driven a pretty good distance just to get to the event and had training in the morning.)
Second was in the week before the game. Because of the number of tickets I bought for our group, we got some free stuff from the Breakers. I had noticed that the team had worn pink jerseys the week before for breast cancer awareness, and I e-mailed the team explaining that, sadly, one of my little players’ moms had recently died from breast cancer, and if they had
anything pink left over, it would be appreciated.
I got a call from then-general manager Andy Crossley saying that all the jerseys went to a charity auction, but he would see what he could do. On game day, there he was with a pink game ball signed by every member of the Breakers. If you could have only seen the look on the girl’s face when they gave her the ball. To this day, she’s always wearing something pink or something
Breakers, or – when possible – both.
But as even Ned Flanders once eloquently pointed out, “My family can’t live on just good intentions.” I’m firmly with the group that professional women’s soccer shouldn’t be a charity, it needs to find a system that works for them.
I hope they do. When there appeared to be serious talk of a WPS franchise here in Connecticut, I felt like I could help them sell tickets. There are so many people that play soccer, so many people that saw the World Cup, so many that are looking for relatively cheap live entertainment. I feel
like word would get out, and then the people would come.
But I’m probably delusional, and WPS will more likely be a year-to-year thing until it finally dies a relatively anonymous death.
Even if it does, we’ll always have Germany. And this year, we’ll have London. And we’ll have Louisa Necib. And Homare Sawa. And whomever the new international breakthrough stars are. And in three more years, we’ll have Canada.
Might just have to dust off the old passport for that one.