An Unbreakable Team

After watching* the US Women’s National Team game today where they opened the Algarve Cup with a 5-0 win over Denmark I am left in awe again of the endless options this team has.  I saw countless tweets about how no one envies head coach, Pia Sundhage, in her decision making process to create a final roster.  Pia has more top shelf options than Chelsea Handler has top shelf vodka.

*By watching, I of course mean reading updates from US Soccer because Portugal hates the Universe and is not filming all games.

Once again Pia gave Alex Morgan a starting spot in the lineup and once again Alex Morgan thanked her for 90 minutes by playing brilliantly.  With 2 goals and 1 assist on the night she is continuing to prove that 2012 is going to be the year of the Baby Horse.  (The Chinese forgot to put the “Baby Horse” in their rotation, obviously)  Although I couldn’t see her I assume it looked something a great white shark circling its prey and then attacking it forging full speed ahead at 40 mph.  I would also assume there was less bloodshed in this scenario than in the shark metaphor.  Alex Morgan aka Baby Horse aka Pink Ninja aka the red white and blue blur you see darting down the field; is making a statement.  That statement reads: “Hi America, did you order this new generation’s great goal scorer?  Well……..hi!”  That statement wasn’t taken, verbatim, but I think it’s close.

Aside from the usual Alex Morgan show we have all come to know and love, there were also some fun numbers by Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly, Tobin Heath, Lauren Cheney, Sydney Leroux and solid defending as usual with Stephanie Cox, Amy Lepeilbet and the whole crew coming to play.  Wambach scored her 132nd career goal off of a Morgan assist putting her 132 goals ahead of me.  She continues to be a shining, leading example of what the payoff looks like from hard work.  On the defensive end it sounds like all of our girls put up quite a strong front with Captain America, Christie Rampone leading the way.  With 251 caps she doesn’t look or play a day over 150.  Experienced and seasoned with knowledge and can still kick everyone’s ass up and down that field.  Carli Lloyd did what she always does…WORK.  With one goal for the night and I’m assuming a full evening of connecting plays and settling the midfield; she is undoubtedly one of America’s finest assets.  O’Reilly, Cheney and Heath all tacked on one assist each to their stat sheets as did defender Stephanie Cox who sees limited minutes but is making them count.  And after seeing highlights and witnessing quite a few magical Tobin moments including a nifty little snake dribble right at the end line I am now officially convinced she is a soccer Houdini chick extraordinaire (official technical title).  I hear Cheney was ‘all over the field’ as well (from US Soccer) to which my response was, “Why is this news?”  Because let’s be honest; that’s just a given.  She finds openings, she locates teammates and she creates chances.  Cheney exposes opportunity more than Angelina Jolie exposes her malnourished leg.

The depth of this team is truly what makes it so special.  As much as I do not envy Pia for the tough decisions she has to make, she must sleep pretty damn soundly knowing that she can put together a winning team with a number of different options.  The Wambach / Morgan duo has proven to be a special one this year, creating endless scoring opportunities resulting in some pretty delightful goals.  Let’s remove Wambach from that scenario though, and add in Tobin Heath.  We substitute physicality, superior danger in the box and leadership for impeccable foot work and vision.  Every time someone comes off and we lose what they have to offer, the person coming on has just as much to offer whether it be in the same areas or completely different ones.  The team’s chemistry is a thing of beauty too.  You can have all the talent in the world on the pitch, but if there is no chemistry it’s pointless.  The team as a whole plays with an overall sense of togetherness and chemistry but certain duos and trios really just link up as if they were born to be on the field together.  Wambach and Morgan were born to play up top together just as Cheney, Lloyd and Boxx were born to create a midfield that any team in the world should fear going up against.  And newcomer, Leroux, seems to be able to blend with anyone and fit right in right away.  I’ve got my eye on that one.  Syd The Kid is going to be a trouble maker for many back lines across the globe.  But it doesn’t end there; Heath and Morgan are brilliant together too…and HAO can very easily be tossed into that midfield trio making it unbeatable in their seamless transitions to each other.  And then we have the beautiful love story and pairing of Hope Solo and her goal.  The chemistry is undeniable.  The way she does everything in her power to protect her net from being hit is inspiring.  Every time Solo sacrifices her body for the well being of her beloved goal, hopeless romantics everywhere quiver in the knees.  Although Hope is normally the one doing all the work in the relationship you see the love reciprocated on the rare occasion she cannot protect her net and the posts or crossbar step up to take a hit for the team.  Chemistry at its finest.

Being the number one ranked team in the world there are heavy expectations on our girls.  And I can tell you confidently that even those expectations are not great enough for what this team is capable of achieving.  We have not faced many difficult teams so far this year, so I will acknowledge that.  We have yet to play a top 5 team in 2012 so our results should be pretty epic thus far, as they have been.  But I have no doubt in my mind that when we face teams coming up such as Germany, Brazil or Japan that we will come out firing on all cylinders and continue to prove to the world why we maintain our number one rank.   These games are an excellent time for Pia to be trying new things, which she has been doing.  And what we are finding from these little experiments is that there is no such thing as a weak link on this team.  This team is one of those chains that you see on a huge ship that has links the size of a small foreign car.  It’s unbreakable.

Next up is Norway at the Algarve and I am eagerly waiting to see what Pia Productions has up their sleeves for us.

Lastly I want to thank, as always; US Soccer for giving us Match Tracker and Twitter updates to keep us from having epileptic fits from not knowing what is happening.  Match Tracker was on point today with quick and informative updates throughout the match keeping us sane.  Oh, just one question….where on earth did saying that someone was ‘bundled’ to the ground come from???  But now I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite phrases from our friends at US Soccer’s Match Tracker.

‘Heath is back on.  She’s tough.  She’s from New Jersey.’

‘Syd The Kid and Blonde Ambition’

‘…the charging Baby Horse.’

So Marta Is Leaving WPS…

Ever heard that expression, “Don’t wake the bear?” Well consider me a bear that has just been poked with a particularly annoying Brazilian stick.

First, let me start off by saying that I never, ever like to speak ill of any women’s soccer player.  Although I have my favorites, and my not so favorites I have an extreme overall love, admiration and respect for this sport and the women who play it.  If you haven’t guessed it, the Brazilian ‘stick’ waking me, is Marta.  The topic of Marta has always gotten me all fired up for many reasons. The still young career of 5-time Player of the Year, Marta has been an impressive one.  She has never been a favorite of mine nor will she ever be a favorite of mine.  But I will start by saying that I believe she is the most skilled female player in the world over the ball.  There is no denying her incredible ability including her first touch, her quick feet and her deceptive moves befuddling defenders.  But I don’t find her vision to be anything extraordinary, I don’t find her shot to be one of the best in the world (although still very good), and I don’t find her leadership to be…well…I don’t see any leadership.  When her team goes down she resorts to yelling at them, yelling at the ref, diving and getting chippy (to say the least) against the opposing team.  Just because someone is monumentally skilled over the ball doesn’t make them a Player of the Year in my book.  That makes them the “Most Skilled Player of the Year”.  She has made great strides for women’s soccer in her country and has helped Brazil become a top contender.  So again, I give credit where credit is due.  But I just cannot get behind a Player of the Year who is phenomenal in one or two aspects of the game, very good in other, and nonexistent in some.  I want to see a woman win that award who is a consistent force to be reckoned with in every aspect of the game.  Homare Sawa and Abby Wambach’s nominations this year made me thrilled for that reason.  They are both true leaders and all around impeccable players.  Wambach and Sawa, without a doubt lead their countries through not only their talent and skill but in motivation and belief.  Sawa’s win, (although I was strongly pulling for Wambach) was a refreshing change and I was thrilled for her.  She made things happen for her team that some could never fathom.  The loss still stings from the WWC, but Sawa is beyond deserving.  But seeing Marta still come in above Wambach made my stomach feel like I had just eaten gas station sushi.

For the past few years while Marta has played in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) here in the USA, she has been raking in the dough.  Pay close attention now: I will NEVER be upset that a female soccer player is being ‘overpaid’.  Because guess what…compared to any men’s sport there is no female athlete on planet earth who is being overpaid.  But, I will be upset when there is someone being overpaid in comparison to other athletes on the pitch who do more to grow the sport here.  Does anyone really think that after the Women’s World Cup those 15k+ fans poured into Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester to see Marta?  No. They paid for a ticket to see Abby Wambach speak at halftime and other U.S. stars like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe to play that day. They went and bought #13 Western NY jerseys and screamed and cried for Wambach’s autograph.  We’re in America.  This will be the case in any WPS game. (That being my example due to the record breaking ticket sales that day.)  My point being…in an American league, American players are going to bring more people into a stadium, therefore making the league more money.  I am more than willing to admit (unlike some who insist on putting false information or made up guesses made out to be facts out there) I’m no financial expert or sports agent so I don’t know exactly how all that works.  But it seems if they are the ones bringing the money in, why is Marta the one financially being treated like she’s the Michael Jordan of the WPS?  (I don’t know enough current sports people outside of soccer so you’re just going to have to deal with my 90’s NBA reference)

Furthermore, I know Marta doesn’t speak fluent English.  So it is hard for her to do many interviews or press related events. I have nothing against her as a person and have heard she is a fun person to be around but not many would know that because interviews or media events with her are few and far between.  So anyone saying that she brings in media coverage is as delusional as Brazil was when they thought they were going to beat the U.S. at the Women’s World Cup this year.  I don’t blame her for not speaking English fluently (although she has been here for long enough to be decent at it) but it just doesn’t make sense to try and say she is going to be some sort of media darling in the U.S. if she can’t even conduct an interview without an interpreter.

Briefly, I want to bring up Hope Solo.  Solo has received some really harsh criticism from many people over her dedication to the WPS.  They have said she is “Hollywood” now and only cares about herself and the U.S. Women’s National Team, not caring about the WPS.  If I could speak to these people directly it wouldn’t be a pleasant meeting that would be appropriate for anyone under the age of 18.  Hope Solo has done more for women’s soccer in this country in one year than some people are able to do in a lifetime.  Do you honestly think that if she is that dedicated to USWNT, that she wouldn’t also be dedicated to the league in this country that helps form the USWNT?  A league that will in the future, help mold and develop new young players for the USWNT?  And recently, she made the decision that I hope blew up directly in her critics’ faces when she signed with her hometown W-League Team, Seattle Sounders Women.  So not only is she staying domestic, but she is going to her home turf making endless amounts of fans thrilled.  She is the best goal keeper in the entire world.  She could have gone anywhere.  But she chose to stay domestic.  Now what does all this have to do with Marta?  Well, let’s see…while Solo was being blasted for not speaking up on the WPS situation and being slammed for saying she doesn’t care about WPS…where was Marta?  Was she making grand speeches about the importance of WPS?  Was she speaking out in favor of the league?  Not a chance.  So why is Solo being held solely responsible for being a star who apparently “doesn’t care” about WPS when the highest paid player in WPS sits back in the shadows silently getting no ridicule, planning her departure to Sweden?

Last, I’ll be completely honest; I think it is just hard for me to want to like anyone from the Brazilian team.  I’ll never be able to look at Marta and not see her and her entire team doing everything in their power to beat their opponents in ways that disgrace the beautiful game. It’s true…on any team in any league there is a large amount of acting, diving and flopping.  Every one dives here and there, everyone deserves their own Oscar from time to time; USA included.  But Brazil deserves the entire Kodak Theater at Oscar time and every single last Oscar trophy in it.  I simply cannot respect that style of play.

In conclusion of my coffee fueled rant, it comes down to this: There are aspects of Marta’s game that amaze me.  But as far as her leaving the WPS; I have no morsel of sadness. I wish her the best of luck in Sweden who has a very competitive league and I’m sure she’ll do great there.  But I will not miss her here.  It’s time to focus on the W-League and the WPSL making an impact this year.  Especially with the help of players like Hope Solo making the decision to stay domestic.  I look forward to seeing the development in this country with our women’s leagues with or without Marta, while I also look forward to seeing us play against Marta on the national stage.

Oh and PS: Marta, I’m still trying to find an address to send a gift basket to you and the Brazilian team. The card reads: “Thank you for giving the U.S. ample amounts of stoppage time to score after your truly inspiring performances crawling around on the turf at the World Cup this year.” I hope you guys like Edible Arrangements!

 

…Sorry.  Couldn’t resist.

 

Beauty On And Off The Field

Ask me if I’d love to see the day when a female athlete gains more recognition for what she does in her sport than how she looks?

My answer is ‘yes, of course.’

Now ask me if I think it’s wrong for women like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan to pose either nude or with only body paint because it’s a bad reflection on them and a step backwards for women’s soccer?

My answer is ‘what the hell is wrong with you?!?’ (And that is the family friendly toned down response)

This topic gets me a little fired up.  I am more passionate about U.S. Women’s Soccer than almost anything (this of course excludes my mother’s lasagna).  I love and respect this team and the beautiful game.  I also respect the decisions of players making moves to help promote their name and the sport they play.  If an opportunity arises that allows them to do this, why wouldn’t they? Especially if it is an opportunity that would showcase the obscene amount of hours they put into getting amazing bodies.  Sure, the true pay off for them comes in the 90th minute of a game when the other team is starting to feel the ‘jell-o legs’ settle in while they’re ready to go another 90.  By all means, the hours of work they put in are to better themselves as athletes and contribute to improving their game; which it obviously does. The US Women’s National Soccer Team is probably the fittest in the entire world, and it shows on the field.  But once the final whistle blows and these players walk off with a sense of pride and accomplishment wouldn’t it also be nice to be recognized for their hard work by others as well?  Last I checked, if an artist spends every day working on a painting; perfecting it, making sure every last detail was flawless, they’re not going to light it on fire once they’re done so it’s never to be seen.  (Unless they’re like ‘Van Gogh crazy’ and the voices in their head told them to)  They’re going to hang it on a wall or sell it to a gallery.  They’re going to take pride in their work and say, “Yes, I spent endless hours of my life dedicated to this.  And because I did, I came out with a beautiful painting which I can be proud of, and now I’d like everyone to see it.” Well guess what; The USWNT and Alex Morgan and Hope Solo have been painting their asses off. They have dedicated their lives to something which they are brilliant at and that they love. Their hard work has paid off on the field and now I’m happy it’s paid off for them in these opportunities as well.

Can we also keep in mind what these photo shoots were for as well? Hope Solo posed for the Body Issue of ESPN. It’s dedicated to show off athletes at the peak of their physical fitness.  Alex Morgan posed for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition as one of only 3 female athletes chosen for it because of her toned physique.  Notice I said ESPN and Sports Illustrated, not a cheap porn site. They’re not doing anything tasteless or risqué.  They’re not going out on weekends, getting smashed and giving TMZ nip slip photos. They’re posing for sports related magazines showing that hard work pays off. People need to relax and look at the positives; that they are getting good publicity and that they are becoming household names as good, strong role models for anyone to look up to.  I haven’t even mentioned the biggest reason for why people shouldn’t care if they’re doing these shoots:  If they want to do it, and they enjoy doing it then why the hell not? They’re hurting no one and they are young and beautiful, so why not work it?  It is not up to any of us to decide if it’s “What they should be doing” or not.

With that being said, going back to my initial statement; yes, I want to see the day where female athletes are recognized more for what they do in their sport than how they look.  I will stand behind these next two statements no matter what.  In my opinion… 1) Hope Solo is the best female goalkeeper in the entire world.  2) Alex Morgan is young and has a lot to prove, but is still one of the best female strikers in the world and has the potential to become the best we’ve ever seen.  So would I like to hear people talking about them for those reasons or because of how they look? Obviously for the reasons I listed on their talent.  But the fact is, in female sports how someone looks weighs heavily on how much publicity they are given. That doesn’t change their talent level though.

Let’s say this swimsuit edition gets 500,000 people who never gave women’s soccer a second look; noticed Alex Morgan and said, “Wow, she’s hot.  Who is she?” Then they notice she plays for the USWNT. Out of those 500,000 people; even just half of them decide to check out the next game just because they like Alex Morgan now. And out of those 250,000 people: half are impressed by the skill and poise they possess in a game and decide to keep watching future games and become true fans. That’s 125,000 new fans to the game just because of a couple of beautiful pictures in a magazine.  They may watch their first game with no intention of continuing to watch, saying they just want to get a glimpse of Morgan.  But if from that, they get hooked…that’s amazing!  And if they don’t, then who cares?  It’s not going to be for everyone, but at least they are giving it the chance.  And that’s what publicity is for.  To reach new fans who may have an interest in watching, but haven’t had that one thing that has hooked them to actually sit down and watch a full game.  (These numbers are completely hypothetical to prove a point, so if you’re ready to pounce on me about them- take a Valium and go away.)

There are luckily only a small group of people who seem to have problems with these photos.  Mostly everything I have seen has been very positive and people are thrilled for them; as we should be. I’m in the front of the line waiting for female athletes to be judged less off of how they look and more off of how they play, but until that happens can’t we just be happy that we have athletes that are both gorgeous and immensely talented and being recognized for both?  What more do you people want?  Do they need some sort of magical power now too?  Hope, Alex: you heard it here first.  We not only need you to continue to be top shelf soccer players and really pretty but we also need you to fly, master time travel and breathe under water to make everyone happy.

Embrace the fact that they are getting publicity and embrace that they are phenomenal at what they do.  And oh yeah…one more thing…THEY LOOK UH-MAZING!  Congrats to Solo and Morgan for not only being some of the best female soccer players in the world but also for getting some rock star status publicity.

CALLING ALL US WOMEN’S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM FANS

CALLING ALL US WOMEN’S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM FANS

How many of you watched the game this weekend against New Zealand?  How many of you huddled around a laptop, praying you wouldn’t see the dreaded “buffering” sign come up in the middle of a brilliant play?  How many of you watched along with the 20,000+ that were in attendance in awe of this team while also in awe of how it still does not get TV coverage?

That’s what this is going to be about.  I write a lot about how amazing this team is.  I talk about their skill and their poise on the field and about how they earn their number one world ranking every time they step on the field.  But today I want to talk directly to all the other fans out there like myself who are sick of watching these games through a buffering live stream or not at all.  I don’t know about you, but if Abby Wambach goes up for a header and mid jump, my screen freezes; you better believe that computer is not going to live to see another day.  So in order to avoid the risk of multiple laptops being throw across rooms or desktops having a foot put through them, what can we do to help grow this game in media coverage?

I understand everything comes down to money.  I also understand that I don’t understand anything about the inner workings of how much money different parties make or lose under different ratings brackets.  I am not going to sit here and act like I know anything past the basics of how a station determines if they can make money off of a specific show or sporting event.  But I can sit here and say that there are numerous examples showing us that people care…that they are watching…and they are talking about women’s soccer in the US.

Women’s World Cup 2011: While the US played some of the best soccer of their lives in the Women’s World Cup final this year against Japan the whole world was tuned in on the edge of their seats cheering, watching, and oh yeah…tweeting their asses off.  During that game Twitter announced they broke the record for tweets per second.  At its peak the game was bringing in 7196 tweets per second.   I’m no expert here but that kind of seems like there is some sort of slight, vague interest there, right?

Post Women’s World Cup 2011:  When the women came back from Germany they immediately jumped into a whirlwind of interviews for everything from ESPN to Rachel Maddow to David Letterman.  Everyone wanted to talk to them and everyone wanted to know more about their journey.  Yet, after about a month of intense media coverage it seemed the media world was content to going back to forgetting they existed.  I understand we don’t have World Cup to happen every month for major soccer coverage to occur.  But if even a third of that media coverage continued in showing support for them, we could possibly be looking at a very different scenario now for how women’s soccer is covered here. Six months ago these women were national heroes who everyone wanted to talk to and now we are back to watching games online through ussoccer.com, because not even ESPN3 is picking up international games in most cases. (Which ussoccer.com deserves a BIG thank you for doing so)

USA vs New Zealand February 11, 2012:  In a soccer specific stadium that plays host to FC Dallas of Major League Soccer, the USWNT took on NZL in a friendly match.  While FC Dallas averages around 12,000 for their games the ladies sold it out with a crowd of over 20,000.  I find it interesting that a network will pick up a game that in the team’s own city a team can only bring in an average of 12,000 fans, yet no one will pick up the game turning people away at the door because they are sold out.  The fan base is growing by the day and it is being proven in games like this.  If you air it, people will watch. (Said like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams)  On top of the stellar attendance they got, there was again big Twitter news.  Alex Morgan who is one of my favorite players and a continuing rising star of the team was trending today.  This is big news for two reasons in my opinion.  First: This game was not televised.  She was trending in the United States and also Worldwide.  So that means that there were enough people across the country and across the world who wanted to watch this game so badly that they watched it via web cast and then tweeted relentlessly about this young superstar as she scored two late goals to win the game for us.  If there are that many people tuning in online…how many do you think we would get if it were on TV?  Even fans who aren’t diehard fans are now tuning in online to watch because they need their fix of USWNT and that is a lot of times, the only place to get it. Second: I lied a little before when I said ‘Alex Morgan’ was trending.  Her name wasn’t actually trending, her nickname was.  ‘Baby Horse’ was trending.  Morgan was the youngest on the team last year when she got this nickname, hence the ‘baby’.  And due to her long beautiful strides she takes as she gallops down the field, cue the ‘horse’.  I know this because I am a fan; the only people who know this, are fans.  Which means this wasn’t a random instance of people who have never seen a game generically tweeting about how they saw a picture of Alex Morgan online and thought she was cute, or about hearing she was going to be in Sports Illustrated this month, or because they heard someone talking about her and they were asking who was Alex Morgan.  This was a large group of people throughout the US and the world tweeting specifically about her and the game today because they are fans who are watching and who know and love these players.  Also, let me remind you this was for an international friendly.  This game has no bearing on qualifying for any major tournament or overall ranking.  So what I’m saying is: It doesn’t have to be a World Cup for the US to pay attention and want to watch women’s soccer.  We are paying attention in the small games, so you better believe we will be in the big ones.

Again, let me reiterate; I am not a TV analyst of any sort, I do not know ratings compared to cost and distribution ratios.  I am just a fan and a writer who loves this game and who sees how much millions of others love this game and want to see it more appreciated.  We are a patriotic nation who loves competition and loves being number one.  Well guess what?  The USWNT is number one in the world.  This is a unique sport that is loved and played all over the world year round which we participate in and we are ranked number one in.  We have the opportunity to get behind a team who makes us proud every time they step on the field and dominate countries from every corner of the world, while representing us.  Millions have caught on and millions more will be soon to follow.  But without games on TV, and without networks like ESPN or Fox Soccer willing to even cover stories surrounding them on a steady basis; those millions are going to take much, much longer to get through to.

So what can we do?  Write to ESPN?  Write to other networks?  Yes, by all means I think the more people reaching out the better.  And take it down to that grassroots level: write to your local paper or local sports anchor.  Find the many different organizations popping up everywhere working to suport the game of soccer and grow it in the US.  Talk to other fans and friends and talk about ways to help support it.  I’m a writer and a comedian so basically, I never shut up.  But really, that is what we need.  The more talk the better.  Take pride in relentlessly talking about this team. Pat yourself on the back when you realize you haven’t come up for air in 30 minutes of talking about Abby Wambach.  Buy yourself a cookie when you reach out to other local fans to talk about ways to grow the game.  Do an Alex Morgan fist pump and jump in the air when you…well…that’s just fun to do any time.

So I’m asking you…new fans who just started watching, diehard fans who paint their faces and go to games screaming like beautiful maniacs, long time fans who ripped their shirts off right along with Brandi Chastain watching from home in 1999: What else can we do?  Keep the dialogue moving and keep reaching out to anyone and everyone you think can help make a difference.  I want to hear your ideas too.  Whether you post them here to start some dialogue or hit me up on Twitter @Gillian_E_Dubbs…either way.  Let’s talk and not shut up until we can turn on the TV, kick back and watch the beautiful game in beautiful HD of our beautiful US Women’s National Team doing some beautiful work against every country put in our path.