Posts Tagged ‘ USWNT ’

American Outlaws

ao-atl

American Outlaws

I spent the weekend with the American Outlaws for the US Women’s National Team game against the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome. This was a great opportunity to learn more about the organization while taking in my first US Women’s National Team game.

Saturday night I hit Night Before event at RiRa, the official bar for American Outlaws Atlanta. Then Sunday I braved the rain for the AO Tailgate before heading into the match, which the USWNT won 3-1.

Find out more about American Outlaws at their website and visit Americans Outlaws Atalanta on facebook and twitter (@atlantaoutlaws).

Check out ATL Bobb’s twitter (@ATLBobb) and instagram and relive Jesse’s Copa America Centenario trip on MendoVision.

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US Kits 2016

My original plan for this post was to scream and yell about the new US kits. I yelled about the blue shirts with icing and the white Women’s World Cup shirts with volt socks, and even created a petition on change.org. But let’s face it. Either you like them or you don’t. It’s a matter of taste. Are they the worst shirts ever made? No, but we can do so much better. (Need proof? Check out my side project USMNT Kits for some beauties and real eye sores.) Here are my quick thoughts on the most recent version:

Dorothy - Inspiration usa-2016-copa-america-home-kit-4

There’s a lot going on here with the reversed out Dorothy shirt, with the new crest and the new template from Nike. White home shirt makes sense but the sleeves look terrible up close, yet not so bad from far away. Will be interesting to see how this translates on TV. Still upset that Nike can’t use the colors of the flag especially when it’s right there on the new crest.

download usa-2016-copa-america-away-kit-1

Every sporting brand has to have a black jersey. (The Brazil black strip was sick even though it never saw the light of day.) The US finally got on the bus and . . . missed. Sleeves of different colors has created the nickname of the cop car on the interwebs. The appearance of a training shirt takes away from the importance of the strip, and in the end, my takeaway is that this looks like the uniform for an upcoming Hollywood comic inspired superhero team blockbuster. And that’s not a good thing.

I’ve been very unhappy with the Nike kits but have come to several realizations. 1. I’m not completely powerless but really all I can do is whine on social media and not buy the shirts. Haven’t bought one since the Centennial. 2. Nike is in the business of making money and not making aesthetically pleasing gear (looking right at the Oregon Ducks). Plus it’s been proven that people like outlandish and crazy gear rather than the conservative, straightforward goods I would purchase. 3. And, this may be the most important, Nike is paying US Soccer a shit ton of money. So while we can say fire Nike and fire whoever is saying yes at US Soccer, the Federation can only say no so much or lose revenue. (However, someone else would step up.)

What I really want to focus on is the look of US jerseys. Consider the iconic national teams around the world. Brazil in their yellow, Holland in their orange, Argentina in the sky blue and white vertical stripes, Mexico in the green. Fans know what they are going to get. Yes there will be slight changes based on the design or fashion or the template but the home shirt does not vary. Chances are taken with the away strip (Mexico black shirt, Spanish black and volt, Brazil’s green shirt are examples).

American flag background - shot and lit in studio

So what should the US look be? Not the federation crest because that’s been a hot mess for a long time. Let’s start with the effin flag. Rich red, white and navy blue for colors, stars and stripes as design elements. Conrad Burry modified the 2012 strips and came up with a nice set.

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It could be argued that the Waldo shirt should be our home shirt but I would remind readers that the shirts of many CONCACAF teams are red and white—Costa Rica, Panama, Canada and Costa Rica come to mind. That leaves the navy blue. While there are many teams that wear royal blue, the navy blue would be our standard strip at home and the visitors can wear their white get up in America. No one that I can think of owns navy blue as a home shirt. Several teams use it as a change strip, so think about it.

juventus-95-away-ls-cl juventus-12-away_2_1

As for the flag elements, we’ve seen two variations of the stripes (World Cup 94 and 2012), but what about the stars? Juventus have used a star design several times over the last 20 years to varying effect. Put that in the idea blender and see what comes out.

In the end, my position is that the US kits should be based on the colors and elements of the United States flag, not whatever the manufacturer is promoting/throwing against the wall. The sooner US Soccer starts on this the better. American kit design has been wandering through the desert for longer than 40 years and it’s time to find the Promised Land.

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Read the rest of my Strip Club posts here and follow me on twitter @austinlong1974.

Survey of US Soccer

Every day I see articles that I would like to read. Some I get to, some I don’t. Originally I found this article because I was looking at the comparison of cities in terms of success and support. As I scrolled down to the end, I found a list of questions regarding issues in American soccer and responses from academics. The entire post is quite long but the points made by the panel got me thinking.

The American soccer fan is complex. Their support is divided not only between domestic and international soccer but also further splintered by other US sports. Furthermore, due to the size of this country, not all cities have an MLS team or one even near them, which can lead to a lack of engagement in the domestic league, noted by Charles Parrish, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Western Carolina University, College of Business, in one of his responses. All sports in this country are fighting for fans’ entertainment dollar, with the big three of basketball, football and baseball having a huge head start. Read Andrei Markovits’ Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism for one view of the development of sport in the United States. TV, talent, money are all factors, and the following questions and responses provide insight and analysis.

Here are the questions and selected thoughts from the panel, including some commentary from me:

  • How do you think the emergence of competition for ESPN in the form of new all-sports networks, and the resulting U.S. television deals for major international soccer leagues, will impact the viability of MLS moving forward?
  • What are the biggest issues facing MLS today?
  • What effect will the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory have on soccer fandom in America?
  • What, in your mind, makes a good soccer fan?
  • If your son or daughter were an elite youth soccer player, would you encourage them to pursue the MLS/NWSL or a premier international league?

mls cup

How do you think the emergence of competition for ESPN in the form of new all-sports networks, and the resulting U.S. television deals for major international soccer leagues, will impact the viability of MLS moving forward?

TV coverage has been slowly increasing for the league. Gone are the days when MLS would have to pay networks to present their games and the recent TV deal has provided some financial and viewing stability for fans. The deal is peanuts compared to the new EPL deal (possibly up to $13 billion over the course of the deal, or around $4.3 billion per year with international rights) but MLS is about incremental growth. The EPL didn’t bring in these huge numbers overnight and has promoted itself and delivered a desirable product. The regular Sunday slots for Friday and Sunday MLS games are a great addition and the league should also work on creating narratives that drive viewership.

In the end, the money should impact the salary cap which should get better international players younger (USMNT members like Bradley and Altidore, other stars like Giovanni Dos Santos, etc) and more well-known names. Joseph P. Little, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Grand Valley State University, Seidman College of Business said that, “Past sports research has shown that star power is what draws fans in and keeps fans.” Matthew J. Robinson, Professor of Sport Management and Director of the Sport Management Program in the Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, made the comparison between the NBA and European basketball with the game across the Atlantic “viewed as a lesser level than the NBA.” Totally agree as European basketball leagues have stars but the measuring stick is the NBA.

I am also hoping that bigger revenues will strengthen the middle class of MLS. While it’s great to have stars, the strength of squad is what keep teams competitive both domestically and internationally. Increasing the quality of players 6-15 is critical as teams compete on multiple fronts and deal with star players leaving for international duty.

mls shield

What are the biggest issues facing MLS today?

When asked this question, the panelists responded with a wide range of thoughts—perception of MLS being a minor league, profitability, attendance/ratings, and competition for the US fan’s sports dollar and attention.

Let’s face it, the talent level of MLS is not the same as the major European leagues and American fans can spot the difference, which Little hints at in his response. This is improving but will take time. Furthermore, Edward M. Kian, Endowed Welch-Bridgewater Chair of Sports Media at Oklahoma State University, stated that “Americans are proud and patriotic. Accordingly, we need more male American soccer stars for the sport to grow to its potential.”

Money drives the modern game and Stephen L. Shapiro, Associate Professor of Sport Management at Old Dominion University, stated that the league is losing $75 to $100 million per year. While teams are investing now for long term growth he mentions that “there is no guarantee of growth”, which could be a problem for the owners and the league. Richard Lapchick, Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program and Director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at University of Central Florida, keyed in on the pay structure that impacts the type of team put on the field. If teams are not competitive and star driven “the casual fan will lose interest.” Spend money to make money?

MLS ratings are improving (found this comparison on BigSoccer.com) but as Mark R. Gleim, Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Toledo, College of Business and Innovation, says, “the league needs to boost ratings if it is truly going to benefit from an increase in networks seeking sports programming.” Putting fannies in seats is also an issue. Robinson mentions that “the average attendance for an MLS game is not far off than the average attendance for NBA and NHL games” but goes on to say that salaries need to increase to bring in better talent to attract more fans.

All of these are factors in attracting the US sports fan. Many of the panelists noted the strength of the other sports, especially American Football. Nancy Lough, Professor of Educational Psychology & Higher Education at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College of Education, goes on to say, “There was a time when football season was clearly demarcated by the start and end of the season. Those lines are blurring, with expanded media covering all aspects of the mainstream sports seemingly non-stop. For the MLS to squeeze into this mix remains a significant challenge.” The beautiful game is seen as a niche sport, outside the sporting mainstream, and Delancy Bennett, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Clemson University, College of Business and Behavioral Science, states that the challenge for MLS “is to become this part of people’s lives and how to do it better than lacrosse, mixed martial arts and the number of other growing sports.”

WWC

What effect will the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory have on soccer fandom in America?  

Since the late 1800’s, men’s soccer has started, declined, rose again, declined, came back, and gone away. Currently the men’s game is in a growth phase after a 100 years of trying and failing. 100 years. It’s still outside the mainstream and is on the fringe in terms of coverage. Couple the fringe element with women’s sport that Lough says receives as little as 2% of overall coverage from ESPN, and I just don’t see how it can compete.

Several women’s leagues have come and gone since that magic moment in the summer of 1999. Similar to the men, there has been a stop/start pattern, and while Robinson draws a comparison between the women’s leagues and the WNBA that has led to the development of international success, the women’s game is way behind the men’s game and I’m not sure if it will ever by successful. Yes lots of people, casual and hardcore, watched the Women’s World Cup Final. That’s great but will American fans support a women’s domestic league?

The response from Parrish summed up the state of play:

The U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory will impact soccer fandom in a similar manner to the 1999 victory and the runner-up finish in 2011. We should expect a spike in interest immediately following the tournament. Fans will fill stadiums to watch the team play exhibition matches in the hopes of catching a glimpse of this generation of heroes during the team’s nationwide victory tour. Unfortunately, this level of interest in women’s soccer will dissipate and it is unlikely fans will turn out to watch these same women compete in the National Women’s Soccer League. It is unfortunate yet we have to realize much of the interest we recently witnessed relates to feelings of nationalism and does not necessarily reflect an interest in the sport on its own. The phenomenon is comparable to gymnastics and ice skating, both of which enjoy spikes in interest every 4 years during the Olympics. Fans want to see U.S. athletes succeed yet interest is not sustainable beyond the event time frame.

supporters

What, in your mind, makes a good soccer fan?

This question elicited some interesting responses:

Little: “Three characteristics make a good sports fan from a business point of view: passion for the game and players, discretionary income to spend, and leisure time.”

Oregon: “Consistency and loyalty; not only watching the big time games that are nationally talked about but the smaller games and events as well.”

Parrish: “A good soccer fan is first and foremost both knowledgeable and passionate about the sport. Also, soccer fans tend to identify with and show high levels of loyalty towards their team or teams. Consequently, a good soccer fan is willing to support his or her team(s) whether at the top or bottom of the league.”

Kian: “A good soccer fan is someone who watches matches on television, attends some in person, and buys merchandise.”

Americans love sports and the traits mentioned above can be seen in sports fans across the country. The key is getting sports fans to bring that energy, loyalty and money to soccer and then getting them (and in some cases Eurosnobs like me) to focus on the domestic game and getting them engaged—watching, going, fantasy, etc.

youth soccer

If your son or daughter were an elite youth soccer player, would you encourage them to pursue the MLS/NWSL or a premier international league?

This is a huge, complex issue. I have spoken with coaches, fans and players and have come to the opinion that there is no one way. At this point, I would say keep playing, say yes to every opportunity whether at home or abroad and see what happens. Whether it’s being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, the spectrum of possibilities is wide from Michael Bradley to Jay Demerit to the recent crop of homegrown players breaking through at FC Dallas.

Little would encourage players to international teams due to the salaries, sponsorship opportunities and prestige. Lough concurs and says that “The MLS can remain an option, but all athletes and those who love them, tend to want to see them at the highest levels of their sport”, which goes back to the league’s status around the world. However Robinson takes a more positive view: “If they want to play at the highest level right now that would be international, but is great now that young kids have a professional league in the U.S. to which to aspire. That is huge. That was not there 30 years ago. Soccer in the U.S. best days are ahead.”

I have been following the game for 20 years and have seen a lot of growth. Issues still remain but the overall direction of the American game is positive. While the US Soccer pyramid is dysfunctional, there is at least a pyramid in which teams and players can find their level. The National Team has been to every World Cup since 1990 and is no longer completely in the shadow of Mexico in the region. Media coverage continues to grow and fans have more access than ever before. There is strong core of soccer fans in this country and the next step will be capturing casual fans to create sustainable, vibrant men’s and women’s leagues.

Summer 2015–Recap

My move to the ATL has provided many opportunities to interact with fellow fans of the beautiful game—pick up games, watch parties, Silverback games, you name it—and this summer I got a taste of it all.

mensing raul

(Photo courtesy of Atlanta Silverbacks)

Starting with the Atlanta Silverbacks, the spring started off with the season opener for the home team as they hosted Indy Eleven. A late penalty saw the visitors get a share of the points but the Silverbacks had a strong start to the season, with a rock solid defense keeping the ‘Backs in most matches. Raul and the NY Cosmos were shut out in the following match and it was an honor to see such a legend, which I got to discuss with the Pena Madridista Atlanta.

section 904

(Photo courtesy of Lariana Michelle Photography)

Later in the season, the Jacksonville Armada came calling and we got to interact with Section 904 during the tailgate. (Full post here) The last home match of the Spring Season saw the San Antonio Scorpions roll into town. A single goal from the defending NASL Champions won the match and the Silverbacks finished the season dead last after the opening 10 games.

footgolf

(Photo courtesy of Terminus Legion)

3 v 3

(Photo courtesy of Atlanta Silverbacks)

To distract from the woes of the home team, Terminus Legion put on several events including a FootGolf Tournament and a 3 v 3 Tournament. Larry and I paired up at Steel Canyon and had a great afternoon. We helped raised money and awareness for Soccer in the Streets and played with an awesome group of guys. In June, TL teamed up with Red Brick Brewing and DragonGoal USA to put on the first ever Gold Pint 3 v 3 Tournament. I put together a team of TL members and local bloggers and . . . we went 0fer. Managed one draw against many, many losses, but at the end there was beer, so all was well.

 

us v nigeria

 (Photo courtesy of Jorge Alonso)

With the Silverbacks on break or playing away from home, the summer saw the focus turn to the Women’s World Cup and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Made my first trip to Diesel, a bar located in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta for the USWNT game against Nigeria. Not the greatest 90 minutes of soccer but we had the Silverbacks US Open Cup game and Copa America to distract us.

sb chatt

 (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves)

The Silverbacks Reserves were also in action this summer, and I was able to get involved with the team. Instead of coaching or playing, I got to experience the administrative side of the game, taking care of paperwork, communicating with other teams and managing game day operations for home games. The squad, playing the National Premier Soccer League, was a mix of recently graduated college/university players, players looking to climb the ladder and veterans. Jason Longshore and I recapped the season.

xelaju goal

xelaju fans

(Photos courtesy of Reto Sports)

The squad finished the season against Guatemalan team Xelaju MC. The five time national champions visited the city as part of the Reto Cup. Terminus Legion got there early to tailgate and watch the US/Cuba game, but we were nearly drowned as a torrential downpour lasted almost an hour. Once the rain cleared, hundreds of Xelaju fans streamed into James R. Hallford Stadium and provided amazing support with chants and flags and banner and smoke. The visitors ran out 2-0 winners and were good value for money, especially #10 and #24.

ao

(Photo courtesy of Alynne Carol Grace)

barnes

(Photo courtesy of Goal.com)

A couple of days later, Atlanta hosted the Gold Cup Semi Finals and I totally made a hash of it. With two games at 6pm and 9pm ET, I thought for sure the US would play the later game. Plus I thought that tickets would be easy to get with the seating situation, shall we say, fluid. No, no and no. The US was locked into the 6pm game, which did several things: made it impossible for me to tailgate, made it impossible to go home first and made it almost impossible to get there from work, even though I work just minutes away. By the time I realized my error regarding timing, all the tickets were sold out, which scuppered my chances of just buying a cheap ticket and then standing with Terminus Legion or the American Outlaws. CONCACAF was very clear that your seat was your seat. Combine all this with important kickball commitments and you can see how I got it all wrong. I followed the match during my kickball game and was shocked at the 2-0 halftime score. An update provided the news of the Bradley goal, and I was able to watch the last 15 or 20 minutes at a local bar.

Another summer full of soccer and can’t wait for the European Leagues to get into full swing and the playoff pushes in NASL and Major League Soccer.

What did you do this summer? Let me know in the comments below.

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Check out more posts on my trips, research and memories on the MatchDay Memories page.

A Call to Action

When Nike released the new strip to be worn by the USWNT for the upcoming Women’s World Cup, I snapped. The first thing I did was go to social media and vent.

Let me start with a fact. The US flag is dark red, white and navy blue. I don’t know the exact color name or Pantone color numbers. I am not a fashionista, I am not a graphic designer. I’m a human F*$%ing being.

I state the flag colors because that should be the color palette that US Soccer kits are drawn from. Nike has been dicking around the last couple of years, with the last several kits being anywhere to plain jane (2014 Home, ie golf shirt) to meh but grew on me (2014 World Cup away, ie Bomb Pop) to amazing (2013 Centennial). The most recent offerings however have been absolutely shocking and have brought me to the breaking point.

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Where do I start with the current away kit? The fact that we are still using an outdated crest with stars of no particular importance? The fact that the shirt uses royal blue which is significant because. . . it was used in the 80’s? The fact that icing belongs on cake not on top of performance designed equipment for world class athletes?

uswnt wwc shirt

As for the kit for 2015 Women’s World Cup. The strip, which is mostly white with black accents and a monochromatic badge, is not awful (ignoring the base of the US flag colors), but when the players look like they have just got done doing a Color Run where only the bottom sprayers worked, then you have a kit that is confusing, non-American and just not good.

uswnt wwc

In my patriotic and stylistic fervor, I created an account on change.org and started a petition to send to US Soccer pleading for them to break their contract with Nike over this and other recent clothing based travesties. Now while a few people actually “signed” the petition, I didn’t even make it to the needed 100 signatures and by the afternoon I was over it.

Maybe I was hangry (I saw the Women’s World Cup strip right before lunch when my blood sugar was at a dangerously low level); maybe I had a moment of righteous anger; maybe I should just keep my thoughts to myself; maybe it doesn’t even matter.

But the exercise turned out to be pretty interesting. Three things were considered during conversations with several people. One, as Kendi Howells Douglas pointed out, on a human level, Nike is screwing the workers. Someone is being paid cents to manufacture a shirt that is sold for north of $75. Two, the Nike divergence from the flag is a relatively recent phenomenon, and they even created a wonderful charcoal kit not so long ago, which goes against my US Flag screed. Three, the USSF had to approve these unis. Maybe Sunil shouldn’t get rid of Nike as much as get rid of the idiot who looked at mock up after mock up and finally said yes. And if he looks in the mirror and sees himself, then maybe his time has come.

In the end the Swoosh will keep rolling out kits of varying quality and Americans will keep buying them. I threw something up because something had to be done. I had to get this off my weak, pale chest. I just wanted a statement, however small to be made, and I appreciate any support in this endeavor.

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