Friday, September 28, 2007

Playing the cute card

It's pretty depressing to read the emails I've gotten accusing me of letting Hope Solo off the hook for her comments (which they construe as attacking Briana Scurry) because Solo's female and I'm in some sort of solidarity with her because of that. Exactly what do they think Scurry is, then?

A male colleague reported that some of his emails have consisted of "You're sympathizing with a backstabbing harpy because she's cute."

Perhaps we're actually of the opinion that Solo was right because we cover soccer and we have brains?

I've fielded emails today comparing Hope Solo to Michael Vick and Terrell Owens - except in the more negative sense, saying she is worse than either of them.

I think that's crazy. If anything, I think the backlash some people have inflicted on Solo comes from the image many people have of U.S. Soccer as a sport for nice, educated, white females who are "good girls" who never bleat anything controversial or interesting, just go out and play hard, fair and always with honor and pluck.

To a certain extent, it's because many sports reporters know little about soccer, or about women's soccer, other than the smiling images that exploded all over the U.S. in 1999.

However, part of that was a media puffery that wanted to focus on all the bright spots and none of the darker ones.

That's why so many news outlets glossed over Mia Hamm's moodiness, the rumors of eating disorders of some team members, and the fact that the penalty that Scurry saved in 1999 was due to the classic goalkeeper's cheat of coming off the line early. This treatment of the team continued after that "golden generation". Is it any wonder people grew bored with the team? The new generation of players became more plastic and inhuman as they tried to live up to this perfect ideal that never really existed. Pladitudes became the post-game quotes. Anything else was overlooked. Most news media ignored Scurry's own comments about another goalkeeper, Siri Mullinux, when Scurry stated that she would have made the saves Millinux missed in the 2000 Olympic goal medal game. One can argue that she didn't say it right after the game, but I find it even more telling that Scurry mentioned it years after the event. There's no "in the heat of the moment" excuse there. She'd been mulling that for a long time.

One suspects that in order to retain this mythos of the happy, idealistic USWNT, players who dissented or did't conform were left off the squad, like Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillain, and Brandi Chastain.

It wasn't their cuteness that made them invisible to many media outlets who could have broadcast their plight - it was the fact that they stepped out of the line and out of the box that many had safely packaged for the U.S. team. "Sour grapes," was the universal dismissal.

It's disappointing for me to hear Foudy, of all people, call Solo out for her honesty and say that she wouldn't want to play in front of her. Foudy was famous for saying all sorts of things, and some of them weren't very nice. She let herself be human and spoke candidly, yet she won't allow the next generation to do the same?

What really baffles me is those who say that Solo was right to criticize Ryan, but not Scurry. The leap of logic to take her comments as a bashing of Scurry could just as easily be made in another direction. Solo could have said exactly what she did with her motivation being a fierce defense of Scurry - who was made to look bad by a desperate coach who wanted poor Scurry to reclaim some long-ago magic despite not having had the preparation time needed to perform at such a top level.

On the first goal, Scurry herself admitted she could have communicated with Leslie Osborne better. On the second goal, her former coach, Tony DiCicco, one of her biggest boosters ever, said, "Bri on her game makes that save." Yet even when there were still eleven players in front of her, Bri wasn't on her game. She couldn't be because time and Solo's own skills had passed her by for the number one spot a goalkeeper needs to man regularly to be sharp.

Ryan wouldn't admit this. It definitely seemed like he doubted his team's skills. He wasn't using their depth. Kristine Lilly said after the Brazil match, "I'm so tired." No freakin' wonder! Ryan wouldn't sub out his other legend and her legs were gone. It wasn't Solo's words that threw the U.S. squad under the bus, it was Ryan's actions. He didn't trust the current version of the team and reached into the past for a savior, regardless of how bad it made that individual look when they simply weren't up to the task.

Heck, this is what I thought when I saw an injured John O'Brien at the last World Cup, or a slowing Claudio Reyna, for that matter. Arena didn't believe in the youth of the squad as he had once before, back in 2002.

Niether did Ryan. How does Lindsey Tarpley go from playing in every Olympic match in 2004 to hardly seeing the field in a World Cup three years later? Did she somehow get worse in the interim?

Perhaps I'm being too hard on some of those writing in, though. Perhaps they simply don't, like Solo said, know the game of soccer. So much depends on team chemistry, especially on defense. Goakeepers direct the defenders and are often the coaches on-field for their squad. Ryan's move superseded all the continuity the team had and sent them a clear message that he didn't believe that the way the squad had worked in all the months leading up to the World Cup was good enough. It was a panic move, and not surprisingly, it caused some panic among the team.

Solo's words to acknowledge this were not an attack on Scurry, her team, or anyone else except the person responsible for making that poor decision. She referenced 2004 not to belittle Scurry's accomplishments (why does she label Scurry as a "big name" if she doesn't respect her?), but to point out the obvious flaw in Ryan's reasoning for the change. It's not 2004.

Marta and Brazil are much better than they were in 2004, and the unified and cohesive defensive effort that Denmark or Australia showed against Brazil was what was needed to defeat them, not some "Hail Mary" move into the past to look for individual brilliance.

Especially from Scurry, who at her age and with little game readiness, could hardly be expected to comply with Ryan's flashback dream. His choice tarnished Scurry's legacy, because more people will remember this match than do the 2004 game. Though Solo was no doubt speaking from her own hurt of being overlooked, her words against Ryan's decision were actually a defense of the entire team and everything they had worked for, including Scurry.

23 comments:

Longshoe said...

Thank you for bringing some common sense and intelligent discussion to this debate. I completely and wholeheartedly agree.

JT (Chicago) said...

Well said AC. Well said indeed.

Besides Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillain, and Brandi Chastain, remember Debbie Keller in your list of those who were shunned.

Thinking back, besides the weekly competition, one of the great things about WUSA was that we got to see the US players compete for clubs, not country. It was real and so we got to see the greatness & the flaws.

Since we weren't all cheering for the same club, we were able to see (acknowledge) which players were the divers. We were able to see the whiners. We were able to see the real team leaders who pulled their teams together. We were able to see the players who were previously overlooked because they didn't come from THE school. Suddenly, the packaged myths were being replaced by players judged by their actual play and not by how many little girls shouted their names.

WUSA had flaws and had problems with marketing but at least we were able to see the players a bit more as they were and not as USSF wanted us to see them.

Keeper said...

This has probably been the best commentary I've seen over this whole matter. Thank you.

Beax Speax said...

I concur with the other posters....one of the best columns I've read in a long, long time.

jason said...

I guess there is still some chance of some unknown detail changing all of this. That said, Ryan's own rationale didn't sound right and didn't play out.

I was impressed in Germany with how much team members were permitted to disagree publicly with their coaches and still be considered cooperative members of the team.

Ryan's reaction to Solo was the right one, even if it comes after a dissapointing tournament.

Why was our between-cup record so different?

I've seen comments blaming Scurry for this. Insane.

All the same, this has been an incredibly dramatic tournament.

Anonymous said...

AC. I am completely in agreement with you 100%.

Your post is amazing and I applaud your efforts, courage and intellectual commentary as a leading soccer journalist. This posting of yours justifies my checking of your blog everyday or as frequently as possible. Thank you.

I am still of the opinion that operating our US National Teams as both Sororities and Fraternities with unatainable false ideals and values is a total disservice to true American soccer players everywhere who are so diverse in every way shape and form. In fact, that is why we play and follow soccer/football, to be a little bit different from the norm and challenge so called ideals.

It's not ironic that the most diverse and creative thinking and freedom of thought and innovation is utterly lacking and missing on so many levels lately in the US game. It's reflected and illustrated in your post and it's reflected in our US national teams' play.

BBSC

A.C. said...

Jason,

I'm not blaming Scurry for what happened. I know it was Greg Ryan's decision to put her in goal. I do think where some people are pointing the finger at Scurry was in Ryan's statement that he had told Scurry months before that he might use her against Brazil.

It's likely that he told Scury not to say anything to the other players on the team. But a few people have pointed out that the sudden switch blindsided everyone on the squad. Some think that Scurry keeping the information of the possible move from Solo and the defenders especially, was a sort of betrayal.

I do think there was too much kept under wraps. If this was even an inkling, the team should have been told in advance.

I still think it was a horrible idea to switch goalkeepers, but I think it was a worse idea to plan that move in secret. I could see how the entire team, not just Solo, could feel they were deceived by both Ryan and Scurry.

To me, it's another situatin where Ryan probably put Scurry in an untenable position. If your coach tells you to hush up to your teammates about a secret move, what do you do? It was unfair, like the move itself was, to Scurry.

Anonymous said...

Please send a copy of this to Sunil Gulati!

Also, it really amazes me that there hasn't been more support for Hope coming from inside the locker room. The report today suggests team leaders backed dropping Hope off the team for tomorrow's game. Are the "team leaders" also living in the past? not just with the whole goalkeeping fiasco, but the bizarre substitution choices, the lack of playing opportunities for the younger players, etc., etc.

A.C. said...

Note that the "team leaders" are from the older generation of players.

There was a quote that predated the official freeze-out of Solo from another young player, Lori Chalupny, where she stated that the team hadn't been disrupted by the media buzz about what Solo said.

That's pretty much the opposite of what the Lilly and Wambach said. However, I'm sure even the younger players were urged to present a united front against Solo.

jeffrey said...

"If anything, I think the backlash some people have inflicted on Solo comes from the image many people have of U.S. Soccer as a sport for nice, educated, white females who are "good girls" who never bleat anything controversial or interesting, just go out and play hard, fair and always with honor and pluck."

Don't forget that they're straight too! They are totally into dudes!

This is just another thing about US Soccer's image-making. It seems that(especially during "Studio 90") their husbands/boyfriends are always mentioned. C'mon. It's all or nothing. They shouldn't parade around the straight lives, while keeping the others hidden. It's as if they are trying too hard.

Your post is so spot on. US Soccer is constantly feeding a certain image of the USWNT, so that it now becomes robotic, uninteresting, and predictable. There's no more sense in reading player's quotes, because it all seems to come from the same script that they've been force-fed. And unfortunately, their play closely resembles this too - robotic, uninteresting, and predictable.

This team was f*cked before the World Cup, all they needed was real competition to expose this. Not just Brasil, but nearly all of the WC games.

I've been a fan of the team for a long time, but I find myself pulling for Norway. It will give them a good dose of reality they need. Sad to say, but a loss to Norway might be the best thing for development. And Hope is right - they need to stop bowing down to the "old guard" and play in the present.

David Keyes said...

Very well put, Andrea.

L.B. said...

That was good but I think you guys are making it seem better because Andrea wrote it and she's cute.

I kid, of course.

Honestly, that was f-ing brilliant. It was like Marta's second goal against the US except in print.

RosyBlue said...

Andrea, I am sure the answer to this question could be found if I dug around your blog, but to save time I will just ask:

Have you ever played soccer yourself, and if so, at what level?

Thanks.

left coaster said...

Best discussion of the situation I've seen anywhere. Thank you.

I encourage everyone to read the match analysis by Beulah, who makes many of these points. If you haven't read her WNT match commentary over the many years, you are in for a treat. The woman knows her stuff. And I also encourage people to be in touch with USSF - apparently Sunil Gulati is tracking emails.

Beulah Sports US-Brazil Match Report

melissa said...

All I can say is, "Word!" And thank you for saying all of this so elegantly.

The message to female athletes seems to be, 'shut up and play!' In other words, you're valuable to us when you look pretty for the Nike ads (that make us lots of money!), but don't you dare speak your mind.

The fact that Ryan has used this whole 'controversy' to take the spotlight away off of his indescribably poor coaching decisions is downright disgusting.

I know I won't be watching the U.S. Women's team compete again... unless I'm rooting for the opposition. And this after 15 years of loyalty.

Black Dilbert said...

AC, What's up girl!!

You kept it real!!

I saw this Brazil @$$ kicking coming 4 years ago when the US didn't win the cup in 2003. This team is not for real and are only deemed for real due to the federation hype. It was so annoying to constantly hear about how the US had this long unbeaten streak when in reality none of those games mattered as they were friendlies.

I hope this Hope Solo incident will be a catalyst for change. I have barely watched women's soccer and will return to not watching it at all if the status quo continues. And if Hope Solo is marked with the Scarlet Letter and banished to US Soccer Siberia, I hope a European club team will pick her up and let her play.

Anonymous said...

This is the best commentary I've seen on this subject, in part because so much of the commentary that's out there has been written by people who barely acknowledge the existence of the U.S. women's team the other three years and 11 months out of every four years.

I have lost so much respect these last few days for people like Foudy, or Lilly and Abby Wambach after they played their part in perpetuating the company line in Saturday's press conference. So this is supposed to "team as family?" Is that how you treat members of the family? More like some stereotypical "mean girl" sorority from some bad movie.

Shannon MacMillan was quoted in one blog today as saying that one of the reasons the women had become so popular was that they were seen as not having any infighting, that any issues were kept bottled up, within the family, so to speak. So, what does that mean, that the image of this team has been consistently a fraud all of these years?

Greg Ryan managed to undo whatever good he's done the last couple of years with one instance of hubris, out of some deep-seated need to stamp his personal seal on a championship. But the picture that has emerged since the Brazil game ended is even uglier than one could have imagined.

I've been a supporter of the women's national team since the first World Cup, and have followed them closely for the last 16 years. But I don't know if I'm going to even bother taping the third-place game. I don't think I like how this group has dealt with this rare instance of adversity.

pastis said...

while i agree with some of your general objections to the obsessive ire aimed at Solo, many of your comments are a bit illogical.

the bottom line is that solo aired her anger IN THE MIDDLE OF a tournament, and that is just very uncool and very unwise. it doesn't make her evil, it doesn't make her a crazy person, it just means she made a big mistake. her comment about making the saves that were missed was also very silly - but people say silly things when upset. too bad it wasn't in private.

but what if every player on the team told the press about their anger about another player's shortcomings? what if a defender on the bench said she 'never would have committed an own-goal' and would have done a better job?

it's hurtful, even if it's by accident. and it does create a bad vibe.

as for this making Solo a hero of the outspoken anti-Barbie Dolls, i think that is a stretch.

Solo's errors also handed Ryan the right to bench her yet again, which is the must absurd part of this whole mess.

Ryan is on his last leg after the WC is over. if he is not fired, the USA team is toast. but solo would have done much better to let Ryan's moronic actions do the talking.

the situation is simple: save your criticism for after the tournament has ended.

Also, you keep mentioning Foudy's foot in mouth issues, but you don't cite them - for those who don't know, can you tell us what these are/were?

A.C. said...

The tournament is effectively over for the U.S., really, at least for the goals they set for themselves.

I frankly think the timing of Solo's comments was perfectly relevant. The coach made an unprecedented move and she voiced her opinion on it. I've had male goalkeepers tell me similar things after their team has lost a game. "I think I could have made those saves. I think I should have had the chance in the game. But there's nothing anyone can do now."

That's why I can't believe that this isn't related to the USWNT players expected to be little obedient ladies. I've heard players say that they think they're the best for a given position. Guys do this all the time. I've listened to players call out teammates for mistakes, "He really shouldn't have given up a foul in that part of the field - we were covering him." I've heard them disagree with coaches. "I don't know why I was subbed out. I was playing really well. I think that was a mistake."
As a reporter, you always value the players who are straight-up honest when you ask questions. Landon Donovan is one. Jesse Marsch is another. I think male players operate under a code of, "Hey, if I really mean what I say, then it won't be taken personally and people will know I said this because I'm competitive and I want what is best for the team and I have an opinion on what that is."
The whole idea that Solo is supposed to engage in deflection and denial of her true feelings depresses me. What kind of a culture are we living in that encourages such a facade in order to be "loyal"

As to your other question, as one example - Julie was one of the player-founders of the WUSA - a league that turned down an offer from MLS to join resources when it started. The attitude from Foudy (and other players as well, actually) was that they didn't need help and that they didn't want to share their fanbase with the men's game. That polarized a lot of the MLS fanbase, who felt slighted. Not to mention that when the WUSA was failing and came to MLS for help to stay afloat, the league declined.

Eos said...

With regard to WUSA/MLS antagonism, if you're referring to that famous "we don't want MLS piggy-backing on our attendances" line (attributed variously to Chastain, Foudy, etc.), well, that wasn't what was said.

The actual quotation, from Chastain, referred to an abortive FIFA plan back in 1999 to move the 2003 Women's World Cup back to 2002, and Chastain was arguing that "I think we proved at this year's Women's World Cup that it could be a stand-alone event... We don't need to move it up. And I don't think we deserve to have to piggyback on the men's World Cup."

http://www.espn.go.com/soccer/s/2000/0218/365926.html
http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12-99/12-14-99/d07sp194.htm
http://www.bigsoccer.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-278382.html

(And yes, that's a BigSoccer thread, but it's a remarkably reasonable one, by that site's standards.)

Somehow that single misquotation got turned into evidence that the WUSA Founders were haughty, arrogant [fill-in-the-blanks]. Interesting how that happens...

Beyond that, the WUSA Founders did have good reasons to be suspicious -- they'd been at odds with the Federation since, well, forever (remember the 1999 Victory Tour?), and the last-minute MLS proposal for a women's league had all the markings of a stalking horse from a federation desperate to regain the upper hand in their relationship with the players.

Beyond even that, with only two venues in common (RFK and Spartan) there really wasn't enough overlap between MLS and WUSA for effective cooperation to have taken place.

And even further beyond even that, considering MLS's stagnancy at the turn of century -- if MLS had been seriously involved with WUSA, well, two leagues might have foundered upon the metaphoric shoals instead of just one.

Of course, WUSA made oodles and oodles of mistakes: the initial budget, the Pax TV deal, and the catastrophic suspension of operations right at the start of WWC 2003, etc. But it seems like the players -- especially the outspoken ones -- have taken far too much of the blame for the league's failure.

(Perhaps a better choice for the opprobrium might be John Hendricks?)

A.C. said...

I'm not referring to the "piggy back" comment at all, actually. I'm referring to what people told me when I asked them why MLS wasn't interested in helping save the WUSA. Foudy the leader of the player founders, and she made it clear that they weren't interested in working with MLS.

Anonymous said...

Ryan made an incredibly incompetent coaching gaff, one that a decent rec coach would never even make. Now he refuses to own up and take responsibility (with the earlier coaching ineptitude, perhaps he really doesn't realize he erred??), and chooses to marshall the dead wood dead legs and make Solo the scapegoat. There's no chemistry on this team, other than bad. You are either part of the inner core mafia, or suck up to it in order to play. I hope Solo goes overseas and has a nice pro career, and never gives another interview. The blood sucking journalists who pride themselves on taking down athletes who have worked their lives to get where the journalist can't even dream of being win another round. They always will with the last word and no need to ever perform themselves in the sports cauldron.

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