Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Solo and Female Exceptionalism

For a long time, my issue with Hope Solo was that she got a fair shake as an athlete, instead of being judged by a different standard as a female athlete. 

Meaning, I thought Solo shouldn't be expected to be kinder, sweeter, or more polite and soft-spoken than any male athlete who is competitive and eager to win. 

I defended her right to be honest, blunt, human and hungry for victory. I didn't think that U.S. Soccer should have to market her or the women's team as picture-perfect ladies. Let them get their ponytails dirty, lose tempers, let them be real people. 

That's partly why I cringed at the federation pushing stories of the women on the squad with traditional marriages & babies, but not celebrating in the same way the partnerships of those on the team in same-sex relationships. Abby Wambach, Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe, for example. On the other hand, I understood the federation's idea of giving them the privacy to come out in their own way and in their own time. 

Ultimately, though, the being judged as an athlete standard comes down to one thing - are you good for the team, or are you a detriment? 

Solo's flouting of team rules isn't anything new for national team players. From the time they're first called into youth camps, there's a cat and mouse game on for some of the most rebellious players to see what they can get away with and still get called into the next camp. For the men's teams, I've heard stories of clubbing until dawn, picking up prostitutes, etc, all while supposedly under curfew rules. For the women's team, I've heard less rumors/stories, but always assumed some degree of the same flouting of the rules. 

The multiple drunken fights (with family and others) Solo has been involved in, and taking a team van out with her husband, Jerramy Stevens, while the pair had been drinking points to bad judgment at best and at worst, alcoholism. 

A substance abuse problem could be the health issue that sources in US soccer indicate Solo is dealing with. Athletes push themselves to the extreme and often, that leads to risks taken as well. But teams have to take a stand to protect the group - and ultimately, the athlete as well, if possible, from self-destructive behavior. 

So I'm not giving Solo a pass because of fall-out from her father's death years ago. It's possible she might be dealing with mental health issues as well, but drinking is a terrible way to self-medicate that. She should be disciplined, (and she is now suspended from the USWNT) and if she is unwilling to get help for her condition, whatever it may be, her national team and club future should be in jeopardy. 

Just like it should be for any athlete. 

What I would fault the national team for the most at this point is, knowing that Solo can be a loose cannon - why not get more starts for her backups? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Throwback Tuesday - Taking Down Dom

Years and years ago, I took an MLS coach to task in an article for his playoff strategy - or lack thereof, as I saw it. 

Though the San Jose Earthquakes were indeed relocated, my worst fears for Dom Kinnear didn't happen. He did learn from his playoff setbacks and went on to win multiple MLS Cups with the Houston Dynamo. 

He also gave me a long, hard look the next time I interviewed him - one that made me guess that he'd read my article (it isn't online any more, but was at the time). However, Dom has always been polite and fair to reporters, and other than that unwavering stare, never said anything to me about my criticisms. 

Winning Cups is the best response, anyway. I still stand by what I wrote, however, and still think I'm right about a practical approach to the playoffs instead of the "Win every game, no matter what" view. 

The article is quite a trip down memory lane, to a time when the Quakes held more Cups than the Galaxy, when Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno weren't on the ESPN FC couch, when Herculez Gomez played for LA. How times have changed in a decade!

Starting just this year, Dom Kinnear is now back in San Jose, so I expect to see a revival of the California Clasico between the Earthquakes and the Galaxy.

Be warned - I used to think the whole point of writing online was not worrying about word count, and the article is long. This was way before Twitter, when I just might have posted, "D. Kinnear took a good team to the playoffs and threw away their chance at a title with poor strategy."  

But that would leave out all the juicy details. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What's wrong, America?

It's surprising that Club America isn't at the top of the table after spending five months there. It's also interesting that the team brought in excellent attacking players, yet those players haven't been able to score in the past two games. It's also weird that not a single player on the defending champions made the Liga MX Best XI. Chivas, yes, that club fighting relegation, is tied with Club America on points. 

So, is this karma for firing the coach who led them to the record 12th championship? 

Will it get worse before it gets better? 

My answer to both questions? 


Finding Fitness Results - Spinning

I feel like I can almost say that SoulCycle, beloved spin studio of David Beckham and family, is for chumps, because what I did for my spin experience was a class at the Sweat Shoppe, which specializes in heated spin sessions. 

Yes, it's like hot yoga but with bikes, more cardio and more suffering! Whee! 
I am hiding in the second row.

I realized as soon as I got to the studio (free class courtesy of Racked Fit Club) that I had severely underestimated the seriousness of this exercise enterprise. For one thing, normal shoes will not do. You have to take part using bike shoes (I think clipping people in helps them continue even on wobbly legs, perhaps) and the studio had to provide me with a pair. Secondly, I realized as soon as I sat down that I should have worn padded bike shorts as well. 

But it turned out that the hardness of the seat didn't matter too much - we spent so much time out of the saddle, following the instructions of Naomi, the superfit (she won an award, seriously) instructor. 

With her cheerful Australian accent, she urged us on through the session. "Nice job, Andrea," she encouraged me at one point. I blinked sweat away, in my addled brain thinking she was saying, "Don't die, Andrea!"  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Making the List

What do you see in this photo? 

I see people I know and like - Grant, Jeff, Joe, Scott, Kyle, in particular - but Daniel Altman has a point. There aren't any women. 

There aren't any minorities, either. And considering this media session with Jozy Altidore took place in LA, I found it odd that there weren't any Spanish media there, and a translator if they needed it (many don't). 

In the discussion that followed Daniel's original tweet, Adam Serrano pointed out that the session, hosted by U.S. Soccer (where Altidore just joined the January camp after signing with Toronto FC) wasn't invite-only, but the fact is, I, for one, didn't get the email announcing the event. 

What's odd about that is that I am on one of U.S. Soccer's press distribution lists. I get game quotes and other stuff like many media members. The truth is, though, there's more than one media list. Clearly, I wasn't on this one. 

Why are different lists kept? Well, perhaps the organization wants to 'reward' reporters that have faithfully covered the US team for a while. 

But where does that leave reporters who have other coverage responsibilities, including other national teams, like Mexico? I've commiserated before with reporters who complain about the hassle they've gotten from US Soccer for writing on other squads. I've also heard before, from someone working for US Soccer at the time, "Why should we help reporters who are at our events to cover another team?" 

Short answer: It's their job. Soccer in the USA, especially LA, isn't just the USA team. Whenever Mexico plays in the US, the federation makes money and the game grows with more fans involved. 

In general, the organization's outreach to minorities, especially Latinos, should be more than perfunctory, with just a few bits of news on the Spanish-language edition of Spanish media should definitely get announcements about all press events. 

Maybe U.S. Soccer isn't to blame at all for the lack of diversity among the press ranks in the photo. Media outlets and assigning editors may default too easily to sending known entities - the European soccer guy - without taking time to consider others. For example, even if I had gotten the announcement about Jozy's event, I wouldn't have had an outlet to write about it. Mexico is my beat for ESPNFC. 

Again and again, I've gone out of my way to remind people that the scene in U.S. soccer is incredibly diverse, with Hispanic, Asian, & African elements and huge participation by females. But stereotypes exist, and without a diverse media voice and perspectives from different elements of the soccer landscape, they will persist.

In a perfect world, minority reporters wouldn't have to move on to other jobs and could still stay and be paid well on the soccer beat. I remember working with Luis A. Luis B, Damien, Dylan, Bernie, Jose, Miguel, Jaime C. and others. Younger writers, like Josie Becker, would get more consistent gigs. 

And all of us, no matter our critical views on U.S. Soccer, players or coaches, no matter what other teams we'd sometimes cover in the sport, would all be on the same list for press events. Then, I'd bet, the picture would look different - with all these guys still there, perhaps, but many others as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Early Loss for Matosas

There's nothing unusual about a Gustavo Matosas-coached squad lingering around the middle of the Liga MX table with an equal amount of losses to wins. 

But it is weird to see Club America there. For five months straight, the team has been at the top of the Liga MX standings, winning a championship along the way. 

Of course, that wasn't good enough to keep on coach Antonio Mohamed. 

It has to be said, though, that the loss to Tijuana was still an exciting match. Plus, many will blame the defeat not on Matosas, but on striker Oribe Peralta hitting a weak penalty shot that was saved. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Champions Fight It Out

This time, Club America came out on top as the defending champions defeated Leon, who didn't even make the playoffs last season to defend their own back-to -back championships from the previous seasons. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Silly Mix, Trix are for Kids!

Actually, I love that athletes feel free to express themselves on Twitter. It's fun, and at times, funny. 

I mean, how else to parse out this enigmatic Tweet from Mix Diskerud about where he might go, and what he might do and who dare guess or claim they know better than he about it? 

Maybe he was just having fun. I had fun answering. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Finding Fitness Results - Running

There's something so basic and simple about running - it was probably the first exercise regime ever. One foot in front of another, again and again, to the increased heartbeat and release of endorphins. 

Of course, soccer players run a lot on the field during a game. Many supplement their workouts in the off-season with running. So that's why I've chosen to focus on this activity in my continuing Finding Fitness series.

Landon Donovan, for example, credited cross-country running with a lot of his development and endurance in the game. 

So running and soccer have a strong connection, making it an ideal post-retirement fitness regime in many ways. It's simpler than capoeira, for sure. 

Running on the treadmill isn't a bad deal while watching a soccer game, but really experiencing the outdoors is a great part of running as well. So I headed out to a popular local running spot - the Silverlake Reservoir