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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

What a Messi

Susan Boyd

Tuesday night the United States got schooled in the beautiful game - how the world (and specifically Argentina) plays it and how much we have to learn.  It was all led by a striker named Lionel Messi who will celebrate his 29th birthday two days before playing in the final of the Copa America Centenario.   Messi set the tone in the third minute with a perfect pass to Esquiel Lavezzi.  With all the US defenders pulled forward, Lavezzi received the ball and charged forward.  In one move he was suddenly one on one with goalkeeper Brad Guzan who seemed stunned to see the player ready to unload and reacted far too late to stop the shot.  In the 32nd minute Argentina was awarded a free kick outside the box.  Calmly retying his shoe before shooting, Messi sent the ball into the upper right corner striking a miniscule window between the crossbar, Guzan’s hand, and the upright.  It was a shot worthy of the century and also secured Argentina’s career scoring record for Messi.  In the second half, Guzman couldn’t hold onto a stopped shop, and with second effort Argentina scored.  Then Messi assisted in the waning minutes on a fourth humiliating goal.  As Jurgen Klinsmann, the US coach said, “Our players could just feel in every position on the field they were better than we are.”  He was stating the obvious for anyone watching the match.

Given the US population pool as compared to most of the other confederation nations, we should be far more dominating.  However the US obviously still has a long way to go in developing its male players.  For example, the US Men’s National Team (MNT) failed to qualify for the Olympics this year.  Since Olympic soccer players must be 23 or younger, this disappointment calls into question our youth development.  Our young squad just wasn’t ready for the level of competition they faced.  There is evidence of improvement.  The MNT has had some significant wins since 1991 and has made the knockout rounds in several international tournaments such as World Cup and FIFA Confederation Cup, feats not achieved since 1930.  Our biggest glory came in the 2009 Confederations Cup when the US beat Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals.  At the time, Spain was ranked 1st in the FIFA World rankings with 35 undefeated games including a run of 15 consecutive wins which ended with the US victory.  This was the first and only finals in a full-international competition that the US has achieved since the 1930 World Cup.  There we defeated England in the group round and ultimately went on to win third, our highest finish for a World Cup.  Our major achievements recently have come in our CONCACAF Gold Cup competitions which include five wins and four runners-up.  However in the 2015 Gold Cup the US was defeated by Jamaica in the semi-finals and then lost to Panama in penalty kicks in the 3rd place match.

Now comes the Copa America Centenario, a competition that encompasses CONCACAF and CONBEMOL, FIFA’s South American confederation.  The US did well against its CONCACAF competitors of Costa Rica and Ecuador, winning decisively, but did less well with CONBEMOL members, losing to Colombia, and barely hanging on against Paraguay.  Then they met the Messi-driven train that is the Argentine National Team, and all our weaknesses were on display.  We couldn’t pass, we couldn’t win 50/50 balls, we couldn’t possess, and considering the score, we certainly couldn’t defend.  Watching Messi move quickly to an advantageous position when off the ball and making pin point passes or shots when he had the ball presented a stark contrast to America’s best players who looked befuddled and disorganized.  A herd of deer on Interstate 95 at night wouldn’t have looked more dazed in the headlights than our team when faced with the brilliance of Messi and his teammates.

The good news, if there is any, comes with the youth who are beginning to fill the ranks of the MNT roster.  Despite our inability to qualify with our younger players for the Olympics, we do have several promising members under 25 who are on the full MNT roster including Christian Pulisic who is just 17.  Additionally players on the U-23 and U-19 squads are developing into strong forces, all of them playing internationally on professional teams around the world in addition to their MNT commitments.   We have a distance to go before we can consistently claim to be among the world’s best soccer nations, but as we chip away at our confederation competitors we are also gaining confidence and experience that will translate down the line to a stronger team.   We will face Colombia again in the Copa America third place match which will have been played the Saturday before this blog posts.  Perhaps we can redeem our CONBEMOL performances with a brilliant match.  In the meantime we will continue to build the MNT on the shoulders of our young players.

This is both the promise and the power of youth soccer.  Every player now at the top levels of soccer began as a youth player in a local club.  Many have amazing stories of how they grew from youth club players to national team players.  Like most youth players, Messi began to play soccer when 4 years old with his brothers and cousins and had his father as his first coach.  At age 6 he joined the youth club of his hometown’s professional squad, Rosario’s Newell’s Old Boys.  When he turned 11 he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency that threatened to end his developing soccer talent.  The disease required an expensive and long-term medical treatment.  Ironically it was his disease which, rather than thwarting his dreams, actually led him to a top club.  When his parents’ health insurance benefits ran out, the family, recognizing his talent, sought a soccer club which would sign their son for development while also continuing to pay for his treatments.  Club River Plata, a top club in Argentina, wanted to sign Messi, but didn’t have the funds for his treatments.  Messi’s father had relatives in Spain, near Barcelona, so he reached out to their club.  At first reluctant to sign such a young foreign player, they ultimately relented.  Messi proved to be an amazing investment.  He incredibly led the youth team to a triple win of their league, the Spanish Cup, and the Catalan Cup in his first full year playing.  He scored 36 goals in 30 games.  Despite an offer to play for Arsenal in the English Premier League, he chose to remain with Barcelona and became a powerhouse player for the club and for the Argentine National Team.

While few players have the natural soccer gifts that Messi possesses, every youth player has the potential to play at the highest levels should he or she have both the passion and the determination.  Most players who make either the MNT or the Women’s National Team (WNT) cite as the most important factor their willingness to work through every roadblock and to find ways to play no matter what.  Certainly many kids dream of a professional career as they idolize a favorite player.  As parents we need to nurture those dreams while making sure our children find joy in the journey.  Watching Messi play Tuesday night was a speedy reality check.  Few people in the world can master soccer the way he has, meaning that only a few will ultimately reach that level of ability.  Nevertheless, having someone like Messi or Ronaldo or Carli Lloyd as a role model can be a significant influence in a child’s life giving him or her something to strive for.  Ultimately most kids will play soccer for the fun of it and the benefits of conditioning and learning to be part of a team.  Whenever I go to watch a youth game it’s humbling to consider that the future stars of soccer are right now buzzing around a U-8 or U-10 field learning to control their dribbles and emulating as best they can the fancy step-over moves they see the adult players use.  The powerful, exhilarating play we have been witnessing this summer with Copa America and UEFA Euro 2016 grew from players born in some cases less than two decades ago.   

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) oversees the various US National Teams.  It is charged with forming, growing, and maintaining the youth development programs in America.  Over the last decade the USSF has instituted some significant changes in order to hopefully improve the means to identify and train top players around the United States.  They established the boys’ Development Academy which is an association of top youth clubs and MLS affiliated youth clubs in order to create a more consistent training program with unified goals and outcomes.  Next year they plan to do the same for girls.  The Academy supplements the Olympic Development Program (ODP) which began in 1977 and was expanded and refined from 1979 to 1982 (when a girls’ program was added) into a format which exists up to the present.  Boys and girls join through their State Youth Soccer Associations and attend a state camp where players are identified and invited to a regional camp where they are further evaluated and possibly recommended for National camp.  Players who belong to a Development Academy team don’t go through ODP as they are identified within the Academy.  There are five years in which players can try out for the state teams.  It isn’t unusual for a player not to make a state team one year but then do so in subsequent years and vice versa.  Age groups can vary state to state, but in general kids will be eligible to participate when they are 12 until they are 17. 

We have far to go with the Men’s program, but we can also take pride in successes, albeit inconsistent.  We no longer have to wax poetic about a 1930 series of matches because we can take pride in our contemporary play.  We’re a huge nation which deserves to have a world top ten soccer team.  I have no doubt that as our youth players have more and more training opportunities and can emulate our own national soccer heroes, we’ll break through those rankings and join the world’s elite.

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Summer of Soccer

Susan Boyd

Right now, you could plop yourself down in front of the television and watch a world-class soccer match most days — beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET and continuing every two-and-a-half hours until 10:30 p.m. ET — as Copa America Centenario and UEFA Euro 2016 dovetail with one another. Copa America concludes June 26, while UEFA Euro 2016 continues to July 10. While I don’t suggest foregoing most of the summer parked indoors with a remote and a big screen, I do want to encourage parents and youth players to share several of these matches. They are an excellent opportunity to see how complex and fast the best tactical soccer unfolds. Copa America can be seen on Fox networks, and ESPN broadcasts and streams Euro 2016. While waiting for an airplane on June 11, I was able to watch the U.S. play Paraguay on my computer. Technology is awesome.

Americans are used to weeks and weeks of play-off competitions in every sport, beyond the regular seasons of football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Adding to the professional sports schedules, we can also watch hours of collegiate games. On average fans spend 8.5 hours a week viewing sports, according to a 2013 study. That compares to an average overall TV habit of five hours a day. Using those numbers, sports makes up nearly 25 percent of our video consumption. Young players develop their interest and ultimately their passion for a sport by watching teams who perform at the top levels. It’s that interest, which inspires a player and supports him or her when times are rough. When players immerse themselves in watching matches, they develop a keen sense of how tactics evolve in the course of a competition. They can key in on a particular player or position to watch how he or she reacts both on and off the ball. As young players mature, so will their sophistication when it comes to understanding the game and their role in it. Unfortunately soccer players have been at a disadvantage for many years because soccer hadn’t snagged a huge portion of sports broadcasting. Therefore, players had a better chance of watching any other sport than soccer. However, over the last ten years broadcasters have put a greater emphasis on “the world’s game.”

In 2013, NBC signed a three-year deal with the English Premier League to air 196 matches each season, with 20 matches being broadcast on NBC and the rest on NBCSports, CNBC and USA. This year, they doubled down on their commitment with a new six year deal, penning a $1 billion contract with the EPL. Compare that to ESPN’s yearly fee of $1.9 billion just to air several NFL games. For NBC, this soccer contract is a bargain. With sports accounting for 37 percent of all TV ad spending, NBC is delighted to secure a large niche of soccer broadcasting. Fox, who began their off-shoot cable channel as Fox Sports World in 1997, broadcast mostly rugby and Australian rules football with a slowly growing soccer schedule until 2006, when it shifted to Fox Soccer, dropping all other sports. However, it lost the rights to the EPL to NBC, and eventually moved all soccer to Fox Sports 1 and 2 — turning Fox Soccer into FXX, a second entertainment channel to FX. Fox has the rights to several college soccer matches and all CONCACAF games, including the Copa America. Where Fox will now shine is their contract with FIFA for World Cups 2018 and 2022 and the Women’s World Cup in 2019, plus several FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups. ESPN has focused on UEFA and will share MLS with Fox.

This increase in soccer coverage means that events the rest of world knew and looked forward to, such as the FA Cup and the FA Community Shield in England and the various other major European leagues like the Budesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), and Serie A (Italy), could be seen by American audiences. Since the United States is a country of immigrants, it makes sense that there will be a large pool of viewers for a myriad of soccer programming. The tremendous success of the Premier League contract for NBC has spurred other networks to look closely at what soccer communities exist in the US that would support a broader schedule of matches. For example UEFA covering Europe is one of the six confederations of FIFA. CONMEBOL is the South American confederation and is competing with North America’s CONCACAF teams in this year’s Copa America. CAF is the African confederation and AFC is the Asian confederation. All of these have Cups which help determine World Cup qualifiers and international country team ranking and these Cups are of interest to soccer fans from those continents and beyond. Therefore more and more of these events are coming to American television, which serves to highlight the significant influence of the sport around the world. As youth players become more and more exposed to the highest levels of the sport, they begin to understand what they need to achieve and how to reach those standards, just as young NBA fans learn from watching LeBron James pivot to avoid a defender.

What else this summer do we parents and our children have to look forward to?  How about the Olympics?  That schedule runs from Aug. 3-20. Young players can watch the best of both men’s and women’s soccer, although the U.S. Under-23 MNT failed to qualify for this Olympics. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of great soccer to relish. The U.S. Women’s National Team will be defending their Olympic title from London 2012 while introducing new players to American fans. Naturally, all the other sports of the Olympic competition will be worthy of our attention, but this will be a great time for young female soccer players to embrace old and new soccer icons while plunging for a month into the sport.

For fans of English soccer, the Premier League will begin Aug. 13 following the FA Community Shield game on Aug. 7, which pits the winner of the FA Cup (Manchester United) against the winner of the EPL (Leicester City). Leicester City is a Cinderella story, a team who was given 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the League (worse odds than Kim Kardasian becoming President). The club had never won the Premier League title in their 132 years and barely escaped relegation last season. However, they succeeded utilizing an incredible defense, who committed just 10 defensive errors all season, only one of which resulted in a goal. The offense came through when needed, racking up nine 1-0 games (11 is the record) to keep Leicester at the top of the bracket from April forward.

While our kids should be outside in summer practicing the game they love, taking a few hours to enjoy some of the top level soccer being played by the professionals enhances both their investment in and understanding of the game. Our children will appreciate sharing these events with us which helps acknowledge the activity they enjoy. We can all benefit as we watch and learn more about soccer - its history, its impact, its stars and its execution. The level of athleticism and commitment during these contest is intense and impressive. Our young players will find so much they can ascend towards and so many reasons to try. It’s important that they experience the power and universal standing of soccer in order to appreciate the special place they occupy in this phenomenon while finding a player they like or a country they support and watching those matches. It can be a special summer joining the world-wide soccer fellowship.

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Finding Memories

Susan Boyd

Last week, in a fit of spring cleaning fever, I decided to tackle our kitchen pantry. My dream is to one day convert it into a laundry room, so I figured if I could pare down the contents, I’d be that much closer to realizing my vision. For years, it had become a collection point for those bulky odds and ends that didn’t seem to make sense storing in linen, clothes or utility closets. I pulled out two dozen flower vases, large kitchen gadgets like a tomato grinder and a countertop apple/potato peeler of which I had two both unopened in their boxes, and scores of plastic storage containers. Mixed in with the canned goods and the cereals were picnic baskets, cheese boards, flashlights, and maintenance guides to every electrical product we’ve ever owned. Then, delightfully, I came across a collection of soccer trophies and patches tucked in a corner. Most of the boys’ trophies had found their way to cabinet shelves in their rooms displayed along with scarves, certificates and medallions. However, these had probably been set out on the kitchen table after tournaments from which I’d banished them to the pantry in a quick clean up, intending to retrieve them later to display upstairs. That obviously never happened.

Finding those soccer mementos reminded me of the good times surrounding the events the trophies and patches commemorated. I’ve been reminded a lot lately. We had a severe sewage backup in the basement, so everything had to be removed while the contractor repaired the damage. It gave me a good excuse to sort through all the photos, school art projects, soccer items and papers, and general memorabilia we’ve collected through the years. I’d always meant to organize the photos, separate things out for each of my four children, and label boxes, but life and inertia regularly intervened. Now that I was finally digging into it, I found myself cheerfully reliving some of our best family experiences. I found stacks of those tournament photos, regular photos, trophies, medals, certificates, news clippings, even World Cup items including bracket posters and sticker books. The boxes yielded a soccer bonanza.

Sometimes I wonder why we put so much effort in to holding on those scraps of our soccer past. Kids move on to other activities or just grow up and out of soccer. Yet those trophies, patches, and medals seem just too substantial and permanent to toss out. I’m not sure if my children will keep them long enough to share with their own children, but I really can’t bring myself to be the one to decide that by chucking them. They exist less as a symbol of achievement and more as a spark to memories. When I saw the faceplates and embossing I instantly remembered the event and all the contingent experiences:  where we stayed, the various games, the players and their parents, and the adventures we had. One badge reminded me of the great Starbucks search a group of us parents held before there was an app for that. A handful of us began pulling up the regional Google map on our phones and attempting to navigate in an unfamiliar location to reach our caffeine connection only to look up from our screens to see three other parents crossing the pitch holding the familiar green-logoed cups. Not all memories have to be for the kids. Another trophy reminded me of the final game between Robbie’s old club team and the club team he would join the next year. He scored the one and only goal in that game, defeating a Chicago team who had never lost to his club. When he joined that Chicago team, that’s all the parents could talk about. While the trophy represented an accomplishment, it also represented the atmosphere he entered.

Going through the World Cup collectables I was reminded not only of the competitions dating back to 1998, but of the boys’ reaction to witnessing the matches. Early on they had country allegiances based on favorite players and their own heritage. However as they progressed in the sport they developed more sophisticated interests. Unrolling bracket posters revealed the evolving understanding of soccer the boys had. Rather than picking teams because they were familiar, the boys researched the various teams and chose based more on data than devotion (though England and the USA were always there). I found World Cup booklets filled with notes on things like player and team statistics, outcomes of friendly matches, and bracket analyses. In 2005, Thierry Henry began the Stand Up Speak Up campaign against racism. Nike created wristbands to support the movement, and I found one among the World Cup materials. It was a strong reminder of how important the issue of race was just 10 years ago, and more importantly how much it impacted youth players who witnessed fans taunting some of the best players in world because of their race. That’s not just soccer; it’s a history lesson triggered by a simple band.

Looking through the tournament books I discovered how much we all focused on the outcomes. The books held notes on all the teams in our bracket, their wins, losses and goal differential. The notes visibly demonstrated how we were working out the scenarios that would allow our teams to advance. In some cases the books didn’t print the rules of the tournament, so there were cryptic lines like “FIFA rules” or “unlimited subs” reminding me of those games where Robbie or Bryce played different positions or didn’t play at all because of the rules. The booklets also were a reminder of the level of competition. Both boys competed against players who now are professional and on the Men’s National Team. Seeing the ads posted by proud parents congratulating their child and their child’s team or looking at team photos showed how many great players the boys came across. On occasion they could brag that they defeated those players. At one tournament where the final game came to PKs, Bryce in goal faced a player who just a few weeks before had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the top high school prospect and stopped his shot. That moment wasn’t commemorated by a photo or even a news story, but it was remembered through a college coach’s card stuck between the pages. He’d seen the stop and had expressed interest in recruiting Bryce. A proud moment for sure.

The best reminders are always photos because they steal an instant of an event, which somehow tells a bigger story. There are the tournament photos captured by roving photographers. When I see pictures of Bryce frozen in mid-air going for a save, I am reminded of how intense and athletic he was. When Robbie had dreadlocks, his photos invariably showed them flying behind him which even in a static shot told of his impressive speed. I especially loved coming across the team photos with players holding their medals or trophies or just those wonderful photos taken every year so we could buy copies to send to relatives. The players are always either smiling or acting goofy (occasionally both) bookended by tall, sometimes stern coaches. Looking at them season upon season, I could watch the boys and their friends growing up and slowing turning into men. They were a special reminder of great times, significant friendships and grand adventures. I also love the individual photos kneeling next to a soccer ball or standing with a foot on the ball. Again they create a picture of an entire history of playing. Nothing that shows their abilities or triumphs; just a simple reminder that they grew up playing a sport they loved.

Sometimes when I looked at the piles of soccer keepsakes I had amassed, I would wonder why I so diligently preserved them. I even had stacks of news articles, one sheets of team rosters for high school games, and team schedules. It seemed anything remotely related to the boys’ playing soccer was ferreted away for another day. When I pulled it all out, I got very nostalgic and I was surprised that the boys, seeing some of the stuff, added details I hadn’t been privy to originally. Who knows if they will maintain the giant box of things I saved. They are moving on in their lives and will soon both be finished with playing except the odd pick-up game or recreational adult league. Yet soccer was a significant part of their growing up, so I hope they keep some of the bits and pieces as a way of remembering the best of what transpired. What I am most happy for is that I don’t have any regrets about missing some of the soccer reminders. We all need to bear in mind how easily we can throw things out, but how impossible it is to reconstruct them. So I urge parents to be hoarders. I’m glad I was because it is all here now, even if some of the things found their way to odd hiding places like the kitchen pantry or the garage storage chest. I’m sure that someday we’ll move, and in the winnowing out process I’ll come across other hidden treasures. When that happens they will once again prick my mind and bring me some memories of a wonderful life with my kids.

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Mixed Emotions

Susan Boyd

Despite NBC’s gleeful countdown to their telecast of the Rio Summer Olympics, all is not well. Brazil is suffering serious political, ecological and economic problems, which will impact the summer games and by default our American athletes. President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment, which began with a bribe and graft scandal involving Petrobas Oil, where she is chair the board, and evolved into a condemnation of her handling of the Brazilian budget. Once the scandal broke, Petrobas reported losses of $7 billion due primarily to the number of bribes and kick-backs they had paid out. The stock dropped 30 percent and began an economic tumble in Brazil. Rousseff has been accused of accepting bribes in return for issuing contracts to Petrobas at highly inflated rates. In December, the Brazilian congress heaped on, accusing Rousseff of adjusting government accounts preceding her re-election in 2015 and corrupting the budget. The lower house voted to impeach her and after some confusing political shenanigans by the head of the lower house, first annulling and then reinstating the impeachment vote, the matter went before the upper house. On May 12, the senate agreed to move ahead with Rousseff’s impeachment trial.

This political upheaval on its own might be enough to make competitors wary of participating in the Olympics, but it’s probably the least concerning issue. As Brazil devolves into a political quagmire, it’s the actual ecological muck that is immediately concerning the athletes. In the lagoon selected for several of the events, including the triathlon and open water long distance swimming, raw sewage enters at a higher percentage than fresh water. Several athletes who competed in events here in 2007 came down with serious gastrointestinal diseases, so serious that swimmer Chip Peterson had to eventually have his colon removed. He will probably return this year, but views with skepticism athletes who state that winning a gold medal is worth a little diarrhea. He paid a big price for his infection. Even kayakers, sailors and rowers face severe pollution problems, including garbage debris all along the courses and constant skin exposure to viruses and bacteria through the tiny nicks from scraping their legs and calves on the boat surfaces while rowing. The International Olympic Committee has been trying to quash worries and offer solutions since Brazil has run out of time and money to resolve the situation. Athletes will have access to immediate showers after events along with anti-bacterial cleansers and prompt medical attention. Epidemiologists study the waters, the air, and the soil in an attempt to predict the environments during August, but the task is nearly impossible as the tropical setting changes conditions almost daily, creating data that is contradictory and often unusable. Competitors will have to decide for themselves with limited information whether or not to participate. Balancing years of training against an unknowable health outcome is not ideal or even realistic. Haley Anderson, an open water swimmer, says she will rely on the people she trusts – coaches and U.S. officials – to help her make the decision. Unfortunately, based on quickly changing situations those decisions can’t be made until the last minute. A convergence of heavy rains causing run-offs of sewage-filled waters, high winds pushing garbage into the bays, and low tide allowing trash to accumulate on the surface can’t be predicted. August should be relatively dry, but given the instability of the weather recently, that fact can’t be counted upon.

Athletes who don’t compete anywhere near the water still face concerns about contamination since public water isn’t always treated and food-borne bacteria are prevalent. Even more significantly, a new concern has arisen over the past six months in the form of the Zika virus. Carried by mosquitos, the virus can also be transmitted through sexual contact. It has been implicated in birth defects of the brain, eye sight, and hearing, although there is no definitive proof that babies who experience these got them as a result of Zika. However, the virus does cause mild illness much like the flu, which can be detrimental to athletes without the added dangers of effects on a fetus. Since August is a dry season, Brazil hopes that the mosquito populations will be greatly reduced. They have also engaged an aggressive spraying program to help reduce populations and encouraged citizens to get rid of any stagnant water which is a breeding ground for the pest.

Which finally brings us to soccer. The U.S. Women’s National Team expressed concerns about the health issues in Brazil, and individual members are considering whether or not they will participate. However, at the first announcement of Zika, the team was focusing on a far more immediate grievance. They had lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission against United State Soccer Federation (USSF) for pay discrimination. Their complaint argues that despite doing the same type and amount of work and achieving at their jobs beyond the level of the men they were paid significantly less. That complaint has now moved to a court case in which the WNT has requested the right to set aside their collective bargaining agreement with the USSF and be allowed to strike. If the court rules in their favor, the WNT will have a major decision to make. They have won the last three Olympics and are favored in this summer’s contest. Should they strike and not attend, they will be risking not only their legacy as it relates to the Olympics but their standing as a role model for young soccer players. While the issue of equal pay for equal work is an important issue for women, it’s less pressing for the youth player than a gold medal and national pride. The case went before Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman in federal court in Chicago for first arguments on May 25 and will be under consideration for several weeks. Coleman could issue a ruling or she could require the two sides to go back to the bargaining table. If she does the latter then there will probably be no resolution prior to the Olympic Games. It will then be up to the women to decide how they will proceed. If they opt to strike in defiance of their contract, it could pile lots of bad press on a team that has been nothing but a source of pride for fans. On the other hand, they might opt to forgo the Olympics using the argument that the unsanitary conditions and unstable political environment make the trip unsafe. Their case will be tarnished if they are the only athletes who refuse to go on the basis of the problems at the Olympic venue.

Nevertheless, I am totally on board with the women’s case. In preliminary briefs to the court it was revealed that the men got a $9 million bonus following their World Cup appearance in 2014 although they didn’t make it out of the Round of 16. The women won their 2015 World Cup and only received a $2 million bonus. To be fair, that has a lot to do with payouts from FIFA rather than U.S. Soccer bonuses. Even more significantly, the MNT failed to qualify for the Olympics, although to be fair the rules work against them. Men must be U-23 to play on an Olympic team, reducing the pool of top players. There is no age limit for the women. Practices, games, travel, and personal appearances are parallel in terms of time and effort. What is different is the level of success. The WNT has won consistently, and if they don’t win, they usually make the championship match. They have regularly been underpaid when compared to the men, and they have a clear argument that the discrepancy is totally based on gender, not on ability. In terms of pushing ahead the agenda for equal pay, the WNT holds a significant and supportable position.

Where they differ from the men is on the professional side, where the women’s league is still struggling and the MLS has begun to snag big name players from successful overseas’ teams such as David Beckham, Henry Thierry, and Steven Gerrard. Women don’t have the same draw. The men are also participating in the other big sporting event this summer when the United States hosts the Copa America Centenario, a competition which brings together the national teams of the Americas. If American fans want to see some top level soccer, this is the event to visit this summer. Matches will be held in Houston, Seattle, Santa Clara, East Rutherford, Chicago, and Glendale, beginning June 3 with a match between the U.S. and Colombia. The variety of stadium locations guarantees a large percentage of the population will be within three hours of a match. On the other hand, you’ll need plenty of money. Even seats in the upper reaches will run at minimum $75. The lower level seats will cost in the hundreds of dollars. But you have the opportunity to see players like Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, compete for Argentina, and top players from Mexico, Brazil and Colombia – all eminent soccer powers. Watching the WNT compete in Brazil on TV will be a delight, but seeing these Copa teams live will be stunning. I encourage anyone who can to attend at least one match just to see how powerful the game can be when played at the highest level. Barring that, be sure to catch the matches on Fox, Fox Sports and Univision.

This will be an interesting summer, and like many I have mixed feelings on the Olympics. On the one hand, I look forward to seeing the best compete in so many amazing sports. With Brazil in an accessible time zone, we can look forward to seeing many of the events live. However I absolutely understand the quandary in which the athletes have been placed with all the pollution and political complications. That being said, it is important to note that the Beijing Olympics operated within horrible, choking air pollution, along with some serious safety concerns for athletes and visitors. The Sochi Winter Olympics ran under the veil of serious political unrest in Ukraine, only a few hundred miles away and in venues that were not completed on time. So while we wring our hands looking at Brazil and wonder if they will be ready, we also know that ready or not, Zika or not, contamination or not, the games will go on. The real wild card will be what the WNT decides to do. I’ll be really sad if they strike and don’t attend, but I’ll understand. Some issues are even bigger than a gold medal.

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