Filed under: Hope Solo, Uncategorized | Tags: Alex Morgan, Brasilia, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Italy, Pia Sundhage, Rio de Janeiro, Sweden, U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team, Women's World Cup, XXVIII Olympiad, Zika
The U.S. women, hoping to become the first team to win an Olympic gold medal a year after capturing a World Cup crown, were upset in the quarterfinals by Sweden in Brasilia on penalty kicks, 4-3, following a 1-1 draw.
The Americans had medaled in every Olympic tournament since women’s soccer was introduced to the Games in 1996, but with the loss they were sent home without even seeing Rio de Janeiro, host city of the XXVIII Olympiad and site of soccer’s semifinals and finals.
After the match, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo created a storm by calling the triumphant Swedes “cowards.” Her remarks:
“I thought that we played a courageous game. I thought we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I’m very proud of this team. But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that. I think you saw American heart. You saw us give everything we had today.”
Asked what she meant by “cowards,” Solo responded, “Sweden dropped off. They didn’t want to open play. They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was. They dropped into a 50. They didn’t try and press. They didn’t want to open the game. And they tried to counter with long balls. We had that style of play when Pia (Sundhage, now the Sweden coach) was our coach. I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly. But they won. They’re moving on, and we’re going home.” [August 11]
Comment: Hope Solo has been a polarizing figure her entire international career. Many thought she should have been dropped from the U.S. squad following a 2014 family dust-up that led to two charges of domestic violence against Solo that have yet to be resolved. Or after a 2012 domestic violence incident involving her ex-football player husband in which Solo was injured. Solo also drew chants of “Zika” from the crowd at the USA’s Olympic opener after tweeting before the Olympics photos of a bed covered with bug repellant containers and another of her wearing mosquito netting. (A P.R. faux pas in a country that earlier in her career considered Solo soccer’s reigning beauty queen.) But now she’s gone from being a loose cannon to a disgrace.
That said, she’s absolutely correct in her assessment of what was a humbling defeat for the U.S. The Americans did out-play Sweden, and Sweden did play a negative game, putting nine players behind the ball to neutralize world-class attackers Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan while hoping against hope (no pun intended) that it could produce a counterattack goal, which it did on the hour through Stina Blackstenius to open the scoring. After the U.S. equalized through Morgan with 13 minutes left, Sweden played overtime aiming to hold on and get to PKs.
But if that’s cowardly, then Italy (the men) has been cowardly for about a century. The Italians have prized defense, it’s in their DNA. They are compact, cynically sophisticated and punishing on the tackle. On the other end they have made an art form of the counterattack. And all it’s gotten them is four World Cup championships. It makes Solo’s rip job simply bizarre, because no player with more than 200 caps and 100 shutouts can possibly be that naive. Or maybe it was just Hope being Hope yet again.
The U.S. went to Brazil ranked No. 1 in the world; Sweden was ranked sixth and obviously the underdog going into this match. Sundhage, as the former U.S. coach, knows some of the American players better than they know themselves. Her tactics were correct and they worked.
Sundhage, who had her own issues with Solo back when she was U.S. boss, also got in the last word regarding “cowards.” “I don’t give a crap,” she snapped. “I’m going to Rio, she’s going home.”
Filed under: Lionel Messi, Uncategorized | Tags: 1986 World Cup, 2005 FIFA U-20 World Championship, 2007 Copa America, 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America, Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentina, Bobby Wood, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Copa America Centenario, Cristiano Ronaldo, DeAndre Yedlin, Diego Maradona, El Pibe de Oro, FC Barcelona, FIFA World Player of the Year, Gabriel Batistuta, Geoff Cameron, Giants Stadium, Gold Cup, Gyasi Zardes, Italy, John Brooks, Jozy Altidore, Juergen Klinsmann, La Albiceleste, La Liga, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Michael Bradley, Napoli, Panama, UEFA Champions League, Venezuela
Five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi announced his international retirement immediately after Argentina fell in the Copa America Centenario to Chile on penalty kicks, 4-2, following a scoreless draw at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, before 82,076.
The defeat capped a string of Argentina disappointments for the 29-year-old, including losses in the 2014 World Cup final and the 2007 and 2015 Copa America finals. Although he led La Albiceleste to an under-20 world championship in 2005 and a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he has never claimed a winners’ medal with the senior team.
A back injury caused Messi to miss Argentina’s Copa opener against Chile, but he came off the bench in the second group game, against Panama, and notched a hat trick in just 19 minutes. He scored against Venezuela in the quarterfinals to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentine scoring record of 54, then surpassed it with a brilliant free-kick strike against the U.S. in the semifinals.
However, in the final he was hounded by multiple Chilean defenders for 120 minutes, and he capped a frustrating night by blasting his attempt over the crossbar on Argentina’s first shot in the tiebreaker.
“For me, the national team is over,” the distraught superstar told reporters. “I’ve done all I can. I’ve been in four finals and it hurts not to be a champion. It’s a hard moment for me and the team, and it’s difficult to say, but it’s over with the Argentina team.” [June 26]
Comment I: Perhaps the frustration got the best of him. Maybe his tax problems back in Spain were weighing heavily. Perhaps Messi will take a deep breath and reconsider. (After all, he didn’t quit last year when Argentina lost on a tiebreaker to Chile–and Messi made his PK that day.) But if he doesn’t change his mind, he’ll rue the day.
Messi has never been embraced by his fellow Argentines the way they adore Diego Maradona. Messi left home as a 13-year-old prodigy for FC Barcelona, where he grew as an academy player and went on to win four UEFA Champions League titles and eight Spanish La Liga crowns. In Argentina, he’s been more closely associated with Barca than the sky blue and white, and while Maradona also played for Barcelona (and later became a hero in Italy with Napoli), El Pibe de Oro was the one who delivered the goods, singlehandedly lifting Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship. Messi has no such clout.
If Messi does not change his mind, he will have forfeited any chance to change how he will go down in soccer history. As things stand, he will be recorded as probably the greatest player of his generation, better even than Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. He’ll be regarded as a the third member of Argentina’s holy trinity along with Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano. But, in a world in which kids still look up to their sports heroes, he’ll also be regarded as a quitter. Worse, a coward.
And this with the next World Cup, in Russia, and possible redemption, just two years away.
Comment II: The question concerning the U.S. National Team was whether its Copa America Centenario performance had represented any progress.
Well, a year ago the Americans lost the third-place match at the Gold Cup, making it the fourth-best team in CONCACAF. Now it’s lost the third-place game at the Copa America, technically making it the fourth-best team in South America. What fourth-place mantle would you rather wear?
On a practical front, the mad scientist, coach Juergen Klinsmann, stopped with the tinkering and would’ve trotted out the same lineup throughout the tournament were it not for suspensions and injuries. Young center back John Brooks grew into a genuine partnership with Geoff Cameron and was rewarded with a spot on the Copa America Centenario Best XI team, the only player from the U.S.–or Mexico–so honored. Bobby Wood graduated from minor pest up front to major concern and will challenge Jozy Altidore for playing time in the future.
But then there were the questions raised over the course of the tournament. Such as, will young right back DeAndre Yedlin couple his scintillating runs forward with some reliable defense? Will Gyasi Zardes continue to have the first touch of a block of cement? Will Michael Bradley’s skills as midfield maestro continue to erode? Will 33-year-old Clint Dempsey, who scored three goals at the Copa to close to within five goals of Landon Donovan’s U.S. career record of 57, continue to defy Father Time?
Those are the questions that matter. They were raised at the Copa, not answered, but perhaps they’ll be answered where it really counts, when the U.S. resumes World Cup qualifying for Russia ’18, in September.
Filed under: Leicester City, Uncategorized | Tags: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Blackburn Rovers, Bournemouth, Brighton, Championship League, Chelsea, Claudio Ranieri, Derby County, English F.A. Cup, English First Division, English League Cup, English Premier League, Europa League, FC Barcelona, Filberts, Foxes, Germany, Hull, Kasey Keller, La Liga, Leicester City, Liverpool, Major League Soccer, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Nigel Pearson, Norwich, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA Champions League, Villarreal
Leicester City, a 5,000-to-1 shot to win it all at the beginning of the 2015-16 English Premier League campaign, pulled off the near-impossible when its closest challenger, Tottenham Hotspur, came from ahead to tie host Chelsea, 2-2, allowing the Foxes to assume a seven-point lead with two matches remaining.
It was the first top-division championship in the 132-year history of Leicester, which had not finished higher than second in the then-English First Division since 1929. A four-time loser in the English F.A. Cup final, its trophy case previously consisted of English League Cups won in 1964, 1997 and 2000.
The Foxes–or Filberts, take your pick–were on the verge of relegation this time last year, but the unfashionable club from the English Midlands won seven of its last nine matches under then-coach Nigel Pearson. It was an omen that this band of unknowns, with ex-Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri hired to replace Pearson during the summer, had bigger things in store this season. [May 2]
Comment I: Leicester City, previously known on these shores only as the club for whom U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller once toiled in relative anonymity (1996-99), indeed took the EPL by surprise. The Foxes were a true party crasher, finishing ahead of the usual suspects named Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
So Leicester’s surprise climb to the top was amazing, fun, worth a headline or two even in the U.S. sports pages, and a refreshing break from the usual routine, which has seen previous EPL titles–since the Premier League was created in 1992–go to Manchester United 13 times, Chelsea four times, Arsenal three, Manchester City twice and Blackburn Rovers once. And it sent a wave of hope rolling across the country, lapping up against fans of clubs as pitiful as Middlesbrough, Brighton, Hull, Derby County, Norwich, Sunderland, Bournemouth–for such a small country, the list is long.
But it serves as a lesson in America, where Major League Soccer, now at 20 teams, has designs on expanding soon to 28. This isn’t about dilution of talent, it’s about dilution of interest.
The reason leagues like the EPL can hold their public’s interest with–usually–one of the same small cluster of clubs finishing first year after year is because of promotion/relegation. No season is completely uninteresting for the fan of a mediocre-to-poor club as long as there’s the thrill of booing a perennial bully and the terror of dropping into the second division, or the generously named “Championship League.”
Without promotion/relegation, a bloated MLS runs the risk of being saddled with a dozen or more clubs that endure years–decades, even–in which they neither truly contend for a championship nor get punished for their mediocrity. Death by boredom.
Will MLS ever adopt promotion/relegation? No. But perhaps it will reconsider its race to over-expansion, or at least try to publicly offer a justification for its “bigger is better” approach to running a soccer league.
Comment II: The point was made in some quarters that outsider Leicester rolled to its 22-3-11 record and the league crown partly because it could keep its eyes on the prize while EPL royalty was wrung out by pesky midweek UEFA Champions League and Europa League commitments.
Or, in other words, the EPL’s top clubs sure are impressive, but they don’t win in Europe because winning the lucrative Premiership is Job One and they don’t have the luxury of playing in a league that’s dominated by one club (Germany, Bayern Munich) or two (Spain, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid). Alas, they have to play one another on Saturdays, so the pursuit of Continental silverware is an afterthought left for midweek nights at faraway places.
That’s an excuse that England would do well to retire.
Deep pockets mean player depth, which means the means to get through league, domestic cup and European cup matches, and there are few clubs more wealthy than England’s big five. If need be, they can just study Spain’s La Liga, where teams manage to find a way to win a variety of trophies or at least come within touching distance. The UEFA Champions League final will feature, for the second time in three years, two clubs from one city, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, one year after FC Barcelona came out on top. Atletico won Europa League crowns in 2010 and 2012, and Sevilla, a Europa League winner in 2006 and ’07, just won its third consecutive Europa title, beating Spanish rival Villarreal in the semifinal. And all these clubs had the wherewithal to compete in La Liga, a league that’s supposedly FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and a bunch of nobodies.
Filed under: Johan Cruyff, Uncategorized | Tags: Ajax Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Andres Iniesta, Ballon d'Or, Clockwork Orange, Copa del Rey, Dennis Bergkamp, Diego Maradona, Dutch National Team, Eredivisie, European Player of the Year, FC Barcelona, Feyenoord, France, Frank De Boer, Frank Rijkaard, Johan Cruyff, La Liga, Lionel Messi, Marc Overmars, Marco Van Basten, Netherlands, Pele, Rinus Michels, Ronald De Boer, Total Football, West Germany, Xavi
Johan Cruyff, the Dutch genius credited with helping to reinvent the game in the 1970s, has died in Barcelona at age 68, a victim of lung cancer.
Tributes poured in from around the world for the three-time European Player of the Year.
“Johan Cruyff was a great player and coach,” said Pele. “He leaves a very important legacy for our family of football. We have lost a great man.”
“We will never forget you, mate,” said Diego Maradona, and Lionel Messi added, “Another legend left us today.”
A longtime smoker, Cruyff had said last month that he was feeling “very positive” after undergoing treatment for his cancer. A minor heart attack in 1991 led to two bypass operations, yet it took another coronary scare six years later for Cruyff to kick the habit for good.
A friendly between the Netherlands and France the following day in Amsterdam was halted in the 14th minute for a moment of silence–which became a minute of respectful applause–in memory of Cruyff, who as a player famously wore No. 14. [March 25]
Comment: Cruyff was arguably the first true soccer superstar produced by Europe. The list of his accomplishments is long, highlighted by European Cups with Ajax Amsterdam in 1971, ’72 and ’73, the hat trick of Ballon d’Ors in 1971, ’73 and ’74, eight Eredivisie championships with Ajax, a La Liga crown and Copa del Rey while with FC Barcelona and, for good measure, a Dutch league-cup double with archival Feyenoord after Ajax decided that Cruyff, at 37, was too old and let him go.
But Cruyff will be best remembered for his impeccable skill, the graceful long-legged gait coupled with tremendous balance, the intelligence, the superhuman vision, and the burning desire to not just win but to win attractively. His partnership with coach Rinus Michels at Ajax and with the Dutch National Team ushered in the era of “Total Football,” where every player was virtually interchangeable rather than a specialist confined to a single role. Each man had to be versatile, and Cruyff was the most versatile of them all, defending smartly when needed, controlling the midfield with impeccable ball possession here or a perfectly threaded pass there, and, in the final third, scoring with some of the most audacious shots ever seen (392 goals in 520 matches over 19 years). Cruyff and the Netherlands team dubbed “Clockwork Orange” may have lost the 1974 World Cup final to host West Germany, but they were the revelation of the tournament, spawning Total Football imitators worldwide.
Upon retirement as a player, Cruyff became that rarest of coaches: a former superstar who could effectively translate what he could once do as a player to what he wanted of his charges. He already proved as a rookie manager for Ajax in 1985 that he had an eye for talent, eventually unearthing gold nuggets Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and the De Boer brothers. Beginning in 1988, he guided FC Barcelona over eight years to four La Liga titles and its first-ever European Cup crown, in 1992. But more important, as someone who had been nurtured in Ajax’s groundbreaking youth development system, he introduced the same pipeline at Barca, a conveyor belt of talent that ultimately produced the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Messi.
Cruyff’s greatest achievement, however, may have been his contribution to soccer fans who are smokers. He came from a time when players smoked in the team room after a rigorous workout and the coach nervously puffed away on the bench during a match. Cruyff caught the fans’ attention after his second heart scare, when he appeared on television in a public service announcement in which he juggled a pack of cigarettes while delivering an anti-smoking pitch before kicking the pack away in disgust. (The pitch: “I’ve had two addictions in my life–smoking and playing football. Football has given me everything, whilst smoking almost took it all away.”) But now he’s punctuated the dangers of smoking with his death. To those who saw Cruyff mesmerize on the field but still light up and to the many unfortunates who never saw him play and now vape, it’s never too early to quit.
Filed under: Gianni Infantino, Uncategorized | Tags: 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Andorra, Arab Spring, Asian Football Confederation, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil '14, Brig, Cameroon, Dutch East Indies, European Championship, FIFA, FIFA Council, FIFA Executive Committee, France, France '98, Gianni Infantino, Honduras, Jerome Champagne, Joao Havelange, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Michel Platini, NCAA basketball tournament, Prince Ali, Qatar, Russia, San Marino, Sepp Blatter, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim, South Korea, UEFA, UEFA general secretary, Visp, World Cup, Zaire, Zurich
A dark horse candidate–Michel Platini’s lieutenant at the UEFA–emerged as the victor in a tense, six-hour FIFA presidential election in Zurich as member nations sought to put behind them years of scandal that cost Sepp Blatter his job as world soccer boss and led to the indictment of 41 soccer officials and marketing agencies.
Gianni Infantino, an Italian-Swiss attorney who grew up in the Alpine Village of Brig–just seven miles from Blatter’s hometown of Visp–surprisingly finished first in the initial balloting, attracting 88 votes to 85 for the favorite, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim of Bahrain, 27 for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan and seven for Jerome Champagne of France. With no one having won a two-thirds majority, that set up a second ballot for the first time in 42 years, and with a simple majority of the 104 votes needed, Infantino out-polled Salman, 115 to 88. Ali received four votes and Champagne none.
Salman, the head of the Asian Football Confederation, was the front-runner during the four-month campaign, but he apparently was undone by concerns over his actions during the Arab Spring riots of 2011. Infantino only entered the race in October to hold a place for Platini, who was under investigation for financial wrongdoing and ultimately was banned from soccer activities by FIFA for six years.
Infantino, 45, will be president until May 2019, completing Blatter’s term. Blatter resigned under pressure last May, four days after winning a fifth four-year term as FIFA chief. He subsequently was banned for eight years–later reduced to six–for financial mismanagement related to his dealings with Platini.
Before the election the member federations approved a wide-ranging slate of reforms intended to increase transparency, foster greater inclusion and restore the confidence of sponsors. Among them, FIFA presidents will be limited to three four-year teams, and the FIFA Executive Committee will be expanded from 24 to 36 members (six of whom must be women) and renamed the FIFA Council. [February 26]
Comment: Best of luck to Infantino in righting the FIFA ship. But beware of another Swiss bearing gifts.
Just as Blatter before him and Brazilian Joao Havelange before him, Infantino assumes the world soccer throne having made offers to please the have-nots among the membership, including more funding steered in their direction from the $5 billion taken in by the 2014 World Cup. But for those who consider the World Cup the greatest of all sporting events, what’s troubling is Infantino’s stance that the tournament be expanded from 32 finalists to 40.
It doesn’t seem like much: eight extra nations, probably 10 groups of four teams instead of the eight groups of four at Brazil ’14 and every World Cup since France ’98. But does international soccer’s biggest stage really need an additional eight no-hopers, eight teams that under today’s format wouldn’t have even been strong enough to earn the opportunity to finish last in a World Cup first-round group?
World Cups have had contenders who hadn’t a prayer of even surviving the opening round of a 16-nation tournament, from Dutch East Indies in 1938 and South Korea (0 goals for, 16 against, in two matches) in 1954 to Zaire (a 9-0 loser to Yugoslavia) in 1974. But while the balance of power around the world has improved, FIFA has maintained the World Cup gap between the strongest nations and the rest by expanding the tournament, first to 24 nations in 1982, then the present 32 in ’98. As a result, the finals remains diluted, and we get performances like those of Cameroon, Australia and Honduras two years ago, which went a combined 0-9-0 with five goals scored and 26 conceded. That amounted to matches not worth watching on what is the sport’s grand stage.
The parameters for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and ’22 in Qatar have already been set, so the first time Infantino could spring a 40-nation tournament on the world wouldn’t be possible until 2026, whose host–the U.S., perhaps–has yet to be determined. But Americans already have seen how these things get out of control. The NCAA basketball tournament started modestly enough in 1939 as an eight-school affair. Within a dozen years it had been expanded to 16, then doubled again in 1975. Four years after that it was 40, and the year after that 48. It has since grown by degrees to 68 schools, and for the past five years there has been pressure to expand it to 128. And the driving force behind this amazing expansion has been–no surprise here–television money.
Infantino has to lead the reform of FIFA while his organization deals with a current deficit of $108 million. A tall order. Should he win a term in his own right, he’d have the opportunity to make a 40-nation World Cup a reality in 2026. And he would know how to get it done. In his previous post, as UEFA general secretary, Infantino oversaw the expansion of the European Championship from 16 teams to 24. If that seems bloated, it is: That’s nearly half the UEFA’s membership of 54 nations. Ridiculous, but countries like San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra can dream, now, can’t they? And soccer fans who want to watch a competition like the Euro Championship that offers the highest possible quality can hope that no-hopers like that continue to be able to do nothing more than dream.
Filed under: U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team, Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Alex Morgan, Algarve Cup, Athens, Atlanta, Barcelona, Canada, Carli Lloyd, Colombia, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Crystal Dunn, Diego Simeone, England, France, Frisco, Houston, Hungary, International Olympic Committee, Ivan Zamorano, Los Angeles, Mexico, Paris, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Socca Princesses, St. Louis, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, United States
The defending champion United States stormed into the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic women’s soccer tournament, crushing Trinidad & Tobago, 5-0, in Houston in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifiers.
Canada defeated Costa Rica, 3-1, in its semifinal earlier in the day to secure the region’s other berth in Rio and set up a tournament championship match with the U.S. on February 21.
Forward Alex Morgan posted a hat trick against the Socca Princesses, eight days after she scored two goals–the first one in the 12th second–in the Americans’ group-opening 5-0 rout of Costa Rica in Frisco, Tex. Three days after the Costa Rica win, reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd scored off a rebound of her own penalty kick in the 86th minute to allow the U.S. to squeeze past a bunkered-in Mexico, 1-0, and earn a spot in the semifinals. The Americans then won the group by pounding Puerto Rico, 10-0, on a night when young forward Crystal Dunn tied a U.S. women’s record with five goals.
The U.S., 17-0-1 all-time in Olympic qualifying, is seeking its fourth consecutive CONCACAF title against Canada, a team that is 3-46-6 all-time against it southern neighbor. [February 19]
Comment: Consider this the first time an American has suggested that the rest of the soccer-playing world deserves a break on the playing field at the expense of the United States.
That is, now that women’s soccer is a firmly established Olympic sport, it should be changed to a competition for players 22 and younger, with three over-age players per team. Just like the men.
Men’s soccer has had a roller coaster history in the Olympics. Its start was pretty ragged: scores from the very first modern Olympiad, Athens in 1896, have been lost, and the 1904 St. Louis Olympic tournament was a five-match affair involving club teams from Canada and the U.S. By Paris ’24, however, the event had grown into something of a world football championship, and after Uruguay dazzled in winning consecutive gold medals, FIFA was compelled to create its World Cup in 1930 so both amateurs and professionals could compete.
With the end of World War II came a long, dark period in which communist bloc countries, with their state-supported “amateur” athletes, dominated Olympic soccer. Hungary, for one, claimed three golds. It wasn’t until the 1984 Los Angeles Games that the International Olympic Committee allowed limited professionalism in soccer, and finally the other shoe dropped when the ’92 Barcelona tournament was transformed into an under-23 competition for players regardless of whether they are amateurs or professionals.
The IOC had resisted such a move because it feared a loss of interest in its cash cow event if it made it an age-specific competition. Such an event couldn’t possibly draw 1.4 million spectators, like it did at Los Angeles ’84. But there’s nothing in sports like the Olympics. And the three-overage player allowance gave Olympic spectators the chance to see old hands like Rivaldo, Ryan Giggs, Diego Simeone, Ronaldinho and Ivan Zamorano. It’s worked. Fans appear to have accepted an under-23 world championship–as long as it’s wrapped in the Olympic flag.
Now, the women–with the considerable pressure that FIFA could apply–would do well to follow suit. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was played in 1991 in China; the first women’s Olympic tournament at Atlanta ’96. Since then we’ve had two competing women’s world soccer championships played on consecutive years followed by two off years, one a stand-alone event involving 24 nations and one half that big that’s buried among some two dozen other Olympic sporting events. Throw in the Algarve Cup, a prestigious 12-nation invitational tournament played every spring in Portugal, and the number of women’s “world soccer championships” is too many.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada demonstrated that there is a pipeline of nations challenging the established powers. Last year it was Colombia, Switzerland and Costa Rica, and in years past it was France and England and Canada. The women’s Olympic tournament, as a U-23 affair, could expedite that trend by giving the next wave of young standouts a major stage with something precious–an Olympic medal–as an incentive.
So, is this a major concession on the part of an American who’s seen his women’s national team win four of the first five Olympic golds (and lose a fifth to Norway because of a non-handball call in overtime on the deciding goal) to go along with three FIFA World Cup titles? No. The U.S., due to recent retirements, injuries and pregnancies, blew its way through CONCACAF to an Olympic berth this week with a 20-member team that averaged 24 years of age. The U.S. would be quite prepared for a world championship for under-23s.
A similar concession by an American regarding men’s soccer? Check back in, oh, say, 2116.
Filed under: Liverpool FC, Uncategorized | Tags: Anfield, Borussia Dortmund, David Cameron, English Premier League, Fenway Sports Group, House of Commons, John Henry, Liverpool FC, Major League Baseball, Mike Gordon, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Sunderland, Team Marketing Report, Tom Werner
The owners of Liverpool FC have backed down from plans for a significant hike in ticket prices and apologized to the club’s fans, insisting they are not greedy.
The club’s supporters were outraged when they learned recently that some tickets for next season would be increased to $112 (that’s 77 pounds). At Liverpool’s next match at Anfield, on February 6 against Sunderland, 10,000 spectators staged a walkout in the 77th minute. Their club was cruising along with a 2-0 lead at the time, but Liverpool gave up two late goals in front of thousands of empty seats and limped away with a point.
“On behalf of everyone at Fenway Sports Group and Liverpool Football Club, we would like to apologize for the distress caused by our ticket pricing plan for the 2016-17 season,” read a letter to fans by ownership, which announced the most expensive ticket will remain frozen at 59 pounds (that’s about $86).
The fan revolt came at a time when ticket prices throughout the English Premier League are on the rise despite clubs being increasingly less reliant on fan admissions. Next year, a new three-year television deal will kick in in which clubs will share $12 billion.
“There is a problem here where some teams and some clubs put up prices very rapidly every year, even though some of the money for football actually comes through the sponsorship and the equipment,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons the day of Liverpool’s backdown, in response to a question about the prospect of walkouts elsewhere in the EPL. [February 10]
Comment: Fan power, on a scale unknown in the United States.
American sports fans have every reason to follow suit. According to Team Marketing Report, the average ticket in the National Football League, whose teams play eight home games each, is in the neighborhood of $82. In the National Hockey League (82 games), it’s more than $62; in the National Basketball Association (41 games), $54; in Major League Baseball (81 games), $28. Which means a family of four in the rapidly shrinking U.S. middle class cannot afford to attend a game. And these are leagues, like the EPL, whose revenue from TV and licensing dwarfs the money that comes in from the box office.
But these fans won’t revolt. That’s not the American way. Or at least American sports fans are completely unorganized compared to their soccer colleagues overseas. Soccer fans sing and chant for 90 minutes each weekend; they stand and turn their backs, literally, on their team when it plays poorly; their pressure gets coaches fired and club presidents replaced. The same week that Fenway Sports Group was furiously back-pendaling, in Germany fans of Borussia Dortmund, angered over an increase in ticket prices, threw tennis balls onto the field during a match and displayed a sign, “Football Must Be More Affordable.” Americans? Over the past 35 years, after player strikes or lockouts that have affected all four sports, outraged American fans can’t pull off even a limp boycott or other half-hearted demonstration to make their displeasure known.
Liverpool’s owners, in particular, had better hope that American fans remain sheep-like. Fenway Sports Group–headed by John Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon–also owns baseball’s Boston Red Sox, whose fans are among the most passionate in the world and where ticket prices average $52. Henry and his pals were admittedly shaken by the Liverpool walkout, and what better place for gouged American ticket buyers to shake their stupor than the home of the original American revolution?
As for the one sports league here where large blocks of the fans are loyal, loud, highly organized, feeling empowered and quite capable of a walkout or other, similar action if displeased, Major League Soccer tickets average a still-reasonable $28 and don’t seem in danger of a startling price hike anytime soon. As American sports fans go, MLS clubs, including the New England Revolution, are best to leave them undisturbed.