Section 8 faithful Tom Dunmore shows his support for the Red Stars.
The guys and gals in the Chicago Fire Supporter’s organization, Section 8, have taken a HUGE initiative here in Chicago:
Part in parcel with the enthusiasm from the woman’s team performance and in recognition of the upcoming inaugural season of Woman’s Professional Soccer (WPS) and the Chicago Red Stars, it is an honor to announce the formation of the Red Star Supporters. The Red Star Supporters is an interim organization that will serve to build a fan base for the Chicago Red Stars and women’s sports in the Chicagoland area, and help establish a permanent supporters group that will begin operations some time next year.
A board will be chosen from the initial membership and will begin establishing a database of potential supporters. Such a database will be used to distribute news and information on upcoming events and matches. In addition, the organization will raise funds through donations and sales of goods for future projects and charitable offerings.
This post is in response to the Guardian.co.uk article published on August 18th titled, “New US league targeting our players, Arsenal warn.”
Anyone who knows me will say that my one true ambition in life is to help develop the game of women’s soccer. I believe that the advent of Women’s Professional Soccer here in America, which sets as its mission to be “the global standard by which all leagues around the world are measured,” will do more to encourage women’s leagues, teams and players than anything else the world over.
In his article, Leighton rightly identifies WPS as the successor to the “ill-fated” Women’s United Soccer Association that suspended operations in 2003. However, let’s be clear that WPS is not WUSA. The 1999 Women’s World Cup saw nearly 100,000 fans packed into the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, CA. This brought hope, pride and celebration to the world, and from this, an American women’s soccer league (WUSA) was born. However, trying to run a start-up league on a Madison Avenue budget with an office in downtown Manhattan, salaries for executives and players that had no relationship to actual income streams, and questionable business decisions – for instance the national television contract with Pax – all combined to sink the venture.
What’s changed? Tonya Antonucci’s incredible diligence over the past five years brought together both a group of investors in multiple markets and a viable business model where each franchise is owned by local investor groups with proven success on a myriad of fronts. These organizations, in conjunction with the league, have developed a plan for fiscal success that adds smaller venues, tighter budgets, grassroots efforts and viral marketing tactics to the strength of local ownership groups.
Baseball failed in America the first time around. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. It took Abraham Lincoln 30 years to achieve his dream of becoming President of the United States. Americans don’t lay down easily – we fight onward and upward. WUSA didn’t work here because the business model lacked foresight and experience. WPS will work, and the local individual ownership groups will ensure its longevity.
The article further states, “Several England internationals are being headhunted with the carrot of professional contracts.” Yes, WPS will in fact be offering well-deserved professional contracts. These are women who have spent their entire lives in pursuit of a dream to become top-tier professional athletes. Sadly, they’ve been halted because there hasn’t been a realistic option for them to play soccer on a full-time, professional basis. Many women have been playing at semi-professional levels for years, both in America and abroad, in anticipation of this opportunity. They’ve been washing men’s kits, shining their boots and coaching youth soccer camps to make ends meet.
The U.S. “headhunting” has prompted the English FA to call an emergency meeting to change their current format in an attempt to retain players. According to Peter Hough, the Premier League chairman, “We are hoping to create full-time opportunities for girls in English clubs and we will do all we can to retain the players.” This is a tremendous statement, and perhaps a very positive step. If I was sitting in a room with Hough, here are the five questions I’d ask:
1. Why now? Has the threat of Women’s Professional Soccer in America prompted this change?
2. Why the sudden and heavy focus on retaining talent, when instead you could be building a system that fosters and develops the next generation of stars – both English and foreign – in a positive and competitive environment?
3. WPS has been planning their business model for five years, and with the experience of a previous league behind them, has at least ten years of combined work. What sustainable foundation will the FA be able to put in place with this sudden intervention?
4. What kinds of opportunities will you be providing? Will the FA give the girls contracts as professional athletes and pay them for their time and talents, or will they still be folding the men’s laundry?
5. Will the FA guarantee that if a Premiership team is relegated, their women’s program will survive? (P.S. Leighton, if you’d like to discuss “ill-fated” teams, how about Charlton Ladies and their demise?)
WPS will create a level of parity across the board that will help to further develop the players’ talents at the highest levels by creating a competitive environment. Of important note, Arsenal is an incredible club with a rich tradition and solid women’s program. Leighton wrote on May 6, 2008, that the FA Cup final produced an “outclassed” Leeds United and Arsenal was able to score “three times inside six minutes in the second period” to claim their ninth FA Cup final victory. Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves how this environment is challenging to top-level players physically, tactically, technically and even spiritually? If it’s a “one-horse race” year-in and year-out, how are the players growing and developing? We learn from adversity; not from a cake-walk.
In Leighton’s article, Vic Akers names four players and claims that “if these girls and other England players go to America, it could set the game here back 10 years.” How strong is your existing league if the departure of four players is that threatening? That’s quite a statement to make about the FA, especially from the manager who’s won ten Premier League Championships, nine FA Women’s Cups, nine FA Women’s Premier League Cups, five FA Women’s Community Shields, seven London County FA Women’s Cups and the UEFA Women’s Cup during the past 20 years.
A reminder here that WPS is restricted to five internationals on each roster, and with seven teams in the League, that equals 35 players from a multitude of countries.
Sure, WPS may not be initially popular around the globe by signing the best players (as Arsenal most certainly couldn’t have been popular with English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish leagues throughout the past ten years by signing their top talents). But hopefully the American league will prompt more countries to put out quality products themselves. If WPS can lead the way by creating this self-sustainable professional women’s league, with multiple franchises based all around the country successfully operating in the black, it will serve as a model for other countries to pick out the parts that work for them and alter their business models to suit their cultures and environments. Just the way the WPS is learning from the successes and shortcomings of existing pro leagues like MLB, NBA, NFL, and MLS, and also the experiences of the Swedes, the Germans, the Dutch, the Chinese, the Australians, and many, many more.
I’m writing this post because I feel that the development of the game itself is really the development of people. It’s important that in this venture to grow the women’s game, we all become part of the solution, not the problem. Let us never forget, it’s about the players. It’s about the pro players, it’s about the college players, it’s about the high school players, and it’s about the millions of little girls and boys playing soccer all around the world. It’s about the women and girls playing basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, and tennis. Developing the world game of soccer is about creating community, nurturing growth and supporting equality.
Peter Wilt was away last week commemorating the rescue of himself, his brother and his father on Lake Superior 40 years ago. Emma Hayes has been away at the Olympics in China. Yesterday, they were both back in the office on the same day… and boy-o-boy did we celebrate! Here are some pics from the barbeque, including the Happy Birthday message we assembled for Marcia, who’s still in China.
Emma Hayes, the Head Coach of the Chicago Red Stars, is in China at the Olympic Games. Today, she blogged about the growing parity among teams at the world level. This post is my response to that blog. Here, I will look at the growth of women’s world soccer, the German development of the game in their home country, and what this means to the American market.
In the 1996 Olympic Games, FIFA reported, “Although Norway produced the expected strong performance and had the Americans on the verge of defeat, Europe lost its dominance in women’s football. The current world champions [Norway] were the only team to come up to expectation and win a medal.”
The final between the USA and PR China grew a record-setting crowd of 76,489. This record was beaten three years later by the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup with the same teams before a crowd of 90,000 in Pasadena, CA.
The Olympics in Sydney 2000 saw Norway defeat the favored United States in an exhilarating final match. FIFA reports, “The quality of football on display was also of a very high standard, and the outcome a major surprise. Despite China’s elimination in the first round it was Sun Wen who finished the tournament as top scorer with four goals. Germany came in third after beating Brazil in the play-off and also won the Fair Play trophy.”
Again in Athens 2004, we saw the emergence of better soccer. The “Women’s football heavyweights, USA, looked out for the count on more than one occasion, but coach April Heinrich’s experienced team came back off the ropes to beat Brazil 2-1 after extra time and add a second Olympic title to the gold medal won at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The Americans struggled for long periods in the Final and saw the woodwork come to their rescue twice as the aggressive and mobile South Americans, now unquestionably one of the world’s top teams, piled on the pressure only for the USA to cheat the hangman’s noose once again.”
Brazil were not the only team to show evidence of rapid progress in the middle reaches of international soccer. “Mexico, Nigeria, Japan and Australia have all taken great strides, although the Greek hosts’ lack of experience made them cannon fodder for the big guns. World champions Germany finished with bronze after a 1-0 victory in the third-place play-off against Sweden, but there will be much wringing of hands in the Chinese camp after a feeble first-round exit.”
Through these analyses, we can see that emergence of multiple soccer countries, and the greater parity between them at the highest levels. FIFA went so far to say, “The  Women’s Olympic Football Tournament marked an end to the former, clearly defined hierarchy once and for all.”
If we were keeping a running score, it might look something like this:
1991 China, WWC: USA 1 – World 0 (USA)
1995 Sweden, WWC: USA 1 – World 1 (Norway)
1996 Atlanta Olympics: USA 2 – World 1 (USA)
1999 USA WWC: USA 3 – World 1 (USA)
2000 Sydney Olympics: USA 3 – World 2 (Norway)
2003 USA WWC: USA 3 – World 3 (Germany)
2004 Athens Olympics: USA 4 – World 3 (USA)
2007 China WWC: USA 4 – World 4 (Germany) 2008, USA ? – World ?
A 2006 FIFA report called “Big Count” reported that the number of registered female players around the world is up 54 per cent to 4.1 million. Click here for the cold hard numbers.
With 265 million male and female players and a further five million referees, coaches and other officials, a grand total of 270 million people, or four per cent of the world’s population are involved in football.
“Football’s popularity remains undiminished and is actually increasing,” reflected FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter with satisfaction on the results of the survey. “If you count the relatives and close friends of active participants in football, who share in their passion for the game as fans and support them in other ways, the total number is even more impressive: well over a billion people worldwide are involved in football – at all levels of society and across all borders.”
The overall total of 265 million male and female players is almost ten per cent higher than the number recorded six years ago (242 million). Of the 265 million, 26 million or around ten per cent are women. In 2000, that number was 20.1 million.
I find the Germans a particularly interesting study. In Germany, there are 1,870,633 registered female players, a fraction of the 7 million registered female players in America. How, then, in recent years, has Germany overtaken America’s place at the most dominant team in the world?
My answer: The Bundesliga.
The Germans are the current world champs, and are the favorites at the 2008 Women’s Olympic Games, in striking contrast to their group stage exit at Atlanta 1996 and bronze at Sydney 2000, and Athens.
FIFA reports, “Germany’s progress to the global summit of the women’s game was as impressive as it was inexorable. The reigning European champions did not concede a single goal on their way to defending the game’s top prize at the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007.”
Check out this video, the first of ten 10-minute documentaries about the German National Team. Pay particular attention to the level of detail and precision in their training – they use all the most advanced techniques from dynamic movements to body-weight resistance training to hours and hours of technical work on the ball. (You can go to YouTube to check out the additional 9 videos. Totally worth the time and subtitles.)
Germany has developed a comprehensive program for their players to compete year-round, at a very high level, through the Bundesliga.
The German Women’s Bundesliga was created, based on the model of the men’s Bundesliga, in 1991 by the German Football Association (DFB), and in 1997 it became a uniform league. There are 12 teams, and at the end of a season the clubs finishing 11th and 12th are replaced with the 2 winners of the second division. A Bundesliga season consists of two rounds with 22 games combined, with seasons running from August or September and ending in May or June.
That’s nearly a year-round schedule where the Germans are playing high-level competition day-in and day-out.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
How does the American calendar compare to the Germans? Few Americans are playing in high-level, year-round leagues. We have the W-League and the WPSL, which both harbor exceptional talent, but the cream of the crop – the top US players – don’t play here. They basically live in US residency camps, which are both frequent and lengthy.
While this is certainly a positive because our National Team is constantly exposed to amazing coaching and international competition, the system doesn’t allow them to train against anybody but, well themselves, domestically. In contrast, the Germans’ Bundesliga constantly challenges and develops overall soccer awareness in their players because they’re adjusting to different teams, styles of play and environments.
Don’t get me wrong. Our girls train their butts off. Have you seen any of the Studio 90 videos where they’re performing the beep test? Wow! But the Germans are also training. The Germans are also playing a full international schedule. That’s where they have a leg up – they’re also playing a full domestic schedule.
So America may be at the top in terms of the size of our player pool (in millions), but the game at the very top level demonstrates the need for a competitive league here in America for us to stay on top (it feel like I should be writing “for us to keep up” here instead).
On a side note, I am also particularly interested in the fact that the Germans are also coached by a German woman, Silvia Neid, a former national team stand-out player. The USA has hired a Swede to lead the development of our team at present. Sweden is another country with a very strong domestic women’s league, and in fact Pia Sundhage was a stand-out player for them as a top goal scorer in the history of the national team, scoring 71 goals in 146 games.
OTHER COUNTRIES ON THE RISE
Stephanie Pilard, France’s U19 National Team Coach, says, “Future development depends on giving players a steeper learning curve in terms of top level matches.” In the French league, top players train and study at one central location during the week, but go to their respective clubs on the weekend to compete. France’s Lyon has been a successful benefactor of this system, seeing considerable success in the UEFA Women’s Cup.
Karen Espelund of Norway writes, “An interesting development in Norway, where, for the first time, a women’s premier league, Klepp, has built it’s own stadium – and it seems likely that other teams will follow suit.” Norway defeated the USA 2-0 in their 2008 Olympic opener.
The Netherlands has formed a new professional league under the leadership of National Team Coach Vera Pauw. “The ultimate objective is to develop an elite sport structure and culture, and in the longer term, to perform at the International level with our “A” squad.” Their league consists of 6 senior clubs which play one another 4 times throughout the year. All teams are associated with a professional side in the KNVB.
England has a complex system within their domestic programming, but the highest level is the FA Women’s Premier League National Division. The league is played on a home and away basis, with each team playing each other twice, and points being awarded in the standard football format. Arsenal’s has won every domestic title England has to offer. Emma Hayes is their former Assistant Coach.
In this post, I haven’t even touched on Eastern, African and South American countries… both of which are seeing tremendous growth. More to follow on this, but an interesting case study is that of Argentina, which allowed 18 goals in the 2007 World Cup, but this 2008 Olympics they’ve only allowed 3 goals so far. “There has been improvement,” Marisa Gerez told FIFA.com after a slim 2-1 loss in their opener with Canada. “We have gotten better since previous tournaments and we are here to try and show that we can play football and compete with the other countries.”
To close our this post, I’ll refer back to Emma Hayes’ blog. While in China watching the Brazil, Germany, North Korea and Nigeria group, she writes, “Teams are becoming fitter, more organized, have more strength in depth and have more experiences at the highest level and that will provide even more changes in the pecking order of the Women’s game. I believe so strongly, that not only is the WPS going to be an incredible product for the world to see but will be an absolute necessity for our players in the USA to continue competing against the world’s best on a regular basis.”
“I believe so strongly, that not only is the WPS going to be an incredible product for the world to see but will be an absolute necessity for our players in the USA to continue competing against the world’s best on a regular basis.”
Written by Emma Hayes from the 2008 Olympic Games in China, on her blog.
I was computer-nerding out in Google Analytics this afternoon, and saw that ooosasoccer.com sends a good percentage of traffic over to the WPS homepage. I thought this was interesting considering that ooosasoccer.com is dead (ok, well maybe just in hiatus since its author, Karyn Lush, started working at the WPS League office).
I got excited and thought, maybe, just maybe, she’s found some time to update the page and replenish the international news feed we’ve all learned to rely on and love so much. So I took a hop, skip and a jump over to her page. Sadly, the headstone still reads 2008.03.29.
However, the silver lining was that for the first time, I clicked on the big red button living on the left sidebar that reads “China 1991 – The Birth of a Legacy”. I found a .pdf with some GREAT history of the US National Team. Click here to open the page, it’s totally worth the read.
Here’s a sliver from the first chapter:
The Birth of a Legacy
The Story of the 1991 National Team
By Karyn Lush
(August 2007) – Beginnings sometimes get overlooked.
Embryonic events can be obscured. Nascent signals can be concealed. Burgeoning significance can be misplaced.
Consider the start of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s legacy as evidence. What do you see?
Brandi Chastain lacing a penalty kick into the back of the net, whipping off her shirt to expose a black Nike sports bra, twirling her jersey in the air, falling to her knees, clenching her hands and unleashing a scream only to be drowned out by the cheers of 90,185 fans.
No, the pedigree of a dominant champion was not born on the Rose Bowl floor on a hot July afternoon in 1999 with an estimated 40 million viewers watching on ABC. Go back further.[…]
The true seeds of the legacy are found in the saga of the 1991 National Team when a handful of female soccer players, a few coaches and team personnel, and a smattering of family and friends traveled to China for the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Championship. There was no added luggage of expectations, media coverage or fan approval. All that accompanied them was a dream to be the first World Champions in women’s soccer.
Today, 08.08.2008… the day of the Opening Games in China, seems a fitting time to remember the events that started it all.
At the 2008 NSCAA Convention in January in Baltimore, Emma Hayes and I presented a session about the Global Growth of the Women’s Game and Reflections on the World Cup. There’s a great bit of history in this Power Point if you want to download it.
First, we covered “ancient history” of the game. We took a look back at the changes in the Women’s Game since the first World Cup, which includes in-depth analysis from FIFA’s exhaustive technical reports. 1991 China… 1995 Sweden… 1999 USA… 2003 USA… 2007 China.
Second, we addressed multiple modern developments in the game, both on the men’s and women’s sides as it’s important to learn from the extensive history of men’s soccer to recognize what kinds of changes may lie ahead for the women. We also bring up things like ball speed, improved playing surfaces, larger player pools, etc. We picked out relevant trends, numbers, and quotes from leading publications and coaches.
Finally, we made some predictions about the future technical and tactical development of the women’s game. From the physiological to the technical and tactical. Even specialists that may enter the game in the coming years.
It’s fair to say that reading the power point on its own is no substitute for discussion, and if you were in the room when Emma presented it to the group of about 250 NSCAA coaches, I have no doubt you would have been impressed. My particular favorite was when she called to Anson Dorrance (the winner of 19 National Championships at UNC Chapel Hill), who was sitting in the back of the room, to ask him about his experience as the Head Coach of the US National Team at the 1991 World Cup in China.
My favorite quote from Anson is on Slide 6: “I felt like I was creating diamonds in my lower intestines from the pressure.”
Bjarne Berntsen, Norway coach
“We’re very satisfied with the win – and yes, it was a dream start. To beat the current gold medal holders and group favourites 2-0 is a fantastic achievement. It was the first time I’ve beaten the USA as a coach and it was the perfect time to do it. We may have had a bit of luck with the two goals, but we limited the USA to a handful of chances – and that was extremely pleasing for me.”
Pia Sundhage, USA coach
My glass is always half-full. I’m glad it’s the first game and not the last, so we’ll take out the good parts and hopefully do better against Japan and New Zealand. Yes, we did make mistakes, but we created some good chances in the second half and made some tactical changes which I think worked out well. I believe that we can still win a medal because of the work and spirit of our players.
Germany 0 – Brazil 0
Silvia Neid, Germany coach
We played very well in the first half. We kept our shape but just couldn’t convert our chances. The second half was very tight but I’ll settle for the point we got. We need to keep collecting points to reach the quarter-finals.
Jorge Barcellos, Brazil coach
Germany were the stronger side today, although we had more possession. Their game plan didn’t really work which meant we had our chances. My players were nervous and it’s a real shame that we couldn’t make the chances count and win the game.
Cristiane, Brazil forward
It’s a pity that I couldn’t convert my chance in the first half. The cross from Marta was just a bit too high for me and I couldn’t get the ball under control.
China 2 – Sweden 1
Shang Ruihua, China coach
This was a very hard game against a very good Swedish team. They are always very difficult to play against and now, with their professional league in place, they are even tougher. There was a lot of pressure on us to play such a strong team in our first game, but my players showed very good fighting spirit today. And I hope this is just the start of more successes against Canada and Argentina.
Thomas Dennerby, Sweden coach
We were made to pay for a few defensive errors today. You can’t make such simple mistakes at this level of football. We did some good things tonight, but we need to tighten our game up a little bit as we look ahead. We were in control for big portions of the game, but when you make big mistakes at this level, you always get punished. I feel, on the overall, that we are better than China, but that counts for nothing.
Argentina 1 – Canada 2
Candace Chapman, Canada defender and scorer
We had a lot of nerves early on. The first goal really went a long way to calming us down. We just tried to settle the ball and play more to find our rhythm as the game wore on. We’re overall a very strong and physical team. Whoever we play against, that will always be our style of play and we’ll try to use it to our advantage.
Jose Borrello, Argentina coach
The Canadian team was much bigger than us and much stronger physically. We decided that we had to play to our strengths and try to stand up to them with our technique and keep the ball on the ground. In the end it didn’t totally work, but we did fairly well and i am proud of the players. We will need to do the same thing next time out when we play a similarly strong Sweden team.
Korea 1 – Nigeria 0
Joseph Lapido, Nigeria coach
That was our first game. The two remaining games against Germany and Brazil will be difficult but we’ll improve with every match. That was just a temporary setback. We’re bottom of the group at the moment but by no means out of it.
Kim Pong Il, Korea DPR coach
The tournament has just begun. We’ve beaten Nigeria 1-0 and now we’ll start preparing ourselves for the games against Brazil and Germany. We won’t let our country down.
Japan 2 – New Zealand 2
Norio Sasaki, Japan coach
We analysed New Zealand’s style and prepared for the game well, but didn’t perform very well. During half-time, I asked the players to play harder, we did better in the second half and I think we got the result we deserved. Before we scored from the penalty, I thought we dominated the match and once we got it to 2-1, we had the confidence to go on and equalise.
John Herdman, New Zealand coach
It is a measure how far we have come, but a sign of how far we still need to go. It was a tough game for us. Japan played with a good flow and rhythm to their game and we could have easily gone away with less. In all honesty, we’ve performed better in some matches and lost them. We need to find a new mental strength for the games against Norway and the US, because we were a little bit naïve today.
Aya Miyama, Japan midfielder
We learned a lot from this match – I think we have to reconsider our tactics. Despite our thorough preparation for this game, we were very nervous in the early stages. It was though our bodies didn’t react to what our minds were telling them to do. We knew how to deal with New Zealand’s tactics, but that did not show.
Jenny Bindon, New Zealand goalkeeper
I was in the zone today. I’ve trained hard for this moment, but so have the team – and the result was a real team effort. The rest of the girls are a bit disappointed at Japan’s comeback, but to get a draw in a match where we didn’t play very well is a good result. We’re a different team now. We’re the same girls, but we have a different spirit and different aims from three years ago.