Kristine Lilly Retires – First Thoughts

Below is the introduction I wrote to an interview with Kristine Lilly back in 2005. Five years and 53 caps later, it still sums up my thoughts on Kristine Lilly pretty well.

Kristine Lilly has come along way in her 18 years on the U.S. Women’s National Team. She started as a shy, teenager who brought along her stuffed tiger on road trips, and has emerged as the undisputed iron woman of soccer accumulating an amazing 299 international appearances.

Lilly has always gone about the business of being one of the best soccer players in the world quietly.  Because she is such a dependable, steady player, her brilliance and contributions sometimes get overlooked. Brandi Chastain would never have had her moment of glory if Lil had not cleared Fan Yunjie’s header off the goal line in the first overtime of the ‘99 World Cup final.  Abby Wambach got the headlines but the U.S. might not be wearing gold if Lilly hadn’t placed her corner kick right at Wambach’s head in the Olympic final.

Some of her more outspoken and flashier teammates have retired or found themselves without a spot on the team. It’s refreshing to see the spotlight now shine on one who has played the game so well for so long.


Lately, it seems that whenever I read an interview featuring WPS ownership I am left scratching my head and thinking ‘really?’

It started with Jeff Kassouf’s interview with former FC Gold Pride owner, Nancy NeSmith. While I appreciate the NeSmith’s investment in women’s soccer, I was astounded by the naiveté and lack of understanding of the basics of women’s soccer as a business put forth in that rambling interview.

Did she really think they would break even in their second year? Really? Very few new business ventures see black ink before year five, even ones that aren’t attempting to launch a niche sports league in an already crowded sports landscape in the middle of a recession.

Did she really think winning a championship would bring 3,000 new season ticket holders in the 20 days between winning said championship and the news breaking that FCGP was ready to close the doors? Really?

Honest and truly, did she really say “It’s kind of like the Field of Dreams: You build it and people will come. And no one came.”

I’m not even going to touch the comparisons to the Giants and the World Series.

So I’ve had the Thanksgiving holiday and a bit of time to let that go (I never posted the rant I wrote immediately after I read the article – too much trouble to edit out all the curse words) only to get introduced to the Freedom’s new owner, Dan Borislow, via Mr. Kassouf’s interview yesterday. Again, I found myself smacking my head and shouting ‘Really?!’ at my computer.

Does he really want to rename the WPS franchise with the longest history and best name recognition magicTalk FC? Really?

Does he really think after two teams have tried and failed that Marta is going to pack in the fans and that the biggest issue in signing her will be whether the other players will be jealous of her salary? Really?

Home games split between Florida and Maryland, a world tour? Really?

This tidbit may have annoyed me most:

“You had this employee doing this and this employee doing this but all they ended up doing was creating expenses and not revenue and income.”

The folks that staffed the league office are some of the most talented, hardest working people I know and it ticks me off just a little to see their efforts demeaned by someone whose first exposure to WPS was three weeks ago.

WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas assured reporters in a recent media call that new major investors would be thoroughly vetted by the league. After reading this article I am wondering whether Mr. Borislow has been vetted and whether they are only checking bank balances or also making sure that new owners have a clue before they are allowed to buy into the league.

I suspect that cooler heads amongst the ownership group will put the kibosh on some of the more outrageous ideas suggested in the interview. My best advice to Mr. Borislow would be to consult with some people that have been around the women’s game for a while and can provide a serious reality check. And, hire a qualified GM that can help him implement a realistic approach to growing the Freedom into a profitable, long-term cornerstone of WPS.

As to the league, it just involuntarily rid itself of one wide-eyed ownership group that was not prepared to go the distance. And while it may provide a short-term fix, I don’t think the solution for long-term sustainability is to bring in another. Just saying.




Pre-Game Thoughts on US/Italy

I have no great insight into the match. The last time I saw the two teams play each other was at the Algarve Cup in 2008. My reports from that match are here and  here. If my laptop from those days wasn’t in need of a new logic board, I could probably dig up some detailed notes from that matchup, but it is not to be. It was the early days of the Pia Sundhage era and was one of the first matches under her reign. My recollection from that tournament is that Pia was working hard with the team on possessing the ball as well as patience and that it was really fun to see the team evolve under her tutelage in such a sort period of time.

Someone on the media call yesterday asked if Italy would be emboldened by the US loss to Mexico as it exposed a chink in the armor so to speak. Christie Rampone took the question and answered, ““I don’t think that would help their confidence. I don’t think they were expecting to have us as the opponent they were going to have to play twice to get to the World Cup.”

I have to agree with Rampone on this one. I think that this is a nightmare scenario for Italy and certainly not one they were expecting.

My thoughts on the match save any brilliant analysis of an Italian team I haven’t seen play in nearly two years is that the USWNT are embarrassed about their performance in Mexico, they have something to prove and they will come out strong against Italy. They’ve got character and I am confident they will put together a convincing win.

Confessions of a Women’s Soccer Fan

I’m going to take my reporter hat off and put on my fan hat. This post will be a little more personal than what you’re used to seeing here.

I count myself as part of a small, but very passionate following of women’s soccer as a spectator sport. When you follow a niche sport, as women’s soccer most certainly is at this time in its history, you wind up doing some pretty extreme things to stay connected with the game you love.

You do things like get up in the middle of the night to watch a dodgy internet feed because a U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) match is being broadcast from Korea and there hasn’t been a televised match in ages. You spend hours tracking down the feed and making sure you have the correct plug-ins to run said feed. (I’m not even going to mention the brief run in with some Asian porn whilst attempting to find the right stream. What? It’s not like I read Korean!) Or you do things like pack up your kids and take an eight-hour road trip so they can see the USWNT play and that’s the closest they’re going to come to where you live. (I’m not even going to mention the crazy fan we had to sit with at that match. What? I didn’t know she was crazy when I offered our extra ticket ‘free to a good home’ on the soccer message boards.) You follow matches on Match Tracker and hope someone’s actually there that will provide some decent commentary via Twitter because that’s the only way you’re going get a feel for how things really played out.

Women’s soccer fans that have been around for a while have been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The USWNT played in obscurity in the eighties and early nineties and then women’s soccer got added as an Olympic sport and we had hope. Then came 1999 and women’s soccer captured the hearts of the nation and for about five minutes, we thought we were well on our way to becoming a more main stream sport. The WUSA was launched and folded after three short years. We quickly learned that America has a short attention span and the USWNT was back to playing in sparsely filled stadiums with little television coverage. We held on to the hope that a professional league would ‘be back next year’ and were disappointed for six long years.

Because of the ride, some fans were skeptical to jump on board when WPS came around. It’s a bit like having been in a bad relationship. Once you get burned it takes a while to put yourself out there again. So some took a wait and see attitude, not willing to emotionally invest in a venture they perceived was doomed to disappoint.

I didn’t hesitate at all. I had had several conversations with Tonya Antonucci beginning early in 2006 and was impressed that she ‘got it’ and would bring us a group of owners that had reasonable expectations as to crowd side, understood that they would be losing money for a while and were committed to a patient approach that would allow the league time to find its audience. She wasn’t hawking a charity or a cause, but a well thought out, streamlined business. I bought in hook, line and sinker.

WPS has delivered an awful lot. The on the field product is outstanding and they truly are the best women’s soccer league in the world. The teams have worked hard to deliver a positive experience for the fan. It’s the business side of things that have gotten a little dicey.

Teams we thought were committed for the long haul are dropping like flies and the league office has gone through a major restructuring. In my mind, restructuring is a polite way to say dismantling.

As a fan, I’ve been really disappointed and more than a bit angry as things have gone south, starting with losing the LA Sol and culminating with the current drama.

I’m angry with AEG for their lame one-year commitment to WPS. Maybe the league wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without them, but if they were no more committed than that I’d rather they kept their money. It will be a long time before any of their entertainment or sports ventures get any of mine.

I’m angry with Jeff Cooper for mucking things up in St. Louis and for choosing his men’s team over the WPS.

I’m angry with Brian and Nancy NeSmith for not staying the course and for making questionable decisions like blowing a wad on Marta only to decide later that they couldn’t’ absorb the losses.

As a side note, if any of the owners left out there are trying to decide if Marta will put enough butts in the seats to justify a significant six-figure salary, she won’t. I mean no offense to Marta and I hope she sticks around. She is incredibly exciting to watch and a game changer, but she is not a household name that is going to drive hoards of people to the stadium. It frightens me to think that now two teams have had so little understanding of the state of women’s soccer in this country to not know that. I hope that there won’t be a third.

I can’t be angry with John and Maureen Hendricks, although I wish I could. They’ve given so much and stuck with the sport when everyone else had seemingly given up. I do wonder about the timing though. Why give up now?

I’m angry for the talented staff that poured their guts into this league that were lost to the ‘restructuring’.

I’m angry for the players from the folded teams that are wondering if they’ve played in their last professional soccer match and for the college players getting ready to enter a draft with one, maybe two less teams who are wondering if they will ever get the chance.

I hadn’t really considered why exactly I’ve been so angry. I am not typically an emotional person, but I had an epiphany after reading a Tweet during the WPS media conference call from @LiveFierce. It read:

I snark on the #WPS so I don’t fall for them only to have them break my heart.

As players and as fans, when we bought into WPS, we entrusted them with our dreams and a bit of our hearts. We invested emotionally. We’ve already had our hearts broken once, when the WUSA went down in flames. Twice, if you count the dramatic plunge the USWNT has taken in coverage and popularity after we thought we had gotten over the hump in 1999. So as we’re watching this play out it feels a little like walking down a road we’ve been before and we worry that we’ve trusted only to have our hearts broken again.

With that said, I am not abandoning ship. I’m going to continue to trust that the inmates that have taken over the asylum known as WPS know what they are doing. I’m nervous. I’m concerned especially as to how the WPS will find an audience with no marketing and public relations staff left at the league level and little dedicated marketing and public relations staff left at the team level. I’m going to believe that they truly understand that this is not a ‘if you build it they will come’ venture and they know they will have to work hard to sell every ticket. I’m going to trust them with my heart for a while longer and hope I’m not disappointed.

And to the WPS owners and staff that we know are working hard to keep things a float, be patient with us hardcore fans. If we are skeptical, if we are angry and even if we are sometimes snarky, we’re only trying to protect ourselves and I suspect most of us will be around until the bitter end.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I will take off my fan hat. The reporter hat will go back on this afternoon. I’m working on a post to report what I got out of the WPS media call yesterday (I asked how they planned to draw new fans in light of dwindling marketing and PR resources) and will cover the USWNT call from Italy.

The Morning After – Heather O’Reilly on the USWNT’s Historic Loss to Mexico

Heather O'Reilly

Kickingitaround spoke with US Women’s National Team midfielder, Heather O’Reilly, the morning after the United States’ stunning loss to Mexico in CONCACAF’s World Cup Qualifying Tournament.

How are you feeling this morning after the loss to Mexico?

We are all still shocked and definitely disappointed. I think at some point this afternoon we have to let go of those emotions and just only look forward to our game against Costa Rica. This is a really resilient group, a brave group and we’ll bounce back and take care of business on Monday and hopefully move forward from there.

This team has had some big losses, Brazil in 2007, Norway in the 2008 Olympics. Put this loss in perspective with those.

This team has had some really high points and it’s had some tough times. This is definitely a different emotion than 2007. The biggest difference is that this time around we know that we have a second life and a second chance to redeem ourselves. That’s the major difference. Hopefully we’ll just go into Monday’s game and play like we know how and move forward from there.

Did you feel prepared and motivated for the match against Mexico?

We were definitely prepared. We knew what we were getting ourselves into playing in Mexico. The atmosphere was extremely loud. Mexico had all the adrenaline in the world. We expected that. Mexico did, in a way, bring more energy and played a very strong game. I think that we were prepared, but we have to play our best soccer. We know that we are capable of a lot more and I think that we’ll be okay.

What happened?

Obviously in soccer, when you go down a goal early on – very early, I think it was only the fourth minute – you have a challenge in front of you. We scrapped back and we got the tying goal and then we just put ourselves in a little bit too much of a hole with them scoring just a couple minutes after that. It was pretty much a worse case scenario, I guess, with them having the momentum and the home crowd behind them. It was just a hole we couldn’t get out of. This is completely a learning experience. We will only get stronger from this experience. This is just another thing in our arsenal that we’ll always carry with us.

How was it watching the last 30 minutes of this unfold from the bench?

Obviously it is always difficult watching from the side. You wish you could be out there contributing to your team on the field. It was pretty much heart-wrenching hearing that final whistle blow, but again it is something that will make me personally stronger and the group stronger. We look at this as an opportunity for growth.

What did Pia say to guys when she got you in the locker room last night?

Pia was fantastic. She kept reiterating the fact that we still have a chance and we need to focus our energy now going forward and to leave that game and what it was and to look forward only to Costa Rica. She was definitely encouraging and understood our disappointment. She was, I’m sure, very upset, but we’re only looking forward now as a group.

What can we expect Monday when you take the field against Costa Rica?

You can expect a lot of fire and passion. I think that this was the ultimate wake up call for this team. You can expect to see a competitive, passionate team that is hungry for goals and I think that we’ll take care of business.


What’s In a Deadline?

Little glimmers of hope have surfaced regarding the future of WPS and its two struggling franchises, Washington Freedom and FC Gold Pride. Early this afternoon WPS Media Consultant Rob Penner tweeted the following:

Fact: news reports of some WPS teams looking for add’l investors has generated new leads.

Mark Washo, GM of the Washington Freedom tweeted:

To all the dooms-dayers and nay sayers- I can report we’ve made progress in the past 48 hrs- Season tix picked up -investor talks escalating

And, Yahoo Sports is reporting a group based in Orange County that had been in discussions with WPS about launching a new team are now looking at purchasing the FC Gold Pride and relocating them. The league confirmed numerous conversations have taken place with a group from Orange County.

Which brings us to the November 15th deadline. The likelihood that a deal for either team could be completed in time for new investors or owners to make a significant escrow payment to the league by the 15th is highly unlikely if not near impossible.

Even if a good fairy flits in to save the day, both teams need time.

Not only would a new group need time to perform due diligence (think accountants pouring over financial statements and lawyers negotiating and generating massive amounts of paper), but any new investor needs to be thoroughly vetted by WPS. The last thing the league needs is another “our kids play soccer so let’s buy a team” owner who can’t deal with the reality of seven figure losses over the next handful of years.

That brings us back around to the November 15th deadline. Either WPS is delaying the inevitable and as I suggested earlier, both teams are toast, or the November 15th deadline is not a real deadline. I worked the phone this afternoon to try and get someone from WPS on record as to the firmness of the deadline and have been unsuccessful so far. I’ll continue to explore this tomorrow because I expect that if either team enters serious discussions with potential buyers or investors they will be given time to ink the deal and cough up the cash. How much time is the real question.

Hopefully WPS learned from letting the search for a savior for the LA Sol extend past the 2010 Draft and will have all teams financially committed before the 2011 version. Of course when the 2011 WPS Draft will be held is a bit of a mystery. Fake Sigi reported last month that the draft would be held virtually this year and not as a part of the NSCAA’s Annual Convention as it has in the past. The Convention will be held mid-January. A quick glance at the schedule confirms that there is no draft currently on the Convention’s  schedule.

If we assume that a virtual draft takes place during the same time frame, realistically, WPS needs to have all teams officially in or out by the end of year.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the November 15 escrow deadline is very fluid and if either team can get its act together by the end of the year (maybe even the first week in January) they will be welcomed with open arms by WPS. WPS wants to proceed with as many financially sound teams as they can and would be wise to give both teams time to see a deal through, but not too much time. They definitely don’t need any more last minute surprises.

That said, both teams are still up against it. Moving a significant seven-figure deal from barely in the pipeline to close in less than sixty days is doable (a lot more doable than say 12 days), but it will take serious commitment from both sides. Let’s hope something good comes from the interest generated this week and the Board of Governors gives the teams time to get it done.

Kicking It Around with Leslie Osborne

Leslie Osborne mixing it up with Carly Lloyd during pre-game warmups.

The Boston Breakers’ Leslie Osborne’s off-season started a little early this year due to a broken collarbone suffered in a match against Sky Blue FC on August 15. In spite of the break from soccer, Osborne has been busy with appearances for PUMA, a foray into sports commentating and training for her first marathon.

She carved out some time from her busy schedule to answer some questions about her free time, her status with the United States Women’s National Team, as well as the recent news coming out of WPS.

It seems that you have been busy this off-season jetting back and forth between coasts. What have you been up to?

It seems to me that whenever I get injured I get way busier because I’m able to do a lot more different things than just play soccer. I was doing appearances and I’ve been doing some commentating and all that stuff’s been out in California so I’ve been going back and forth a lot. I just got back to Boston last week and I hope to stay out here for at least a couple more weeks before I go back out to California for Thanksgiving. I’m trying to settle down a little bit.

How has the move to Boston been for you city-wise and team-wise?

I really, really like Boston. I thought it would be good for me to settle down and live somewhere year round. I have a lot of great opportunities out here doing multiple things so it is good for me just career-wise and life-wise to stay out here. I’m adjusting to the cold weather. The last two weeks have been a little bit difficult for me. I grew up in Wisconsin and was tough for a long time, but I’ve been in California for a long time. I’m getting back in the swing of things and training and it being cold. Other than that I love to go back to California to see my family and friends when I want. That’s nice to have. I love it out here. The city is awesome. I’m having a really good time.

How was the transition from FC Gold Pride to the Boston Breakers?

The Breakers are awesome. Talk about a smooth transition. I had a great time last year at FC Gold Pride and I can’t even tell you how impressed I am with the organization here; the owners, Tony (DiCicco), my teammates, the staff, everyone. I’m very entrenched in the Breakers’ organization and I do a lot of stuff with them and for them because they’re great. I feel like part of a family out here and they use me a lot. It’s a really great organization to be a part of and I hope that the WPS can continue and that I’m lucky enough to be a Breaker for another two years. I’m fortunate.

Was it an added bonus that your longtime friend and teammate, Lindsay Tarpley, also landed in Boston after the St. Louis Athletica folded?

Talk about literally a dream come true! We’ve gotten to play at every level together except for pro and college. We can’t ever take that college experience back, but to play on the same pro team together, to live five minutes from each other, to spend everyday together. I told Tony when he was looking at her, I said, ‘Listen, she’s my best friend in the whole world, but this girl you want on your team. She’s not only a great soccer player, but she’s also one of the best people you’ll ever meet. A leader, just someone you want on your team.’ Let’s just say it was kind of unreal. If she comes back to the Breakers, if the league is okay and she comes back to the Breakers it is literally one of those things that everyday it’s amazing. We didn’t think it was ever going to happen. We thought I’d spend my career in California and she’d spend her’s in Chicago. It’s just funny how our paths always lead us back together.

You touched on whether the WPS will continue. Are the players hearing any news other than what we’ve heard about two teams potentially folding?

We just need a full commitment from all the teams that are still involved. We go on with the teams that we have. We have to have six strong solid teams. It’s great to bring teams in, but we can’t afford to keep losing teams. We need to have a base of at least six teams and make sure that those six teams are financially strong enough to be part of a league. That’s what we need to focus on as the WPS. There will be more information coming out. I’m surprised and I’m bummed, let’s just put it that way.

What is your status with the National Team?

I had heard that I would be called into camp in September and then I broke my collarbone, so obviously I couldn’t go. I talked to Pia (Sundhage) last month. She said she thought I had a very good season. I could get called into the camp in December, but there are no guarantees.

I think one of the biggest issues for me is that right now the team is not playing with a holding midfielder and that is my role with the Boston Breakers. I only want to help the team, but I’m probably not going to be able to help them playing in an attacking position.

I would love to play in a World Cup, but I’ve been so far out of that team for the last ten months. I love playing soccer. If I get called in, I get called in and I’ll be ready. For me, I’ve always been fit and dedicated. If I get an opportunity I hope to be ready and make the most out of it.

You’re six days away from running the New York Marathon. Are you ready?

I think I’m ready. This is my first marathon. I’ve tried to listen to as many people’s advice as I can, but I’m coming from a total different situation than other people because I’ve only been able to train for five weeks. I just started running five and a half weeks ago.


Because I had a broken collarbone. I don’t think people understand it because I don’t talk about it. People train for these things for four to six months, but I’ve just had to crank up my mileage. I haven’t been able to taper or train for a long time. I just started running and built my way up from seven miles. I stayed really fit by walking the Harvard bleachers for a month after I broke my collarbone and killing myself doing those. It saved me because the day that I started to run, I felt awesome. I think my training has been pretty easy because I stayed in such good shape, but I have no idea what I am doing! I ran 18 miles last weekend. I’m trying to go day by day and plan my own thing, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. I think I’m ready, but I have no idea to be honest.

Do you have a goal?

I want to complete this race. I’m doing it for a charity and it’s way bigger than me. It is hard because I am competitive with myself and with other people so if I finish this thing in under four and a half, I would be very happy with myself. Crossing the line is the most important thing for me.

Tell me about the charity you are running for.

It is Grassroots Soccer. I’ve been an ambassador for the charity for two years. I met Ethan Zohn three years ago. He’s amazing. He donated his money from Survivor to this charity. It is to help kids in Africa who are HIV positive and those who aren’t HIV positive to live a healthy lifestyle. It uses soccer to provide education. Ethan has battled through cancer just this year and he’s running this marathon. I’m hoping to go to Africa in December and help out. That’s the only reason I’m doing this.

What else are you doing besides training for a marathon during the off-season?

I’ve been doing some commentating. I did the WPS final and I did my first MLS game, the Galaxy game, two weeks ago. I’m interested in doing that. I’m coaching out here at a private, independent school that has been pretty interesting because I haven’t ever coached at a private school before. It’s more intense than my college team was. I’m doing private training. I’m doing a lot of random things and trying to figure out in what path I am going to go. Once I can touch a ball in two weeks I am going to be very excited and I’m going to train and play some more soccer.

Are you doing much with PUMA these days?

One of the great things about me being here in Boston is I’m very involved with them. I actually do marketing for them and I’m kind of a spokesperson, which is why I’m always doing these appearances on their behalf. I try to represent the brand and they keep me busy out here.

Are you disappointed with the support that the WPS has gotten from soccer fans and players?

We need the support of people who love the game of soccer. That would be amazing for the WPS. It’s hard for me to accept that a lot of the kids I meet here in Boston have never even heard of the Boston Breakers. If we would have had a professional team when I was growing up in Wisconsin, I would have been going every weekend with my family.

I’m a big fan of taking it out into the communities. We’re not just soccer players, we’re role models. I love fashion. I love to travel. How can we take these girls and show them different sides to us?

We have a responsibility and an obligation to do a lot more than what we are doing. I still think that instead of just going home from training there is so much more that we as players could do to help this league and help our team out by getting more involved in the community.  Maybe I’m just a different kind of person and I’m not satisfied with just being a soccer player, but we could do so much more. If me and every player on my team had an obligation to sell 25 tickets to every soccer match, what could do that do? How many more families and business would I be meeting and bringing in?  I just think there needs to be a lot more passion and responsibility from the players.

* You can support Grassroots Soccer and Leslie in her effort to tame the NY Marathon by making a contribution here.

Leslie Osborne out on the youth soccer field converting one fan at a time.

Another day at the office.

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