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Archive for July, 2018

July 31, 2018 — George O’Gorman, 1945-2018

It was 1995 when I was tasked with covering a soccer game featuring the local semipro women’s team, the New Jersey Wildcats of the USISL’s W-League. George O’Gorman was the soccer writer for The Trentonian, our competitors for readership when I was in the daily newspaper business.

The year before, the Wildcats and five other teams played a round-robin schedule to gauge markets and interest, and it was the 1995 season that was the breakout year for the league, with a number of teams around the United States playing a league schedule, then trying to qualify for the playoffs.

The management of the team was, frankly, chaotic. The people tasked with announcing the starting lineups could not be understood because of thick accents, the corner flags were all askew, there were no ball kids, and the scoreboard clock had a built-in bias, flipping over from 59:59 to 0:00 instead of running all the way to 90:00 and beyond.

By degrees, George O’Gorman and I started doing some of the duties needed to make a more professional environment. George would show up an hour and a half early to arrange for the lining of the field, and would set up the 10 flags around the perimeter of the pitch: four corner flags, two for the center stripe, and two for the 35-yard line; the USISL followed the old North American Soccer League regulation that stated that an offside could not be called outside of the 35-yard line, rather than midfield.

While he did that, I would fill out the match sheet, announce the starting lineups, and, eventually, brought a laptop computer for the national anthem, walkout music, and the pre-game warmup music. The latter was particularly appreciated, especially when we played Prince’s 1999 during the 1999 season.

George O’Gorman and I saw each other weekly during the summers, and, despite our corporate bosses’ attempts to eviscerate the other, we became buddies. We exchanged stories on everything from how truly great Lisa Gmitter was to the goaltending of former U.S. international Mary Harvey, who was the general manager of one of the W-League sides.

We knew our stuff, but O’Gorman was a true fount of knowledge about women’s soccer, not only at the local level, but at the more senior levels. He knew how great Heather O’Reilly was when a high-schooler, and he probably was the proudest when O’Reilly joined the team and helped them to a pair of W-League finals in 2004 and 2005.

At the dawn of Title IX, he championed coverage of girls’ scholastic sports alongside his field hockey compatriot, Jim Davis.

I’ll bet they’re up there right now, having a good laugh.

Rest in peace, O’G. (pronounced ohj)

July 30, 2018 — A small, but frustrating step towards rules parity

In mid-June, the NFHS rules committee, in conjunction with U.S. Lacrosse, allowed the self-start in the sport of girls’ high school lacrosse.

But the visible possession clock and a free-movement rule? Not instituted.

For me, you can’t have the self-start without free movement, since a self-start is part of putting the game of lacrosse in the players’ hands rather than that of the umpires.

But I’ll give the rulesmakers credit for one rule which has been brought into the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League: a change to the way a penalty is administered for a major foul in the fan. The new rule creates a “penalty zone,” which is inside the 8-meter arc, and a line drawn from the elbows down to the two dots five meters behind the goal-line extended.

In the WPLL, I have called this shape “the grapefruit wedge,” naming it after the way that some people section grapefruits by cutting off the top and bottoms before slicing wedges with the rind still on them. The NFHS will still have players go to the nearest hashmark, rather than top dead center as in the WPLL.

One other rule from the upper levels is also going to make its way to U.S. high schools this coming year: the buzzer-beating shot at the end of a half or game. Currently, the ball must enter the goal before the clock expires.

I remember that there have been some controversies about the horn and clock even in Final Four situations, when the University of Virginia had an apparent goal in the 2005 NCAA final waved off when the horn sounded with 0.6 seconds remaining in the first half, nullifying a shot which went into the goal cage.

Still, it would have been nice to get action on removing the “freeze tag” rule since it doesn’t apply anywhere else.

BULLETIN: July 29, 2018 — India 1, USA 1

LONDON — It was hard to gauge when exactly the United States fell out of the 2018 FIH Women’s World Cup.

After all, with a 1-1 draw against India leaving the USA tied with the Eves at the bottom of Pool B with host England, there was still a mathematical possibility that the Americans could get into the playoff round. All that had to happen was for Ireland to beat England by three goals.

Not only did that not happen, England scored a goal with six minutes left to give the Lions a 1-0 win.

The results leave the States, a Final Four team four years ago in Den Haag, Netherlands, at the bottom of Pool B and heading home.

It was a team with much promise, having qualified for the World Cup through winning its half of the FIH World League semifinal. But the American results this calendar year were not the best, and the current record for the 2018 year are unmistakeable: three wins, five draws, 12 defeats.

Still, the future appears bright for the U.S. side. The goal-scorers for the U.S. at the World Cup were 18-year-old Erin Matson and 21-year-old Margaux Paolino, both of whom are tremendously skilled and fearless players. They will be very much counted on as building blocks not only for Tokyo 2020, but the next Women’s World Cup.

But the States’ three-and-out performance is the here-and-now, and everyone in the field hockey community, from the Colorado Springs office staff to the school-age players around the country, have to feel various states of distress.

July 29, 2018 — Next entry

What was it like during our years at Harvard? The next virtual Red Book entry at 19 Harvard Blazers is now up.

July 28, 2018 — The perils of scheduling a world tournament

Tomorrow, the final pool matches in Pool B for the FIH World Cup for women’s field hockey are going to take place.

Unlike many other athletic competitions, final pool matches in field hockey are not scheduled simultaneously, meaning that the results are known in one contest before the other one even starts.

It’s a fairly terrible system.

And it got more terrible on May 14th. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed sports betting outside the state of Nevada. This means that disposable income in one of the world’s largest economies has now come into play for the gaming industry.

There are, believe it or not, gaming odds for field hockey. There are odds for tomorrow’s USA vs. India pool game as well for all other matches at the Women’s World Cup.

And, as we argued a few months ago when the 6-to-3 decision was rendered, it is very easy for a person or people with significant financial backing to affect the result of a competition in which the athletes are significantly underpaid. Matchfixing has been exposed in Europe, Canada, and in Central America, all connected to Singapore-based betting rings.

I’m not saying that a sudden wave of field hockey betting money is going to change the way the game is played and coached at the international level.

But if the FIH is going to have non-simultaneous start times for pool matches which are of the greatest interest to bettors, the integrity the competition is at risk.

July 27, 2018 — Women’s soccer opening a new avenue

This week, there is an important women’s soccer tournament called the Tournament of Nations, featuring current World Cup champions USA, Australia, former World Cup champion Japan, and Brazil.

But for the exposure of the sport worldwide, there is an even more important happening this week in Miami.

The NWSL side North Carolina Courage is hosting three European women’s club sides, Manchester City, Olympique Lyonnais, and Paris-St. Germain, in the International Champions Cup tournament.

Women’s professional soccer is a novel concept on a worldwide scale. Some nations like Norway, Japan, and Italy have had organized leagues for years. Meanwhile, the United States is on its third league, with the WUSA having folded in 2003 and WPS in 2012.

But only in the last few years, more nations have been getting their collective act together when it comes to sponsoring a dedicated women’s league. Men’s club teams like Lyon, PSG, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chivas of Guadalajara, and Barcelona are now funding and professionalizing women’s soccer teams.

There are situations in the U.S. with MLS sides sponsoring women’s teams; D.C. United Women won a championship in the void between WPS and the NWSL. A number of teams in the lower-level Women’s Premier Soccer League and United Women’s Soccer are badged with MLS sides and have financial and in-kind help from the pro teams.

Such is the case with North Carolina Courage, whose benefactor is North Carolina FC of the United Soccer Leagues. They’re playing Sunday in the final of the women’s ICC against Lyon.

Sunday’s match may be just a mid-season friendly for the Courage, but a win by either side would be an enormous statement about the state of women’s soccer worldwide, a statement which applies chiefly to the winner.

July 26, 2018 — All to play for

Today, Pool B in the FIH World Cup took a distinct twist in the tale as Ireland beat India 1-0.

The result not only made the Green Army the first team to qualify for the quarterfinal round (who had that happening?) it also set up a dramatic match on the final day of pool play.

It is the early match Sunday afternoon which sees the Americans take on India in perhaps the most high-stakes match between the two sides since 2002, when the FIH mandated a three-game series to determine the 12th and last qualifier for that year’s World Cup.

Both India and the USA have one point in the standings. But the Eves have a -1 goal difference and the States have a -2, meaning that the Americans must win Sunday’s game to make the crossover round qualifiers to get into the quarterfinals.

There is a scenario where the States could go through with a draw, and that involves the host, England. If India and the Americans draw Sunday, England could fall to the bottom of Pool B if they lose to Ireland by three goals or more, since they are currently at 0 on goal differential.

Now, in most tournaments of this structure (look at the 2016 Olympic soccer tournament, for instance) it is usually only the top two teams that advance to the knockout round from each pool. Having that third qualified team adds drama to the competition.

But does it need to be this much?

July 25, 2018 — USA 1, England 1

The U.S. women’s World Cup field hockey team had no illusions about the task at hand with today’s Pool B clash against host England.

England, with many of the same players comprising Team GB from the Rio 2016 gold-medal effort, felt stung after being held to a 1-1 draw against India, and was just starting to feel the pressures of being the host nation.

The Americans fell a goal adrift in the third quarter when Alex Danson used her elimination skills to put the ball into the cage, but, to their credit, the Applebees drew level only about four minutes later. And, as has seemingly been the case recently, the American youth movement was at the heart of the comeback. Erin Matson, the youngest player on the team, scored a backhand goal that got by England’s veteran goalie Maddie Hinch, and the teams shared the points in a 1-1 draw.

Thursday’s result between India and Ireland will go a long way towards determining the fate of the Pool B teams. Ireland, the only team which has a three-point haul, will make the next round with a win or a draw. Should India lose to Ireland, the Eves and the Americans will both have one point in the standings with all to play for this Sunday.

The States needed to avoid falling further into the Pool B basement, and, to its credit, responded when it needed to. The defense was able to hold against an imaginative and athletic attack from the Roses — barely. One ball hit off the crossbar and another couple of corners were begging for deflections. Goalie Jackie Briggs came up big when asked to.

July 24, 2018 — Opening another barn door and a can of worms

The 2017-2018 academic year saw a shift in girls’ high-school soccer in America, as elite players were coaxed and pried away from their high-school teams to play in the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy, a 210-team league with play in the U-15, U-17, and U-19 divisions.

For the record, two of the three champions this year were funded by Major League Soccer; the U-15 FC Dallas and U-19 LAFC Slammers. The other champion, U-17 Real Colorado, is not affiliated with Real Salt Lake, but is affiliated with A.S. Roma.

All three of these girls’ championship sides, plus 85 others, have announced plans to jump ship and join the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) starting this month. The ECNL has been in operation since 2009, and has primarily been an outlet for girls and young women to develop, and the moves by a number of club sides away from the DA has put the ECNL in an unprecedented position of influence in shaping the game for the next generation and beyond.

Indeed, the interesting aspect about the ECNL is that the girls’ league was developed first, nearly a decade ago. Only recently has there been a boys’ ECNL competition, and I’ll be interested to see whether the boys’ DA structure will be as weakened as the girls’ side undoubtedly will be this coming fall.

July 23, 2018 — Closing a very large barn door

In the last month or so, I have been on a number of lacrosse sidelines not only watching the action on the field, but taking note of some of the action off it. And I’ve been monitoring some of my social media and other feeds for both lacrosse and field hockey.

This time of year, there seems to be one dominant topic: where a certain player is going to play next year.

But the universe of discourse here is not about seniors, but about players from roughly 13 to 16 years of age, and parents willing to make the right connections and contacts in order to have their daughter in a school with a successful and prominent program with enough exposure to get them into a good university program.

This, friends, is in field hockey and lacrosse. This isn’t about Sebastian Telfair or Amare Stoudamire, whose allegiances towards schools, coaches, and shoe companies vacillated widely while they were in high school. This is about young women being pressured to sometimes transfer to a school district hundreds of miles away from home to play for a championship-level program.

The system, as it stands today, has been gamed on many levels, by many athletes in many sports. And a couple of governing bodies have attempted to step up regulations on transfers.

Pennsylvania is mulling over a rule that any athlete who transfers between PIAA-member schools after the start of his or her sophomore season would be ineligible for the postseason.

Another state, Ohio, has passed a bylaw that states that any athlete who does not meet a list of 11 criteria for exceptions to the transfer regulations, must sit out the second half of any regular season plus the playoffs in any sport that he or she participates in.

To me, these rules are likely to form the basis for parallel sporting leagues, to spring up during the school year, like U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy.

But even the D.A. isn’t immune to its own frailties. More on that tomorrow.