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Jan. 25, 2021 — Why you should be paying rapt attention to what is going on at the Pan American Cup

The North American qualifying competition for the 2022 FIH World Cups for both men and women are taking place in Santiago, Chile.

And with the end of pool play, we’re seeing something that we’ve never seen before. The United States men’s and women’s national field hockey teams now stand one win away from qualification after winning their respective pools.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from what happened during the last cycle when the Pan American Cup was held at Spooky Nook. Then, the United States women finished third and took the last possible berth, while the U.S. men were also third, but only two teams qualified from this hemisphere.

Four years has changed a lot within the U.S. system. The U.S. women’s national team pretty much turned over its entire roster after losing the two-game, total-goal series against India in late 2019, failing to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Too, the WNT left the Home of Hockey in Pennsylvania to go to Charlotte, a move based on the promise of growth in the infrastructure of sports science in the region as well as growth in the sport in the Tar Heel State.

Meanwhile the U.S. men have remained largely in California. But on the men’s side, there seems to be a high quality of imported players who have declared for the United States, as well as veteran men’s players who have paid their dues in a sport which may have rejected their services here at home.

So, here’s the deal. The U.S. women only need to win one of their next two games to get to the World Cup. The first test comes Wednesday with a game against Chile. Five years ago at the Nook, Chile had beaten the U.S. by a score of 4-3. This was the game that Amanda Magadan had tied with two minutes left to play, only to surrender a goal by Denise Krimerman in the dying seconds.

The men, however, must beat the winner of tomorrow’s Chile-Mexico game to make the men’s World Cup, a competition for which the U.S. has never qualified. Indeed, over the last century, the U.S. has never won its way into an FIH world-level tournament; it has instead made it to tournaments like the 1956 Olympics and the 2011 Champions Challenge II on world ranking or as host (Los Angeles 1932 and 1984 and Atlanta 1996).

It’s heady and unexpected stuff for a sport which has been forever in the Olympic hinterlands. Perhaps this is the start of something great.

Jan. 24, 2021 — A situation infinitely worse than the Larry Nasar situation. And more to come?

I didn’t want to go much further without amplifying a decision that came down last week. The decision was that the University of Michigan would set up a nearly half-billion fund to settle more than 1,000 cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1960s, all traceable to sports doctor Robert Anderson.

The pool of 1,000, mostly men, will share in about $490 million, according to figures released by the Detroit News.

The alleged abuses began in the late 1960s and continued until the controversy emerged two years ago. This makes the Anderson scandal was a larger and more pervasive sexual abuse stain than the reign of terror by Larry Nasar, the doctor who abused student-athletes at Michigan State University.

As was the case at MSU, the Michigan situation has resulted in significant resignations within the university. Last weekend, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel was forced from his job. While the precipitating event for the dismissal was an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, his handling of the Anderson matter was cited as a contributing factor.

There are other shoes that will certainly drop when it comes to sexual abuse by medical professionals within college athletic departments. Lawsuits in Ohio addressing past abuse by a doctor named Richard Strauss are still outstanding, despite a $40 million settlement announced a couple of years ago.

One reason is some of the extreme differences between the way Ohio State University addressed claims and the way that Michigan and Michigan State addressed theirs. While the amounts of money in the Michigan cases range in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the OSU pool of money is a mere fraction. There is also a move to un-table a bill in the Ohio legislature to reform the definition of the statute of limitations in cases of sex abuse.

I have a feeling this will get a lot worse.

Jan. 23, 2022 — Trouble in women’s sports ownership, Part 2

The allegations sprung from Twitter like a thunderbolt.

One of the few goalkeepers hired by the Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse promotion for the inaugural season, Angie Benson was not tendered a Season 2 contract by the people running the league.

“I asked,” she said on Twitter, “and I was not given a reason why.”

But if you watched the roster of the inaugural season form up, there is a reason: the senior women’s national team pool. Liz Hogan, Devon Wills, Taylor Moreno, and Gussie Johns did not play in the league last year, and I am sure that the addition of a lot of incoming talent for this summer (Charlotte North, anyone?) is going to add up to some people not being given an invitation to join the AU league in 2022.

That being said, I’m befuddled that Jonathan Soros and Jon Patricof don’t seem to be expanding the pool of players to six teams rather than four. There is a wealth of talent at the elite level in this country because of the trebling of the footprint of the sport since 1995; indeed, I’m not sure that even a dozen teams could fulfill the demand of women wanting to play past their college graduation.

Now, it would be a massive risk to expand the AU league too quickly. But for the sake of players like Benson and others likely to lose their place in the league this summer, I do hope there can be an incremental add-on.

BULLETIN: Jan. 22, 2022 — And just like that …

Today, the NWSL Board of Governors approved the change of structure within the Washington Spirit which allowed Y. Michelle Kang to wrest control of the team away from Steve Baldwin.

With that, the unanimous vote should allow Kang to make the changes needed within the club to make a full pivot away from the regime that allowed Richie Burke to coach the team. Burke’s reputation as an abusive coach had been documented in the media at the time of his hire, which should have raised numerous red flags to the managerial braintrust of the team.

Instead, Burke was allowed to verbally abuse the team, which hemorraged star player during his tenure. The final straw was when defender Kaiya McCullough came out and cited Burke as the reason she left the sport entirely.

Kang doesn’t have the necessary control of the team at the moment; the vote today only paves the way for the Washington Soccer Partners organizing group to reorganize.

BULLETIN: Jan. 22, 2022 — U.S. men 2, Canada 1

In one of the most unbelievable single-game performances by a U.S. men’s national field hockey team in the last 20 years, the Boys in Blue beat Canada 2-1 in a Pan American Cup pool B match. Canada was a huge favorite coming into the tournament, given its ability to qualify for the Olympics the last two occasions. But the result has put the U.S. team into position towards qualifying for its first FIH men’s World Cup since the tournament was organized in 1971. It had been four years earlier, 1967, since the United States beat Canada in a Pan American zone tournament.

Though the U.S. has never qualified for the FIH men’s World Cup, the States came close in 2009 when they lost to Canada in extra time. It was a game in which the U.S. led for nearly 50 minutes, but fell on a Paul Wetlaufer tally. There was only one berth available for the World Cup through the Pan American zone.

But that was then; today was an achievement which defies explanation. Think of this: Canada is the tenth-best men’s national field hockey program in the world. On the other hand, the United States men’s field hockey team is perhaps on the lowest tier of the USOPC rung in terms of funding and fan involvement, landing somewhere around modern pentathlon and team handball. It is a self-funded side with players cobbled together from various club sides that play on weekends; no varsity apparatus for the game exists in the USA.

Instead, the selectors for this Pan Am Cup side have been able to make a deep dig for foreign talent. Today’s goal scorers for the U.S. team, Jack Heldens and Kai Kokolakis, made their way to the U.S. roster through Germany.

Heldens’ father Joachim played for the DHB League in Germany as well as the senior men’s national team. Heldens declared for for the United States last year. Kokolakis is from Weisbaden, and has been with the U.S. program for five years.

The States now top Pool B, and, like their sisters on the women’s national team, need just a draw in their final pool match against Mexico to win the pool and get into the crossover round only needing to win one game to get to the World Cup.

Only for the U.S. men, there’s no margin for error. Only two Pan American berths are up for grabs in this tournament; the States need to make the championship final of the Pan American Cup to get into the World Cup.

Full marks have to go to goalkeeper Jonathan Klages and the U.S. defense, as well as Harry Singh, Jun Kentwell, and the U.S. coaching staff.

Jan. 22, 2022 — Trouble in women’s sports ownership, Part 1

The last month or so has seen some upheaval in the National Women’s Soccer League when it comes to the leadership and ownership of the league champion Washington Spirit.

Frankly, it has been business as usual for the 10-year-old Division I women’s pro league, given the financial problems that spelled the doom of the WUSA, the disastrous Dan Borislow ownership within WPS, and now, problems with choosing coaches within the NWSL.

It’s gotten to the point where fans in both Portland and Washington have been calling for changes in management. In Portland, there has been enough fallout from the club’s hiring of the now-disgraced Paul Riley to put a microscope on any and all actions that the club undertakes. This includes the drafting of Sydny Nasello, who fans quickly discovered had retweeted viewpoints on social media that didn’t match the Thorns’ core values.

And this week, the front office of the Thorns and the MLS Timbers franchise announced it was terminating monthly meetings with its main supporters, the nonprofit 107 Independent Supporters Trust.

In Washington, there has been mounting pressure for co-owner Steve Baldwin to sell his portion of the team because of his role in the hiring of the now-disgraced Richie Burke as head coach. Word came down, however, that Baldwin, even as he has refused to sell his share, has been outflanked by his main rival, Y. Michelle Kang.

Kang was able to convince the biggest debt-holder, Devin Talbott, to sell his share to Kang. Talbott and seven other debt-holders converted their shares to equity in order to gain voting rights. According to The Athletic, Kang now holds a 52 percent stake in the team.

Now, the Kang forces can’t exactly declare victory yet. There could be a drawn-out legal process, similar to the process which saw Frank McCourt sell the Los Angeles Dodgers a decade ago.

It is certain that we haven’t heard the last about the quality of governance in women’s soccer, especially on the continent that holds the World Cup and Olympic championships.

Jan. 21, 2022 — A crossroads for FIH World Cup qualification

This afternoon in Santiago, Chile, the U.S. women’s national field hockey team will play its first consequential game since Nov. 2, 2019 as the team takes on Canada in a second-round pool match at the Pan American Cup.

It’s only the second of three pool games, but this one is of utmost importance because of goal differential and getting the best possible matchup for the quarterfinal round.

Right now, the U.S. and Canada both have three points for winning their first-round games. Both also have ridiculous goal-differentials, as the States beat Trinidad & Tobago 16-0 and the Wolfpack beat Peru 14-0.

The object for the U.S. team is to try to win its pool. That way, it is likely to avoid a crossover match against Argentina (the top-ranked team in this tournament) as well as having to meet the third-place team in the other pool, which could be either Uruguay or Chile. Most importantly, all they have to do is win one crossover match to qualify for the 2022 FIH Women’s World Cup.

Mind you, Canada is a side which has put together quite the run of form in recent years. They were just a hair away from qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, have had success against the States in recent years, and has seven players with 100 caps or more.

The United States team’s most experienced player, by comparison, is captain Amanda Magadan, with 89. Indeed, the U.S. team has 11 players with 10 caps or fewer. Many of these, however, are a golden generation of youth players with unlimited potential. Ashley Sessa, a high-school senior, chopped in a backhand golazo from a deep angle against Trinidad. Hope Rose had four goals, Beth Yeager a hat trick, and Maddie Zimmer a brace.

Of course, the U.S. has the inspirational figure in Erin Matson, who had a hat trick.

Today’s game should be fun to watch.

Jan. 20, 2022 — Incisive questions in a new book by a field hockey alumna

Kendra James is an author and the founder of Shondaland.com, and, as such, has been throwing a lot of light on the worlds of elite schools and their privilege, long before the Operation Varsity Blues bribery scandal and the retracted story by Ruth Shalit Barrett in The Atlantic regarding the lengths parents will go to in order to showcase their athletically-oriented children.

Later this year, she’s going to be releasing a book called Admissions: A Memoir of Surving Boarding School.

Elle Magazine has an excerpt of it regarding James’ time on the Thirds team (a level of sport mostly found in New England preparatory schools which exists to encourage participation) at Watertown Taft (Conn.). The excerpt is, to be sure, uncomfortable reading, but I encourage each and every one of you to look at it and put yourself in the place of James when you feel her being micro-aggressed.

And I hope that, if you’re a gatekeeper — coach, administrator, director — that is, someone who makes decisions as to who participates in a sport, you take James’ words to heart. The person you give a chance to in terms of game-play may turn out to be your best player.

Jan. 19, 2022 — Is Zimbabwe making little to no progress in diversifying women’s hockey?

This week, Zimbabwe, the nation which won the first gold medal in women’s field hockey at the 1980 Olympics, finds itself in a bit of a social-network pickle.

Zimbabwe, if you recall, used to be one of the apartheid states in the southern cone of Africa, to the point where it was named Rhodesia, named for Cecil Rhodes, the leader of the British South Africa Company, a corporation originally chartered to capitalize on the expected mineral wealth underground and bring it back to Britain.

Leading into this week’s Africa Cup of Nations in Accra, Ghana, social media in Zimbabwe has decried the lack of minority representation within the team, with blame being placed squarely at the feet of sports minister Kirsty Coventry. There are three Black players on the Zimbabwe side, but the social media talk is about others who did not make the team.

Given the racial makeup of the country even after the institution of Black majority rule in the late 1970s, that’s fair. However, some of the media reports on this story had said that there were no Black players on the team, which is not true.

Still, it’s interesting to note how many other nations with high minority populations don’t have as many as one dark-skinned player on their field hockey national sides.

Jan. 18, 2022 — A convenient solution

This April, a new made-for-TV men’s lacrosse competition will showcase the proposed 6-v-6 Olympic format as well as an underserved group of lacrosse players in America.

The six teams in the proposed Next Collegiate Lacrosse league are Bowie State, Delaware State, Lincoln University, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Coppin State, and Morgan State.

If you haven’t caught on yet, these six institutions of higher learning are historically-black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The NCL is to be given coverage on Next Level Sports, a digital network which is carried on a number of major cable systems nationwide. Next Level is a network which traces itself all the way back to the failed America One Network of the 2000s, but has a significant lacrosse presence with its partnership with Lax Sports Network.

This is a competition which is taking advantage of the low roster requirements of the Olympic rules, and is going to give small colleges across America the idea of starting a short-sided lacrosse team.

If this works out, this could be an absolute paradigm-changer.