Soccer….Family Style


For Our Referee Family, a Poignant and Momentous Start to MLS 2014
March 8, 2014, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, US Soccer

I am a soccer supporter, but I came to my love of soccer by way of refereeing. When I met my husband in 1991, he was an up and coming referee in US Soccer, who eventually spent 10 years as a National Referee for US Soccer. I realized early on that if I wanted to see him, I needed to certify, and I became a referee in 1993, eventually becoming a State Referee and working high school and college games.

I’ve loved refereeing, but I’ve seen referee organizations doing both good to raise the level of the soccer in America and bad discriminating and treating people who weren’t their chosen few horribly, trashing careers and wreaking misery on the people they’re supposed to be supporting.

That said, I stand with the Professional Soccer Referees Association, and I encourage other supporters to do so also. You can’t complain about the calls made in MLS and not support the referee’s union. Their demands are to be paid fairly in a league that has gotten big enough to recruit big name players, but not compensate referees well enough that they can make a career out of refereeing. There is an enormous amount of time and training that goes into becoming a MLS level referee. How can we expect our best and brightest soccer talent to pursue refereeing when the highest level in the professional won’t allow a person to support themselves financially as a career? We cannot expect top level refereeing (although I would argue we often get it) without paying a reasonable salary to encourage the excellence and training we want from our referee pool.

Today is a huge day in our family, a day I have looked forward to and dreaded for years. Our daughter passed the entry level referee exam with a score of 94% and is officially a US Soccer Referee. I am full of pride, and so hopefully that she will not face the discrimination I endured in my career. I believe her best hope as an official and our best hope as supporters lies with the PSRA. But please don’t take my word for it. I share, with permission, a post from Landis Wiley, former MLS track referee. I hope you’ll read it and gain a little more understanding for what life is like on the way to MLS as a referee:

(Shared via Facebook, 3/7/14)

Friends,

In re: the decision today by PRO to lockout the referees of Major League Soccer, I feel the time is right to share a point of view that in many ways relates to the events unfolding, and hopefully gives pause to those of you across the United States who dedicate your lives (and that of your families) to the sport, to reflect on your role in the outcome of these events.

As many know, in 2012 I stepped away from my life on the “fast train” and elected to resign from the MLS-pool of officials, and subsequently stepped back from many other soccer-related endeavors. It was, frankly, the hardest decision of my life. Very few knew it was coming, and fewer still understood it. Many still have ideas of why I left, and most are wrong. But, it was a decision arrived at after, literally, years of reflection. My doubts about my pursuit of the “top” began almost as soon as my time in MLS began back in 2008/2009. It was always my goal to “get there”, but once there I asked “what now?” I never came up with a definitive answer. My family and friends who supported by referee career from the time I stepped on the field at 10 years old were my sounding board, and many pushed me to continue, and for many of the wrong reasons I did so until I finally worked up the courage to step away.

My life on the career track of refereeing was and will remain one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. Many, hell – most- of my best friends came from the days hanging out in blistering heat or freezing cold under tents vulnerable to lightning strikes and wind storms. These aren’t the “best friends” in the sense that many consider friendships, these are the types of friends that I can go for months (or, in some cases longer) without seeing, and yet when we run into one another it’s like we never missed a day. I’ll be forever grateful to the mentors who, in many cases, taught me more about life off the field than the stuff that went on between the lines.

That said, there reached a point where I had to pause and ask myself, “what next?” For a variety of reasons I asked that question, and, unfortunately, some of those reasons went back to a lack of support for further development. Some call it “politics”, others call it “favoritism”, I just call it “lack of vision.” I saw too many around me who were denied the opportunity to improve as a referee, not because of lack of skill or lack of desire or effort, but simply because someone else took over as “flavor of the month.” Frankly, I didn’t want to be “that guy” that at 40-some years of age would be discarded like an old sock simply because something new or “better” was coming along. The system was broken, the system IS broken. The sad thing is, the solutions are not difficult. Unfortunately, it appears that the people employed with the purpose of implementing them are incapable of seeing past their own short term goals and allegiances to to do what needs to be done.

Now, don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I did not leave the professional ranks because of anyone else, or because someone “screwed” me. Quite the contrary, I left for myself, for my family, and for my real career. My professional soccer career spanned a series of marriage, divorce, death of my mother, and loss of a job – most of which occurred in 2010 and 2011. I had plenty of reasons to walk away, and eventually I got the courage up and did so – and I’ve never looked back. Well, at least once I got past the withdrawal stage which lasted an excruciating 6 months. The comparison to a drug addiction is apt. I look at my life in the years since I walked away with joy and appreciation. I have a beautiful wife, and blessed family – about to grow by one, an incredible job, and wonderful friends. I would not change one thing about the decision, or the path forward since.

So, where does all this tie in to the current PRO/MLS/PSRA situation? It’s simply this: The men and women who continue to dedicate their lives to the sport and to the career DESERVE to have the sport and the career dedicate itself back to them in a fair and equal way. If a person is going to be asked to sacrifice career, family, friends, time and energy to become “the best”, then they absolutely deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect – both financially and otherwise. Up until now, the referees in this country have been involved in a one-way relationship. PRO and MLS appear to expect that this should continue. PSRA is standing up for a cause that is long overdue and will serve to benefit the development and retention of “the best” referees from the time they step on their first U10 field, to the time they carry the ball onto the field of a World Cup.

My involvement in the founding and floundering first years of PSRA make me intimately passionate about this subject. It pains me (and I’m trying to be polite here) to hear that fellow “brothers” in the referee ranks are stepping in to circumvent those who have given so much for the sake of helping ALL referees at all levels. I can’t force, and I don’t beg, but I would encourage ALL of my friends in the soccer community to give pause to your personal ambitions in soccer and reflect on the greater good here. For those “crossing the line”, I’ll leave you with this: “what next”?

Landis T. Wiley
Professional National Referee – Retired
Iowa



State of the Soccer Union
February 1, 2014, 10:41 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

USSoccer Sell outThis. US Soccer has sold out Camp Cupcake in a World Cup year. The World Cup year is significant because if you’re saving your pennies for Brazil, you’re not going to go to what is basically a preseason camp. This is the state of US Soccer today: the fan base has become so tight knit and grown so much, that peer pressure circle to go to games is that much bigger. I wasn’t going to come to LA until Megan, Colin, Amy, Robert, and of course my AO LA family started talking about coming. It didn’t hurt that temps were incessantly subzero in Iowa, but I came because I missed my soccer family. When I said I was coming, at least three more people said some version of “Well, if Tanya’s coming…”

Makes me happy to see this kind of a community happening within US Soccer. Last week I tweeted “Remember when @USSoccer was that uncool thing we did that no one understood?” Yesterday on my flight, the woman next to me said “Soccer is getting to be a big thing in the US, isn’t it?” After years of mocking, soccer finally has the critical mass to escape its nerdy beginnings, and now even Camp Cupcake won’t have tickets available at the gate on game day. What a wonderful world it is….



Thoughts on Michael Bradley Coming to MLS
January 13, 2014, 5:44 pm
Filed under: International Soccer, US Soccer | Tags: , , ,

After watching Clint Dempsey and the frustrations he faced at Seattle Sounders, I can’t say I was all that thrilled to hear Michael Bradley was moving to Toronto FC. As much as I enjoy Seattle’s suffering on the club side, this year is one to focus on USMNT and making sure our boys have the best year possible, at least in my opinion.

Then my husband, affectionately known as , Mr Tanya, walked in from work with the opening line “I guess Bradley doesn’t even want to be on the same continent as dear old Dad” that I started to feel better. He has many interesting points on Bradley’s move and the state of MLS, and was kind enough to guest blog them here.

I had some initial doubts about the Bradley to TFC move but since I’ve had some more time to think I consider this a good thing for Bradley and the USMNT. Before you get all excited and pissed off thinking our best players should be playing at the best level and on the best teams possible let me have a chance to explain.

The World Cup is a special event. It is 3 games in a cloud of dust, or middle of a rain forest, as it were. It’s not a 10 month marathon like a European season. Anything can happen in a one-off game with everything on the line. Just look at what the US did in the 2009 Confederations Cup. They got killed in the first two games, did great in an elimination game against Egypt, and then took it to Spain for a shocking upset, and then Brazil for a half. I don’t believe the USMNT would finish above Spain or Brazil if they were playing club style long season but for 2 ½ games the USMNT was phenomenal.

That is what the World Cup is all about, single games where anything can happen. It is a fast paced, physical tournament. It is not a tournament for aging, slower players who need a game or two off to rest up here and there. The World Cup has become much more an athletic event over simply a pure skill tournament. I believe it changed during the 1994 WC in the US. The heat and travel requirements took an enormous toll on older teams. The speed of play has only increased since then, requiring the need to be in peak physical condition.

In order to be great in modern day World Cup games, players must be at their peak physically and mentally. That is what Klinsmann wants from his players. He wants all of the players to push themselves to be their best: play in the biggest leagues and play in the biggest games. But do not forget he wants them to PLAY in those games, not ride the bench and watch others do the playing. You can do that in front of a TV at home with a beer. Players always talk about being “game fit”. Practice on a top flight team is not a substitute for the mental and physical rigors of game speed and intensity. 

Klinsmann has always said that to get better, players need to be playing against the best, however, he also emphasizes if you are not playing regularly, you will not be selected for the USMNT. Period. There’s no buddy buddy old boys club favors of what you did for me last year, or acceptance that riding the bench for a great team is as valuable as game experience. That is not Klinsmann’s style and he has made it very clear to everyone: get playing time for your club, or you won’t be playing on the national team.

So back to Michael Bradley at TFC vs Any European Team. I don’t think there is any doubt that TFC has already pre-printed all of their game day programs with Bradley starting in the midfield. He is a starter and will likely play the full 90 in every game. I don’t see that kind of guarantee in any European team.

Mentally, it is very difficult for players at the top level to not be playing in every game. Doubt in their own ability and confidence can creep in, and wreak havoc on the most talented player. I want all of the US players playing with confidence and a bit of swagger. If that means being the best player on a slighter lower level team instead an occasional sub on a top flight side, I’ll take that.

Billed as a star on a team that’s trying to improve their position will put Bradley under pressure to succeed in every match. He will not have the refuge of playing a relegation team, every game in MLS will be important to TFC. MLS is a physical league, requiring hard work for the full 90 at every position on the field. He will get plenty of practice defending and will always have someone pressuring him when he has the ball. He will need to lead the team, start the attack and work back on defense at a fast pace, not unlike what he will face in Brazil.

I don’t think we will see Michael Bradley grow leaps and bounds as a soccer player in the next 5 months, nor would he whereever he was playing. With playing time every week, he should be able to avoid any backsliding in talent and fitness, which could happen if he stagnates on a European bench. USMNT doesn’t need a “better” Michael Bradley, we need Bradley at top fitness to keep doing what he’s done for the US for the last year. 

Long term, I hope Bradley has a fantastic World Cup, is courted by a bunch of European teams who show him the money, he moves again in 9 months, and becomes the greatest US player of all time and spends the rest of his playing career as a starter on a Champions League winning team. That would be great. Not very realistic, but great. The US just can’t afford to have him riding the pine this spring.

Now let’s focus on Jermaine Jones. I hope he likes barbecue, because it would be great to see him playing with a USMNT midfielder and a defender three short hours away in Kansas City.



The Soccer Shrine
December 9, 2013, 7:01 pm
Filed under: Family Fun, Supporter Culture, US Soccer | Tags: ,

soccer roomI have wanted a soccer shrine forever. Our previous house didn’t have space for one, and our current house always had a higher priority projects going on. It’s a 125 year old Victorian, and there are at least a decade’s worth of projects to be done. But we finally got enough cleaned our of our master bedroom alcove to get our shrine started. You can read about the project, see more photos, and learn about the rest of the house over at my Historic Hatton House blog, but meanwhile, here’s a teaser photo for you. Feel free to post links to your soccer shrines in the comments.



The Storytellers World Cup – Why This is a Great Draw for US Soccer
December 7, 2013, 2:17 am
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer, US Soccer | Tags: , ,

The moment Ghana drew into the same group as Germany, I knew it. I turned to the group of Des Moines Outlaws gathered in the middle parlor of our home and said “This is our group.” There were groans and begging not to jinx us, but moments later, when they held up “USA,” and as almost everyone hung their heads, I was jumping and shouting for joy. I love this group. I’ve dreamed about a group like this. The short answer: Because Jürgen Klinsmann. Here’s the long answer why:

Ghana: We finally get to play Ghana in the first round! I’m a believe in the third time being the charm, based on the highly scientific study of draw simulators I ran all day while my son was home sick. When Ghana was in our group, we got out of the group. This is the year. I believe that Klinsmann can make the US team believe they can do anything. He can lead the US to avenging our losses in previous World Cups. It will be a moment of spontaneous healing for soccer fans across the US. I can’t freaking wait.

FigoRonaldoPortugal: Best game of my life was watching us beat Portugal in the 2002 World Cup. I met most of my soccer family that day, walking up to the stadium, and the game itself was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.  They were #4 in the world, we were college kids with no clue. They had Figo, we had….mostly people before they were famous. That glorious moment when we scored in the third minute, my husband was shaking me and screaming “This is going to be the longest 87 minutes of my life!” You better believe I think we can do it again. No doubt. My only regret is that Ronaldo’s name won’t fit well into the “Agoos has more goals than Figo!” chant. (Side note: yo, USMNT…no own goals this time, my heart stopped after the Agoos goal and didn’t restart til the final whistle.) Relive that game? Yes please!

6a00d83478053469e201116907d3b7970c-800wiGERMANY: The MOTHERLODE!! The team that brought me to US Soccer. That beat us in 1998. That sent us home in 2002. Who we BEAT THIS YEAR. Don’t give me your “Meh, it was a friendly” “It was their C team” Whatever. Klinsmann wants to beat Germany. I’d put money on it. Because he must have about 100x more German friends than I do, and is just as sick of hearing about how the German team is better than the US. Maybe some days they are, but not June 26, 2014. That is the day we will avenge this handball, and I will get to send a nice bottle of consolation wine to my German housefather, as he delivered to me after our 1998 loss.

Klinsmann was on the team that destroyed us in 1998. He understands the game, the psychology, the bench, the players. He needs to play Ghana and two European teams, instead of needing to prepare for an African team, a South American team, and a European team. Already a job made more simple. But more importantly, he’s been inside the German psychological game.

The 1998 US Soccer sports psychologist, when speaking about that game, told how Germany stood next to US Soccer in the tunnel, and in unison, turned to the US looking unimpressed and unthreatened, then in unison snapped eyes back front, leaving our boys without any hope of beating the German machine before they ever left the tunnel. Klinsmann was one of those players…oh sorry, he was the CAPTAIN. Heck yes I want him leading us into this battle! This is the year, I’ve felt it since we hired Klinsmann, this is THE YEAR.

It’s not enough for me, just getting out of the group, and I cannot for the life of me understand why we’re just talking about getting out of the group, now or in 2010. It is un-American to not want to do better, strive for more than we’ve ever done, so let me tantalize you a bit with what awaits us on the other side of the epic battle we have in front of us. My geek husband ran the numbers on group “deathness,” much like MLS did here, only he used FIFA and ELO rankings. When you look at ELO, deathness is ranked (starting with most deadly) B, G, D, A, C, F, E, H. See, we’re not in the worst group (smirk). But what about the next rounds? Let go of your fears and look into the next round!

If (when!) we escape the first round, we get to face the winners of group H. How’s that side looking? Not too shabby. You know who we face in the round after that?? E or F’s winner. Aw yeah boyeee!! I know, I know…one game at a time, but seriously America, get hungry. When we hired Klinsmann, I told my kids I thought he was the coach to take us further in the World Cup than we’d ever gone. I still believe. You should too, because it’s going to be an epic story next summer.



New Zealand Outlaws! Get Your NZO Shirt Benefitting Little Feet Today!
October 23, 2013, 11:58 pm
Filed under: FIFA, Supporter Culture, US Soccer

New Zealand OutlawsYou want to support New Zealand as they do battle with US Soccer’s arch nemesis, Mexico, but you don’t have any New Zealand merch to wear game day? Here’s your chance to rep New Zealand All Whites AND support a great charity! $20 for the shirt, $5 to ship up to four shirts in the USA (shipping to New Zealand, we’ll have to look up), and all the profits will be donated to Little Feet, a soccer charity that helps children in need get soccer fields and gear. Orders will be accepted through 10/27 so we can ship in time for the first game. Click this link to order yours!



100 Chapters for American Outlaws
October 11, 2013, 9:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Last night, AO announced its 100th chapter at the night before party in Kansas City.  It took a moment for me to let that sink in. 12000 members in 100 chapters. When I started AO Des Moines in 2008, I didn’t expect it to be much more than the members of our family. I thought I knew everyone who cared about soccer in my city. I was shocked when we became chapter 38 in 2010. Even more stunned when I got our list recently and discovered we had over 120 members.  After the boom we experienced during the last World Cup, makes me wonder, how many chapters and members we’ll be looking at a year from now. For now, congrats all you Outlaws, and happy last home qualifier.




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