The IX: Soccer Wednesday with Howard Megdal, November 13, 2019

Trading Places, part two — Vlatko speaks — What new salaries buy

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A learning curve

When I heard about the new NWSL salary structure via a press release late last week, I thought of Katy Freels, as I often do when these salaries come up.

For those of you who may not remember her, Freels was an Alabama product who starred at Auburn, played for Western New York and Sky Blue FC, while living on the periphery of the youth USWNT rosters, never earning a senior cap.

I sat with her one afternoon at Sky Blue training the year of the 2015 World Cup, and we talked the logistics of her everyday existence. She’d put off law school to play soccer. She’d made the decision to spend months out of the year away from her husband, to in many ways delay her adult life. And it all cost her dearly — her position meant that she existed near the lower end of a salary range that started at just $6,842 in 2015.

She told me that day that she’d decided to sacrifice some years of her life for the chance to grow the league. And so, with each passing season, I think of every increase in salaries as a kind of payback to Freels, who ultimately retired long before her abilities dictated the end of her career, a chance for the next Freels and the one after that to find a longer, more lucrative future in professional soccer. (I miss the original Freels, she was a great quote.)

No, a minimum salary of $20,000 with $50,000 max for non-NT players doesn’t sound like much. But it’s a significant jump, year-over-year, and this is what the arc of the league looks like:

For those keeping score at home, that means the minimum salary is 2/3 of what the maximum was just seven years ago. There’s a long way to go. But that is the right direction.

And there’s even a parallel in Major League Soccer. I remember the level of frustration, even embarrassment, prior to the 2015 CBA that lifted the lowest-tiered players from near the poverty line up to a legitimate living playing soccer. That came, let’s remember, two decades into the MLS timeline. We’re seven years in with NWSL.

But it isn’t binary, right? Freels played as long as she felt she could afford to play. Jessica McDonald managed to eek out an existence long enough to earn a national team spot and a World Cup trophy. How many McDonalds didn’t because of the pay?

The decision whether to play or not, and for how long, is subject to as many different personal calculations as there are players. And so, this rise in salaries, every new dollar, makes it likelier that someone whose talent we, as soccer fans (and I am a reporter, yes, but lord do I love to watch the game), get to enjoy a bit longer, and a woman who has done all the work a man does for the right to play professionally earns that opportunity without costing herself a life.

This week in women’s soccer

Great stuff from Steph Yang on what we learned from Vlatko’s first two games in charges.

You ok, Phil Neville?

Kieran Theivam goes big-picture on England.

Wonderful story from Meg Linehan on a youth team inspired by Megan Rapinoe.

Sure going to miss Sam Kerr stateside.

Kim McCauley was customarily excellent on Kerr as well.

Tim Grainey gets you ready for W-League!

Jeff Kassouf points out that Carli Lloyd, who is the greatest, remains the greatest.

Jonathan Tannenwald provides optimism for us on how much USWNT we can expect during NBC’s 2020 Olympics coverage.

In Power Plays (you are subscribed, yes? DO IT, DO IT NOW) Lindsay Gibbs talks to Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger about what it was like to play for an owner they came o believe was homophobic.

A weird one from Julia Poe about a NWSL roster screw-up that affects the Orlando Pride.

A great move by the Washington Spirit, to improve the overall game experience and think bigger in 2020.

Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Vlatko Andonovski

The coach spoke after the 6-0 win over Costa Rica on November 10.

What types of tweaks or changes have you made in terms of whether it’s playing style or tactical? Or what’s your blueprint for this team and how is it different than the previous coach?

There are not many. First, we didn’t have much time to change anything, even if we wanted to. But also, the team was in good stage. They just won a World Cup. We don’t want to change anything. Like I said in some of my previous interviews is we want to tweak things because we want to stay ahead of the teams that are close to us that are catching up. So, whether it is on the defensive or attacking a side, we got to follow those trends. We got to make certain tweaks or or adjustments so we can stay ahead of them.

How did you think they did, especially since they were two defenders that were having to play with not as much international experience on the backline there?

Yes. When we were putting the lineup together with the coaching staff, we were thinking that there’s going to be a little bit too much to have both of them on the same side and how they’re going to deal with it, but I was very happy. Obviously, there were a few things that we could have done or they could have done better, but both of them did well and both of them played 90 minutes, which I was very proud of them. Proud of their performance and proud of the way they handled the challenges.

What can you take from this match going into the Olympic qualifier against Costa Rica in February?

I think this is type of a game that we’re going to see in terms of the setup of the opponent when we go into qualifiers, very disciplined compact, middle to low block, and which presents different challenges than maybe some other team. I thought that it was good for us because we had to adjust from first to second half and it worked well. That was one thing. But then on the other side, out of possession, when the opponents were in possession, I thought that they presented some challenges for us that we had to solve. That’s the area that we need to grow in terms of how we want to solve those, those obstacles.

You’ve now had seven days with the most talented roster that you ever been around, most talented roster in the world. What do you take from that as a learning experience as a coach?

So, one of the best experiences that a coach can have, I’m flattered by the opportunity. It’s been amazing. Every time I step on the field, whether it’s training session or a game, I just learn more and more about them in terms of not just learn about them as players, but I learn how good they are. I’m just excited that I have a chance to work with players like that and I think that it will be a good opportunity for me and for them, for everybody together just to keep growing.

How comforting is it to know that you have someone like Lynn Williams come off the bench, get a pair of goals, almost got a hat trick tonight?

Lynn Williams did what she was asked to do, come off the bench, provide spark, stretch the lines for us, and ultimately what every nine is expected to do. Score goals. She checked all the boxes. It’s very comforting and it’s very nice to to see that she’s doing well in this environment and she’s growing as a player.

Yesterday, you mentioned a major goal was to force more pressure higher up to win possession higher up in the opponent’s half. How well did you feel the team performed in that area today?

That’s actually one area that I wasn’t completely happy with because I thought that the challenges that presented in terms of their buildup, I thought they did a very good job. I don’t want to take any credit away from Costa Rica because I thought that they were very good in possession. They were, they were able to break our press at times and and create challenges not just in the first phase, but even closer to our goal once they broke the first press. I told her that at times, we were good and we were able to win the ball high up and capitalize on it. I think we scored one goal on a quick transition after winning the ball. But at the end of the day, I think we can be better at it.

For Morgan, for her score so early in this game, what do you think that meant and how did that maybe spark your team?

I was going to talk about the team first because I thought it was great for the team. Well, we want it, and any team, any coach would want that. But it was something that we talked a lot how important it is to start a game with intensity. As team, we wanted to set up a pace and rhythm that we felt like the opponent will not be able to follow. For Morgan individually, I think that that was great because any player that can score is good. But coming from a second line and making a deep run, which usually is not one of Morgan’s strengths, now she shows different sides of herself. Just adding that weapon to her quality just makes her more complete player.

How much of a challenge is that when your team can come in and route another team, but you still don’t feel like you’re completely satisfied? How do you handle that?

Yeah. I don’t want to sound arrogant by any means, but I think that there were things that we can grow. That’s the coach in me. Regardless of how well we do, we can always find clips where we we could have done better or we could do better in the future. Whether it was in possession or out of possession, there’re always situations that myself as a coach wants to was to use them as a learning opportunity.

But what is great about this team is they want to get better. They don’t want to settle for where they’re at now. We’re not looking at the score, at the result. If you ask me about the result, I’m extremely happy with the result. But we have to grow, we have to get better.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Stephanie Livaudais, @Livaudais
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by The IX Team