The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, June 1, 2020

It's official: The NWSL tournament is on. But questions remain — A candid conversation with Jess McDonald — Woso links and Emily Menges on the tourney

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‘Breaking point as a nation’

It seems strange at this moment in our history to be talking about soccer. But there’s obviously a lot going on with the tournament, so I’ll get to that. In a moment.

I was speaking this morning to Courage forward Jessica McDonald for an AP story I’m working on, but I veered off the topic at hand and asked her if she had anything she wanted to say about what has been happening.

Here’s her answer, and you could tell her emotions were pretty raw:

“You know, I had a really good conversation with Megan Rapinoe, like a handful of months ago. It was during camp. And I told her about my worry as a woman who is raising a black male in our country. I think about that. I think about it a lot, all the time. And I shouldn’t. And it’s sad that we’re still here in this craziness, you know? We are living in a pretty dangerous world right now. And so it’s very worrisome. It breaks my heart. It saddens me. And I feel like we’re at this breaking point as a nation. And this is where we can all just come together in some kind of way. How? I have no idea. But I think at this point, things have truly gotten out of hand — they always have been — in the way justice is served for black people in comparison to other races. It’s gut wrenching. And I don’t want to always have to worry. That’s a terrible way to live. It’s worrying all the time, but I have to, for the sake of my son. And so I just hope and pray we can truly come together as a nation because we really need it. We need love. We need positivity and we just need to spread that and come together.”

I asked her what she tells her son, who is 8 years old, and whether she thinks of Tamir Rice in her approach to him.

“I don’t even know what I’m even going to tell him. And it’s sad that I HAVE to tell him, you know, but he’s still a very innocent age where he won’t understand or grasp onto that reality. So I’m just going let that innocence go for as long as I can. I’d give it a couple more years because he’s only eight and he doesn’t he doesn’t understand. He has a pretty sensitive heart and he really cares for this world. He’s learning about the earth and how we’re kind of destroying it here as human beings. And so that saddens him. He’s very into life and he’s very emotional about it. He’s very passionate about life. That’s one of the coolest things about my son, not even to brag, but that’s just how he is. Right now life is just very precious for him. And I want him to hold onto that, just for a few more years, and then we’ll have to have a sit down. But, in regard to what I’m going to tell him. I have no clue. I can’t even put the words together. I have no idea what I’m going to sit down and say to him, but at least I have a few more years to collect my words. Hopefully it’ll be very useful for him, for his future.”

I will say this before getting back to soccer:

I have a broken tail light on my car and at times I speed. I jog through the neighborhood often, even at night when it’s dark. I do these things without fear for my life. Not all of my fellow citizens have that luxury.

All too often, it feels like white women hijack the conversation with platitudes. I don’t want to do that. Instead, let’s keep the focus on the injustice that took the life of George Floyd. Of Sandra Bland. Of Ahmaud Arbery. Of Breonna Taylor. Of Tamir Rice. Of Eric Garner. Of Trayvon Martin. Of Philando Castile. Of Samuel Dubose. Of Oscar Grant. And far too many others.

And with that I’ll turn my attention to soccer. Y’all know that the NWSL is going to play in a tournament this summer. Many of the details are still being sorted out.

Kudos to The Athletic, and specifically Meg Linehan and Pablo Maurer, for getting ahold of documents that provided a look into some of the planning shortly after I had already published last week’s Soccer Monday. The story is here. Alex Vejar’s reporting for the Salt Lake Tribune has also been fantastic.

AP’s excellent Olympic reporter, Eddie Pells, got early word of the tournament and had a story ready to go when it was announced, and I was still asleep out here on the West Coast. I updated the story throughout the day.

This morning the draw was held, and here’s what it’s gonna look like to start.

The Courage and the Thorns. Of course.


The big unknown, of course, is whether all the national team players will take part. Or non-USWNT players, for that matter.

Courage coach Paul Riley said all of his players would participate.

Reign CEO Bill Predmore said this of Megan Rapinoe: “I’ve talked to Pinoe throughout this process and then like everybody else we’re not requiring anybody to tell us what they are going to do or what they’re not going to do. So she’s got time to make up her mind and obviously  we’d love her with the team but like everybody else if she chooses not to play I think that’s her right to do so.”

Royals coach Craig Harrington said both Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press are currently out of market, but he’s been talking to both of them.

Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner said: “We haven’t had any nos yet. We’ve had quite a few yeses.” But he said that players were still asking questions.

Steven Goff of the Washington Post reported last week that as many as seven national team players had declined, but that number seems to be in flux from the people I’ve spoken to.

Rosters aren’t due until June 21, so I’m guessing we won’t know for sure until then.

Oh, and we still don’t know if media will be allowed to cover the tournament in person or what that would even entail.

I’m going to lobby the AP to cover it. We’ll see.

Oh, and a reminder from The Goalkeeper. Subscribe to your local newspaper, podcast, blog, whatever. It’s important.

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(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

There were lots of links this week, since the NWSL is the first pro sports league to start up post-coronavirus. I’m not going to include them all here because I just don’t have the room, and a lot of them are redundant. I have a better idea: Go to a local paper that covered it, and click on the article a few times to show there’s interest. Or perhaps get a subscription if you are able, and email the editor to explain why you did so.

I included this last week, but I’m re-upping this week because it seems more important than ever: Meg Linehan, Stephanie Yang, Bria Felicien, and Sandra Herrera had a panel on diversity in the soccer media. Southside Trap has a great recap. And yes, we all need to do more to ensure that diverse voices are in this space. In that spirit, please, please click on the links from POC journalists.

So you should all listen to the Southside Trap podcast. Subscribe here. I subscribed this morning. I have been trying to select my subscriptions somewhat judiciously, because lots of stuff is going behind a paywall. But this one is important. Plus the latest episode is about Christen Press!

Yang wrote about the Challenge Cup for All For XI.

Jayda Evans from the Seattle Times with and excellent story about a teenager from Malawi who got stuck here during the pandemic. Jayda also wrote about the NWSL tournament.

Alex Vejar is killing it on the soccer beat for the Salt Lake Tribune. Here’s his story on the tournament.

Tannenwald’s story on the Challenge Cup for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also wrote about the thorny issue of immigration.

Katie Whyatt for The Telegraph on Phil Neville’s position that the national team was a “stepping stone.”

The aformentioned Meg Linehan of The Athletic with a story on the NWSL’s broadcast and Twitch deals.

Also, this wonderful piece on Babett Peter and Ella Masar from Adam Crafton for The Athletic.

I wrote about the NWSL’s tournament testing protocol for The AP.

Graham Hays with a good overview of the tournament for ESPN.

Outsports on Rachael Rapinoe’s memories of her sister’s cross to Abby Wambach.

In my effort to support local journalism, here’s my friend Paul Danzer’s story on the Thorns for the Portland Tribune. And here’s Jamie Goldberg’s story for the Oregonian, right before she was furloughed for a week.

Tweet of the week

This is the way you do it.

Five at The IX: Emily Menges

A few words from Emily Menges of the Portland Thorns. She went on a zoom call shortly after the tournament was announced. She’s on the players association executive board so she was in on discussions about the tournament from the start.

Emily: “This is really the most impressed I’ve ever been with this league, on all of the steps that they’ve taken. They’ve gone through every single possible possible situation and every caution. And they’ve given all the players a chance to answer every single question that we have.

And so in terms of me personally — I know a few other people have some concerns, but more but more personal concerns — I feel I’m ready to go. I’m very excited. I’m happy that that something’s happening and that we’ll be able to play some soccer games this summer.

Question: How important was it for you to get guaranteed contracts for all the players?

Emily: Yeah, that was huge. And something we’re really proud of. We wound up being probably only one of the leagues in the world that has been able to do that for this season.

And, not to get too deep into any the a scale or anything like that, but it is important for our players to have some kind of financial stability, especially since we’re being asked to kind of like consolidate our season, and not have it look like what it would normally look like. It’s stressful sometimes to leave your life and go play in a city that you don’t normally live in anyway. And so to be able to know that we will get paid through the year was huge.

Question: What were the what were the questions that you got the most from your fellow teammates and women around the league when it came to figuring out how we’re going to make it work and what people needed?

Emily: So first and foremost, it always had to be about health and safety. So whether that was surrounding, obviously mainly around Covid-19, but also around ramping us up from sitting on our couches for two months to playing a game in five weeks. There was a lot of talk about how best to do that. Is it a long enough pre-season? Is there enough precaution for that? And so I think we got to a good place of a five week build up, which I know I’m comfortable with. Some players, coming off injury I know weren’t, but the clubs will individually work with those players. But yes, from the very start, it’s been all focused around health and safety. And that’s what it was gonna take for the most people to feel comfortable anyway. So now that they’ve hammered out most of that, everybody, I shouldn’t say everybody, but 95 percent of the league seems to be on board with it.

Question: You mentioned that not every player is going to be on board with it. So do you have a role in that, not just as a player rep, but on your team, to convince people?

Emily: No, no. We are very much — and this is even outside of soccer — it’s hard to judge anybody for any way that they’re feeling in this entire situation. And so the way that, at least the upper management of our club because that’s who I talk to, both the players association and the league as a whole, it’s very based on individual preference. So, also going back to the other question about compensation, we wanted it to be very clear that even the players who opt out of this would still get paid because they’re not opting out, because they’re lazy, they’re opting out because this could be a health and safety issue for them personally. They shouldn’t get penalized for that. There will be players who don’t want to play for whatever personal reasons. But again, it’s based on individual basis and they’ll still get paid.

Question: What is the general consensus within the Portland Thorns? How is the team feeling about this?

Emily: I think right now it’s all excitement. Obviously, when we first came out with this news and the players were getting it, it was a little bit of a shock because nobody knew that t was coming. Everybody had questions and everybody had concerns and we were able to sit down as a team. We’ve had a couple chats as a team. Had a chat with our team doctor where people were allowed to ask whatever questions they wanted. Not just to make themselves feel better, but to give them the answers and give them the security that they needed. And then, like I mentioned, we had a Zoom call with Lisa Baird and we could type in whatever questions we wanted. And she sat with the entire league and answered every question that we had, which was amazing. She’s been amazing. I can’t raise her enough. As of now, after all the questions we had were answered, I think probably some will still arise as this continues on but right now, we’re just excited that we’re getting to play soccer. [00:06:18][60.3]

Question: What does it mean about the league that you guys were able to come to a compromise and say, let’s just do this, and do it the right way?

Emily: I truly believe we are doing this the right way. And obviously, it’s not perfect and nothing’s going to look perfect in the world for a year or two. I think the league has done an amazing job on prioritizing what they have to prioritize, listening to the players, listening to the ownership. And while we’ve been paying attention to other leagues, I think it’s been cool that they’ve been able to figure out kind of their own way of doing things. It’ll be awesome.

Question: Just kind of curious as to your thoughts of what you personally see the potential for this tournament to be for kind of keeping some of that momentum going for the league?

Emily: I think this is huge. While I think our league is in a good spot anyway, I think taking a year off would have hurt us. I mean, just the way an offseason hurts any league, you need to keep it relevant and keep the people and the fans engaged. So I think anything that could draw attention, draw fans, and just keep soccer at everyone’s in everyone’s mind is so helpful.

Question: The Riveters just released a statement saying, `We’re here to still support our team no matter where they are, where we are.’ I’m just curious as to how that connection can maintain, even as you guys are playing from a distance and fans aren’t allowed in?

Emily: Obviously it’s been different and it won’t look the same while we’re in Utah. There’s nothing like playing home with all those fans physically behind you. But I don’t know if you’ve seen our new jerseys, but we’ve got a little a little fan emblem right on the back. I mean, it’ll be different. It’ll be weird. It’ll be way more quiet, but we’ll know they’re there and we’ll know they’re watching. And that’s cool that they did that.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
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 Annie Peterson