The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, February 8, 2021

College soccer season, part deux, is underway for part of the country, while we're just starting out on the West Coast — My interview with Anson Dorrance — Lots o' links

Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.

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This past week I was elected to the NWSL Media Association executive committee, along with the wonderful Stephanie Yang. (Editor’s note: HOORAY!) I’m so honored to be part of this group. And many thanks to John Halloran and Neil Morris for their service for the past two years.

As we see the growth of the women’s game, both in the United States and abroad, issues of access are going to be vitally important. We also need to set professional standards, and make sure we lift up young and aspiring soccer writers and provide mentorship. I’m super excited to be part of the NWSLMA’s effort.

This week we’re going to take a look at the strange state of women’s college soccer, because it really is a convoluted mess.

Unlike college football, which eventually saw all of the Power 5 conferences have some sort of fall season, college soccer was all over the place. Some conferences, like the ACC and SEC, went ahead with abbreviated falls seasons. Others, like the Pac-12 out here, decided to wait.

So what we have is some teams that have already played for conference titles, and some that haven’t.

I spoke to Anson Dorrance and some other college coaches about how strange this all is. You can see excerpts of my interview with Dorrance below.

In North Carolina’s case, they’ve essentially already played the conference season, losing to Florida State in the ACC championship.

So this spring, the Tar Heels are playing just seven games, all non-conference, and all within driving distance. They’re “banking” their conference slate — North Carolina went undefeated in the “regular” season. The games this spring will simply be added to the 11-1 record.

Out West, Stanford will start the season on Feb. 14 against Santa Clara. Even without Catarina Macario, the Cardinal are still formidable, returning Naomi Girma, Madison Haley and Kiki Pickett. Haley and Pickett were selected in the NWSL draft but will stay at Stanford through the spring season.

Likewise, Brianna Pinto is going to stay with North Carolina through the college season.

At Oregon, former U.S. national team assistant Graeme Abel made his coaching debut for the Ducks with a 1-0 victory over Gonzaga this weekend.

I wrote about Abel last January, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago. You can read my story here.

The goal, at least in the Pac-12, is to play 16 games, 12 conference and four non-conference. We’ll see if that happens in the midst of COVID-19.

The NCAA tournament will be pared down this year to 48 teams, so there will be greater emphasis on making the field. The College Cup semifinals and final are set for May 13-17 in Cary, N.C.

One team I’d like to see return to the tournament is the Portland Pilots, for obvious reasons (hometown team!). Coach Michelle French recently added a volunteer assistant, none other than Hall of Famer Tiffeny Milbrett, to her staff.

As a bit of a cliffhanger: I spoke to French and Milbrett, and I’ll have that conversation in the IX next week. It was really fun.

OK, on to the links! Hope everyone has a great week!


(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!

Guys, if you only read one link this week, let it be Matt Pentz’s fantastic story on Lynn Williams for The Athletic.

KC NWSL opens first camp. Cool to see the Kansas City Star covering the NWSL team. CLICK on this LINK! to show the editors that there’s an audience for women’s soccer coverage!

The Offside Rule did a nice takeout on Racing Louisville.

The Courier Journal also did a story on the opening of Racing’s camp. Again, click away please!

Sandra Herrera’s take on Sydney Leroux’s signing with the Pride, for CBS sports.

The Equalizer’s Dan Lauletta wrote about Syd, too.

I wrote about Syd too, for the AP. I’m weird, I know, but I love reading the different takes on any given story, especially in this case, where writers took a news event and made it into a feature.

Jeff Kassouf wrote about Abby Dahlkemper’s big move for The Equalizer. A reminder her to subscribe and support women’s soccer!

Jessy Parker Humphrys writes about the rest of the WSL catching up to Arsenal, for FourFourTwo.

Meg Linehan wrote about how the Olympic roster is shaping up. For a future IX, we should take a poll on who you think will make the team.

Cameroon-Chile playoff for an Olympic bid is off until April.

England is gonna play for the first time in nearly a year against Northern Ireland.

Really interesting list from GlobalVoices about 10 women who are changing the game. This may be a good idea for a future Soccer Monday. Who do you think are the most influential players and activists?

Brighton beat Chelsea. Wait, what?

Casey Stoney says League One or League Two are not a step up from the WSL, as far as coaching goes.

Catarina Macario made her debut for Lyon.

The Thorns opened preseason camp WITH CRYSTAL DUNN. I’m excited for the season, can’t you tell?

I wrote about the SheBelieves roster when it came out. We’ll have more on national team news over the next couple of weeks, obviously.

Five at The IX: Anson Dorrance

Photo courtesy of North Carolina

As I mentioned before, I spoke to North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance for an upcoming AP story about the weirdness of this season and what it might look like. Here’s a part of our conversation.

Question: I guess my first question is, you already played a season. Now you’re going to play a spring season. How strange is all of this?

Dorrance: Well, actually, the strangeness is not playing two seasons. The strangeness is trying to play a season with COVID. We’ve had spring seasons in the past, but they were restricted in terms of number of games. So this is not a huge departure, actually, all that happens now is that now it counts — because the old days, the spring season did not count, it was more of a training and player development platform. But now this actually counts with a national championship opportunity for all of us at the end of it. So the changes arent as great as you might think, the issue for all of us, of course, is managing the COVID.

Question: How successful has your team been in doing that?

Dorrance: Well, actually, we were very fortunate in the fall, we closed our bubble. And from when the preseason began, we didn’t have one COVID case. And we’re hoping that we’ll be able to close it again and do the same thing. Although obviously, everything I’m seeing and reading like you are, there’s a more aggressive form of this out there and maybe it’s going to be more difficult for us. Maybe last fall we were just lucky I was attributing our success to our great leaders, because certainly, if you’re going to have this sort of success we did last fall, your leadership has to be a part of helping keep people accountable and keeping them in line, et cetera. And I think the leaders we had did a wonderful job with that. But who knows? Maybe we were just lucky. So we’re hoping to be equally lucky and equally aggressive in trying to have a season. So fingers are crossed.

Question: How was it decided to go forward with the season in the fall?

Dorrance: Well, obviously, they don’t bring a collection of soccer coaches together to talk about the science. So I don’t want to pretend for a second we were aggressively involved in this. We weren’t. We’ve got obviously incredible medical people here. In fact, of the University in North Carolina has been very aggressive in all the different things they’ve done to assuage this pandemic, because we have the number one school of public health in the country, which probably means in the world. So I think we were very educated, as a culture, and we felt we could manage it. And obviously, that’s in consultation with all the experts we have in our school of public health.

So I was very confident. I didn’t have to pretend to do the research myself to see if this was important for us to to make these sorts of choices. Now we’ve got an extraordinary collection of leaders in the School of Public Health, but also our chancellor, my athletic director. So I think we are following the science. And let’s face it, I mean, Duke is renowned for its medical school and its research institutions. And so the ACC was very confident with all of the leadership and experts that we have at our disposal to think we could do this.

And we managed to. But also maybe it was the fact that we do have, more or less, rural campuses. Maybe that’s different than a lot of the Pac-12 where you’ve got these schools within a dense population centers. So maybe the Pac-12 made a decision that was very good for their culture, given the population density and also what they’re fighting right now. Maybe a part of us was certainly not just following the science, but having rural campuses, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve been to Chapel Hill. But we’re a little village. You can look across the ACC and with a few exceptions, we’re not in major population centers. So maybe that was a part of the rationale. But who am I to say? I mean, I have an English philosophy degree and all I understand is soccer.

Question: How will it work? Will you play another conference title, or will it just be a regular season and then you go straight to the tournament?

Dorrance: So last fall, we did play an ACC schedule and we did have an ACC championship. So what the ACC decided to do, and obviously they actually consulted us on this, they decided to set us free, to allow us to make our own schedules — because obviously within the budget ramifications, we all have sort of different platforms. So my school basically said, we just want you to play a schedule within driving distance, which we did, unlike in the fall where we actually flew to a couple of places in order to complete our work schedule. So all we did last fall was nothing but ACC games.

But the rule, the NCAA rule is, all of us, including the Pac-12, are allowed to play 16 games between the fall and the spring. The ACC tournament did not account against those 16 games. So we played nine regular season games. We played three ACC tournament games because, you know, with single elimination for ACC tournament, we won the first two games and then played Florida State in the final. So even though we played 12 games, only nine count against the 16 that all of us are allowed to play between the fall and the spring. So all we’re left with in the spring is seven regular season games. And we could have played more ACC teams, but we’ve decided to bank all those victories because with one exception, we beat all the teams ACC teams we played.

And this spring, with our leading seniors, three of our wonderful English seniors, British seniors, left in August. So we’ve lost We lost two All-Americans, which obviously are huge losses. And then we lost two more players for this spring, including the best player on our roster, Emily Fox, who was drafted No. 1 in the NWSL draft, we lost her. And we’ve lost Taylor Otto, one of my captains who also decided to jump into the draft. So we are losing our entire senior class to the pro leagues. So we wanted to bank all of our ACC wins and by bank I mean, we don’t want to play those teams again because we’re going into the spring with all of those great victories banked, which will give us a wonderful seed in the NCAA tournament. Then we’ll play teams outside the conference for the seven games, although the first game won’t count. We’re playing the Carolina Courage, a professional team in the NWSL, so that doesn’t count on our schedule. Obviously, we want them beat us up a bit, and show us where we need work, so we can get to work and have a successful spring and then roll the dice and see how we do in the NCAA tournament.

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 The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Annie Peterson