Wednesday, September 24, 2008

MARTA MARTA MARTA MARTA!!!: Marta Viera de Silva is (SORT OF, maybe, Uhm...?) coming to LA!

A few days ago, having received an e-mail announcement of the international "draft" picks for the WPS teams, I wrote this:
MARTA has apparently been 'drafted' by the new LA professional women's team. I have a pickup game to join shortly, so can't do my research on this just yet - but OH MY GOD, I am so HAPPY! I am going to pass out from excitement! FORMIGA - first pick (are they reading From A Left Wing?) - is going to the Bay Area!!! Look out, though - Cristiane will be (might be?) playing for the Red Stars, who really seem to have their shit together. Look for a full report from moi sometime over the weekend. If you don't know who Marta or Formiga are, just read my posts below on the Olympics, or search their names on this blog. On reading the press material a little more closely, though - who knows. This could be smoke and mirrors? Who knows anything about the LA team?
Melissa from The Offside's WPS wing has done some of the homework to decode the WPS "international draft" statement. It's not a draft, it's a wish list. And it would be just like the top-down thinking at AEG to name Marta as their choice before they've, well, given the team a name and done any work to connect this future-team to the actual fans of the women's game in the region. My enthusiasm above is a sad, sad indication of how starved we are for information.
I tried e-mailing the contact address given for the LA WPS team on the WPS site, and got that query bounced back. Calls and e-mails to contact persons listed on the WPS LA website (which is, really, a virtual ghost town) are unanswered. Sure, it's just little ole me. Not the LA Times, or Sports Illustrated. But I don't see stories in those outlets which tell us what the hell is going on. Just this solid rant from Grahame Jones ("Hey Phil: Bring Marta to LA") on LA Times's new sports blog site, which is operating on just about the same level of information I've got. Which is nada.

The Offside explains why we don't see German players in the draft list. But why don't we see any of the Nigerian players either? Did anyone else watch those Olympic matches? The whole thing seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors. Sigh. It isn't even worth getting angry about. The WPS announcement of teams wish list/declaration of intention to recruit doesn't seem to mean much of anything - beyond perhaps a warning shot to European clubs to start paying their better players better money.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Soccer Monogamy: Why Don't Women Play Pick Up?

I am putting the question out there. Why don't women play what we Americans call "pickup"? A friend of mine joked that it was because women want soccer monogamy - to commit to one team, whereas guys will play with anybody. It's a funny joke, but not much of an explanation.

Pickup is by far my favorite way to play soccer. These are informal games between whoever shows up. You know the spot and the day of the week. The hour is usually sometime between when you get off work and grab dinner. There's no league, no ref's - you use garbage cans for goal posts, and barely keep score. No uniforms and usually you don't divide up by who is wearing light or dark. You line up, every other person steps forward, and there's the teams. (Not wearing different colors had the advantage of making you much more vocal, much better at signaling to teammates when you want the ball.) Some games in LA have been going on for ten, fifteen years - friendships develop through these games that outlive most marriages - though you may only know each other by nicknames like "The Russian" or "Barça." Pickup games are a big part of the pleasure of playing sports like soccer which require little in terms of field and equipment (as is the case with basketball too), and so can be played in these informal settings (whoever heard of pickup baseball?). (When you are watching Law & Order and the detectives need to talk to a black man, he's invariably found playing pickup basketball.)

For reasons I don't entirely understand, however, women - as a class - don't play pickup soccer. Sure you'll see girls like me out there with the boys, girls who are so crazy about the sport that they'll push through the weirdness that they feel when they first try to join in a game not knowing if their participation will be refused because of their gender (believe me, that's a depressing experience and not easy to get past). And you'll see quasi-organized coed games, played outside leagues and teams - but usually those are more formal than what I mean.

I don't think guys know how lucky they have it - when women want to play regularly against other women, they have to join official teams, register, get ID cards and fill out league forms. That's basically your only option.

I used to play pickup with guys in Griffith Park in L.A. Sometimes these games were insanely big. One night, we were at least 15 on 15. Some girls were gathered at the other end of the park, though, warming up as if they were going to play. No uniforms - looked like an informal game. A guy playing near me said that if he were a girl, he'd go play with them, as it looked like a smaller and more reasonable game. I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I went over to my sister soccer players.

They were standing in a loose circle. They were younger than me, and most had sleek ponytails. I explained that I was playing in a huge pickup game, and that I would love to get in on a smaller game if they were going to play.

They turned and looked at me, as a single Borg-like unit. Their leader stepped towards me and squinted as she explained:

"Uhm. We're, like, a TEAM. And, uhm, this is, like, our PRACTICE."

The others seemed really relieved as she said this. So, I was, like, "Uhm. OK." And I went back to the 15 aside game, which was, however, quickly getting better as guys peeled off to get dinner. By the end of the night, I was having a great game in a 7 aside match. I felt like I had wheels on my cleats - the game was fast, competitive, and played in the middle of a cloud of dust.

I have yet to experience a female version of the chaotic fun of a pickup game. I suspect one problem might be that when women start such games, they let guys in, and the guys take over. But that doesn't explain the complete and total absence of the phenomenon.

If you have theories about women and pickup soccer, I'd love to hear them. If you know of a great women's pickup game, I'd love even more to hear about that!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Defensive Thoughts

Why is playing defense so satisfying? I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there are more than a few of us who love the high anxiety of the back line in a tight game - who love the challenge of trying to shut down a player with more speed, more skill - who live for the peculiar victory of engineering another's defeat. (Check out Nigeria's Faith Ikidi as she tackles Sweden's Teresa Sjorgan here in the 2007 World Cup.)

I am back home in Los Angeles, and just played today with a new team - 11-a-side, under blue skies & the hot afternoon sun, on a typical LA field (bumpy, with huge swaths of packed dirt running up and down the field). The first day with a new team can be nerve wracking, but these women were really welcoming and relaxed. Our opponents struggled for reasons that weren't totally clear as they seemed OK on the ball (fitness perhaps?). Our team won handily (3-0).

I played left back and had a great game. Not perfect, but still great. I pushed up, got involved in play, made all sorts of trouble for those trying to move down the wing, and had a really dramatic 'save' which nixed a breakaway at the last minute - At a full-on run, I managed to just catch the ball with my left foot as the striker was trying to pull it to the left to make a shot. I went flying, too, bringing down the striker and our keeper as I did so - but I'd gotten nothing but ball with the foot, and everyone was OK.

From the reactions of my teammates, I guess it looked pretty good. But as a defender, you are just angry that someone got past you, and that anyone is near the goal. You don't celebrate a block like you celebrate a goal. If you are in that situation, it's because something on your end went wrong. In this case, I wasn't in the right position, I got split between two players and got totally played on a nice give and go between their forwards, and one of them broke free. And while I may have gotten my foot on the ball at the right moment, I gave up a corner.

Defense can be such a different game than attack. Your work is often negative (stopping the action), and you are also often cleaning up messes (your own, your team's). And when you fuck up, you can't just stop to wallow in shame. You have to immediately, without missing a beat, keep at it. If you don't, your mistake may put the other team ahead. In a funny way, you can't take your mistakes too seriously during the game itself.

In any case, back to my opening question: Why is this role so satisfying?

Maybe it's because a really strong back line allows for the possibility of mistakes, allows your team to be more risky in its attacking game - and isn't this what makes the game interesting? I guess I just like being trusted with this responsibility.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Soccer Moms vs Hockey Moms?

I just finished watching Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican Convention, and noticed all those folks waving home-made "HOCKEY MOMS" posters. Palin calls herself one, and got a big cheer when she told a good joke about this demographic (Q: What's the difference between a hockey mom and a bulldog? A: Lipstick).

Palin proudly proclaims herself to be a "hockey mom" - this is a not so subtle attack on the soccer moms who were much in the news in the presidential elections of the 1990s. In the context of Republican rhetoric, soccer is here being contrasted with hockey, and implicitly cast as the wussy sport (played by immigrants, women, and middle-class liberals). It's a cheap shot - plainly an attempt to cast soccer as a game not played by "real" americans. ARGH. ARGH!!!! There were a thousands things to hate about what Palin said in tonight's frighteningly charismatic speech. But this one, indirect swipe at the beautiful game deserves mention here: Ambivalence about soccer, and those who play it, haunts american political discourse - and betrays the true feelings of such politicians about what I've elsewhere referred to in this blog as el resto del mundo.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...