Here are XI things I am thankful for in women’s soccer this Thanksgiving season:
The 2019 World Cup has begun to fade into the void, but no one who allowed themselves to fully appreciate Megan Rapinoe will easily forget it. As I have said and written already, Rapinoe held the world in her hands with a surreal combination of elegance both on and off the field. I was privileged to witness the first part of it from home and the last part up close and personal in France.
In a time when sports are more intertwined with politics and social issues, Rapinoe stood at their intersection and marvelously pulled all of it in the same direction. The United States may have won the 2019 World Cup, but to me it will always be the Rapinoe World Cup.
II. Convention/NWSL Championship
Every year, the United Coaches Convention and National Women’s Soccer League Championship offer opportunities for the women’s soccer community to gather in one place. The events are entirely different.
The NWSL Championship is distinctly a celebration of WoSo while the convention is a sea of soccer humanity that any one group can be swallowed up in. But they are both outstanding events that I look forward to both in terms of covering the events and for a chance to catch up with the friends I have made along the way.
III. My World Cup experience
My third World Cup was my first overseas. It was challenging, for sure. Europe was in the throes of an oppressive heat wave, and at every turn it sure seemed like France wanted nothing to do with the event. But it was still a wonderful experience, shared with some colleagues I have known for many years and others I met for the first time in Paris or Lyon. When it was over, the same thing was clear to me as always – no matter the cultural or philosophical divides, sports are an amazing mechanism for bringing people together. Soccer just might symbolize that more than any other. Also, a major tip of that hat to all those who did the entire month plus in France. No matter the capacity in which you were there, that is no small feat.
IV. The coaches’ joint press conference
The NWSL has rarely been innovative over the years, but they may have stepped in something good when they trotted out Paul Riley and Rory Dames together for a media session the day before the NWSL Championship. The two are clearly friends, and Riley got the session off to a humorous start when he looked over at Dames’ chair and quipped at the late-running Red Stars coach, “It was nice of Rory to show up today.”
This has long been a tradition in the Canadian Football League (yes I know odd things, and yes the NFL has done this too) and with that comes a variety of dynamics depending on the relationship and personalities of the respective coaches. Here’s hoping the NWSL continues this practice. One of these years, it just may be fraught with tension. And that would be just fine, too.
V. Those who have left the scene
Patrick Donnelly, Jacqueline Purdy, and Justyne Freud are among those who have left the WoSo world in 2019. All were fabulous contributors, and all will be missed. I first met Jacqueline at the first New York Power preseason match on a cold, rainy Long Island night in 2001. In different capacities, we have now worked together through three leagues. There are not many of us left from the “old days” of WUSA. Hopefully all who have left the scene will soon find their way back in one form or another.
VI. Sam Kerr
Back when Sam Kerr was just another talented young international plying her trade in Western New York, I told anyone who would listen that if she could stay healthy, she could be a top-three–to-five striker in the world. While it pleases me to have gotten that right, clearly I underestimated Kerr. Despite her glaring omission from just about every global award she could win, Kerr should take offense to anyone who demeans her value by calling her a top-five striker, which of course suggests that she has four equals somewhere on this planet.
After seven years watching and covering Kerr in the NWSL, she has decided to seek other opportunities and is on her way to Chelsea. We’ll still be able to watch her, but I am forever thankful for the last seven years when we not only got to watch her every week but when she sometimes seemed to literally mature before our very eyes.
VII. Jill Ellis
Jill Ellis was not the easiest coach to cover. Between occasional snippets of her personality were guarded answers and a near compulsive aversion of showing any kind of public disappointment. But over the years, I gained a great respect for how Ellis handled her media responsibilities. She answered every single question that came her way (though she never — ever — expanded on any topic without being specifically asked) and did so with the same style no matter what the question or who it came from. And if you figured out where to take the question, there were good answers to be had. Ellis doesn’t leave behind a treasure trove of quotes, but she carried herself with class on the podium — always.
VIII. Vlatko Andonovski
Ellis’ replacement is about as different a personality as you can imagine. Vlatko Andonovski just wants to talk soccer. Anytime. With anybody. Time will tell how his national team tenure goes but during his seven years in NWSL, Andonovski made the league more fun to cover.
Some of my best content during these years has come as a result of Andonovski just wanting to talk about soccer and his teams. And best of all, he was filled with the same youthful exuberance trying to navigate the 2019 season with a beaten and battered Reign FC side as he was in 2012, when he was an unknown getting his big shot in Kansas City and hadn’t even built his first roster.
IX. Team Equalizer
The Equalizer has evolved tremendously over the last two years (hopefully for the better). Most of us have other commitments that take up much of our time. But when WoSo news happens, Team Equalizer gets on the move. Hopefully you have enjoyed our coverage as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you. You can subscribe to get all of our premium content:
X. Team Vista
This season, I had the privilege of doing some broadcast work on the NWSL streams. In doing so, I was able to get an entirely new perspective on the ways of the broadcast production world. I also learned just how many people work on each broadcast and how hard they work at it. I’ll give some special acknowledgement to Mike Freedman for bringing me on board, Josh Tolle for helping to create as easy an entrance onto the team as one can imagine, and Sharni Yerke who is just fantastic at her job and manages to always keep smiling and laughing no matter the situation.
XI. Everyone who makes it all possible
From my family who puts up with long hours and weekend absences to Jeff Kassouf who continues to allow me to pontificate on this wonderful site that he literally built from scratch, to everyone who reads, comments, argues, disagrees etc with my opinions, it wouldn’t be possible without all of you. Even those who aren’t particularly nice about disagreeing. Okay, so maybe not them. But I’ll still wish them and everyone else a very Happy Thanksgiving.