A portion of the USWNT case dismissed…

…according this CNN article due to facts.

Key passage (bold mine):

However, Judge R. Gary Klausner wrote in his decision that members of the USWNT did not prove wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act because the women’s team played more games and made more money than the men’s team.
The women’s team also rejected a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) where they would have the same pay structure as the men’s team in favor of a different CBA, Klausner wrote.
The women’s CBA guarantees that players will be compensated regardless of whether they play a match or not, while the men’s CBA calls for players to be paid if they are called into camp to play and then participate in a match, according to the summary judgment.
Klausner wrote that the women were asking for a court to conclude that the women were paid less than men because had the women been paid under the men’s CBA, they would have earned more than they did under their own CBA.
“This approach — merely comparing what each team would have made under the other team’s CBA — is untenable in this case because it ignores the reality that the MNT and WNT bargained for different agreements which reflect different preferences, and that the WNT explicitly rejected the terms they now seek to retroactively impose on themselves,” Klausner wrote.

Is what’s in bold a true statement?

If so, this should have been a key element reported in this story from the beginning.
So, this isn’t an “oppressed” (women players) / “oppressor” (USSF) story as it has been made up to be in the media?
This is a story where the women players were not happy with the deal they, or their predecessors, had made?
My guess is they weren’t happy because they did the math after the fact and realized they made a bad deal. Which is a story in of itself, but a different story than what we have been hearing.
Can the media give us the real story on anything?

Cuts have consequences

I saw this Tweet via Chris Kessel:

Very cool Carli! Thanks for sharing.

Alex Morgan is another awesome player who famously wasn’t good enough to make the cut at her first competitive tryout.

Michael Jordan is another.

Not being picked is devastating.

But it lights fires in true competitors like nothing else and forces others to think hard about how much they really want it, and maybe realize it’s time to move on.

As a coach, I wondered if I ruined kids’ potentials with too much positive reinforcement. Most great athletes have that story of that one coach that said they weren’t good enough, and they’ve been trying to prove that coach wrong ever since.

After that thought crossed my mind, I then wondered if some of those a-holes coaches had also figured that and said that to every player to see which ones would prove them wrong.

Why do American soccer coaches hate juggling?

I see soccer coaches on Twitter and real life snipping at each other all the time about things they don’t think helps players develop.

It’s common to see spats about unopposed training, juggling, fake moves, kicking the ball against the wall, 1v1s, small-sided games, toe taps or whatever.

In my opinion, it’s all good and all has a place. It’s not either one thing or another. What sport is?

The fact that we even have these spats tells me the soccer culture is still in its infancy.

Unfortunately, I see that attitude rub off, which takes away the players’ chances to discover what they can make out of these activities and how much it can help them.

I have never heard a basketball coach complain about kids playing OUT or practicing dribbling on their own.

I also bet soccer coaches in Europe or South American don’t complain about their players wasting time juggling.

So why do we?

I farted around on the basketball court a lot as a kid. Basic games like Around The World or OUT got me started. Over time we built off those basics using our creativity to come up with versions that were even more fun for us.

For example, I had a few different versions of Around The World that I played that kept me shooting when my friends weren’t around (like the Superman, which was flying around the world 7 times as fast as you could go).

I do the same with these basic soccer games. For example, I have a handful of juggling game variations that I cycle through. I started with the basic one that all American kids, except Christian Pulisic, and some coaches seem to hate with passion (how many can I get in a row?), learned a few version from others (e.g. how quickly can I get to 100) and made up a few of my own (e.g. left vs. right, my left wins more often than you might think).

The key isn’t WHAT activity.

The keys are doing an activity, having fun with it and being invested enough to use creativity to mix it up and make it even more fun.

It’s through all of those variations that kids might come up with fun versions that end up going viral and doing more to improve American soccer than the USSF, club or coach could ever do.

Rather than poo-poo’ing these things, we should let it happen.

Interesting podcast on youth soccer in Spain vs. U.S.

In this episode of Coaching Soccer Weekly, host Tom Mura speaks with coach Mario Zuniga about a range of topics, including the difference between youth soccer in the U.S. and Spain.

I recommend listening to it. Here are some of differences that I can remember…

Simplicity

According to Mario, youth soccer in Spain is much simpler. Mario said it took him two years to learn about all the different organizations and associations in the U.S. and how to navigate them.

In Spain, everything is under one FIFA umbrella and all teams, at all age levels, are connected through the pyramid. You could be a small club in Barcelona and if your U16 team is good enough, it will play Barcelona’s U16 team. There isn’t a separate league or association for them.

Mura characterized this as “more centralized” than the U.S. I think a better term is more competitively connected.

I don’t get a sense that the umbrella Mario refers to makes heavy handed, politically-based decisions like a centralized authority (though maybe they do) so much as it acts like a central bank ensuring the currency used by its citizens has credibility. But, in this case its citizens are clubs and players and the currency is on-the-field results.

Maybe those in-charge of such a system are open to the idea that they don’t have all the answers to what is a good team and what is a good player and the absolute best test, by a long shot, for getting those answers is opening up the competition, rather than carving it off. You just never know what coach, club or player is going to break through, so they maintain a system that lets them.

Cost

It’s a lot cheaper for kids to join a club. But, it’s not a big money maker for coaches, which is one reason Mario came to the U.S., where he could make more money coaching.

A follow-up question I wish Tom had asked, what motivates so many coaches to do it, then? Is it purely love for the game? Are there other incentives, like hoping to move up the ladder to more responsibility?

Futsal

Mario says that there isn’t a person playing soccer in Spain who hasn’t played futsal. For him, futsal was interchangeable with pickup soccer.

I may have over interpreted, but it sounds like futsal is a key developer of skill through pickup games at young ages, but clubs also start kids in futsal before they make it onto a soccer team to develop their skills.

Mario mentioned a couple times, “I just played futsal with my friends,” but we don’t really call it futsal. It’s football. It’s about the same. We just can’t always get 22. There are some differences, but those differences help you get better. Learning the control the ball on a different surface is good.

Part of that reminds me of something I told a parent once. Her son was practicing on their driveway. She was worried he’d get used to that and wouldn’t be any good in grass. I pointed out that any practice is good and multiple surfaces is good. We play basketball on several different types of surfaces, too. The ball bounces a little different, our shoes grip a little different, but we learn to adjust and that’s good.

The season and pace

Mario said the season runs from September through May and kids have one game each weekend. The weather helps, as they play outside the whole year in most parts of Spain.

I have a hunch that that more consistent and steady pace leads better learning and less burnout and maybe even more desire for kids to play pickup on their own.

Three beliefs in soccer in the U.S. that need to change

ONE

Current belief: Talent is developed.

What this should change to: Talent is discovered.

 

TWO

Current belief: We need to identify the top level talent and focus on making them better.

What this should change to: “Push up the bottom to push up the top” – Tom Byer

 

THREE

Current belief: We know what a good player is and what a good team is.

What this should change to: Maybe we don’t.

 

In future posts, I write in more detail on how the current belief holds us back and how the new belief could move us forward.

Preventing injuries in soccer

The last Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast with health care professional from the HSS Sports Safety Program about sports injuries is worth a listen.

It’s the first I’ve heard anyone support my pet theory that sports injuries are caused more by improper body positioning than overuse. The HSS program offers a free 10-15 minute online course (at the link above) to teach proper technique for accelerating, decelerating and changing direction.

I’m going to check it out.

I explained my pet theory last year in my post, The case for juggling.

It’s all about forces. When your body is in proper position, game forces are spread across the body evenly. I think proper position is shoulders, hips, knees and toes are contained within a rectangle.

Reaching outside of that rectangle results in concentrating game forces into smaller areas of the body and are more likely to results in breaks or tears in muscle tissue. That might be someone reaching out with their foot to make a tackle and concentrating all the force from the ball and player behind the ball into the ACL, for example.

It just so happens same position is also most effective for executing soccer’s skills.

You will win more tackles if you aren’t reaching because you will have your body weight on your side.

Staying in that position improves everything — dribbling, passing, receiving and even defending.

That’s one reason why training proper technique on soccer skills is important. It not only makes for better players that can make it to higher levels, but it also reduces the chance of injury.

I also think that the perceived ‘rise in sports injuries,’ (if there is one), is more due to having more teenagers in the sport who don’t know proper ball technique. Bad technique + the weight and strength of teenagers = damage.

The podcast host offered another theory to explain the purported rise in sports injuries: kids not getting a lot of free physical play time as kids, and never learning the motor skills to keep them in proper position.

Anyway…I enjoyed that Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast and I recommend it.

How U.S. Soccer is like the school cafeteria

Jon Townsend does an eloquent job in his article, “Deconstructing the American Game and the Problems So Many Thought Never Existed,” of laying  out the key issues in U.S. soccer.

Here’s a key issue:

The United States has no shortage of resources, players, fields, minivans, orange slices and participants. What it doesn’t have is a true culture on a large-scale basis. Vital elements like self-play, recreation games, and street football are not woven into the fabric of society in ways that basketball, American football and baseball are.

Too many people believe systems and coaches develop players and that’s where they spend a good deal of their energy.

They overlook a key truth: Culture develops players.

That’s been true of the sports woven into the fabric of our society forever, but it’s a cause and effect that’s hidden in plain sight. Few notice.

Near the end of the article, Townsend writes:

There is unlikely to be a single solution that operates as a panacea for all the ills and deficiencies of the domestic game from the youth to professional levels. If there is one, it is a truly open system where player development becomes an industry. Where investment in all tiers of the game is not a Ponzi scheme but a truly open and free market. Additionally, incentivising player and coaching development must be key drivers. Creating and fostering football as a cultural pillar is paramount.

Yes.

It’s tough for many folks to imagine the difference in outcomes between open and closed systems, but it’s big.

Restaurants are an open system. From it we get a lot of choices on where and what to eat, as well as when.

If restaurants were run like soccer in the U.S., our dinner choices would look more like school cafeterias. Decent, but mediocre, at best.

Of course, we wouldn’t know because we wouldn’t be able to imagine what we were missing.

For those pushing for an open system, we’d hear critics say, yeh but…some restaurants will fail, and that will put people out of work, and nobody will invest in a restaurant if there’s a chance it could fail. These are the types of reasons advocates to keep our closed soccer system.

But, imagine replacing your favorite restaurants with school cafeterias. The quality and selection would be meh. Hours of operation might be shorter and they may not be as conveniently located. The atmosphere may not be as nice. You may not be able to get your favorite cocktail or that one dish at that one place that you look forward to each month.

You may still not be able to imagine all that you’d be missing.

I remember visiting a family member in a different state. I couldn’t get beer after 10 pm because all the state liquor stores were already closed. When I went out the next day, I had to drive a good distance to get the beer.

At home, where the liquor market was more open, there are a dozen or more places within a short drive where I could get beer at any time.

Those that lived in the closed system were used to it. They didn’t know what they were missing.

I’ll keep my open system, thank you. Most will after experiencing it.

Metcalfe’s Law predicts time of possession in youth soccer

Metcalfe’s Law states that the value of a computer network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes on the network.

For example, going from two computers connected to a network to three, a 50% increase in nodes, increases the value of the network by 125%.

How the math works: The two node network has a value of 4 units (2×2).  The three node network has a value of 9 units (3×3).

So, the three node network is more than twice as valuable (9 units vs 4 units) as the two node network.

The key point of the law is that the value of the network grows proportionally faster than the number of nodes.

This law can be applied to any network, including a soccer team.

When a team of 11 players is on offense, each player can be thought of as a node on a network to move the ball through IF that player can keep the ball with the team, consistently.

At elite levels, usually, all players on each team are effective nodes, so Metcalfe’s Law isn’t all that helpful there.

But with youth teams, it’s common to have varying numbers of players that can keep the ball with the team reliably (better than 60% of the time) at game speed (i.e. before the other team closes them down or closes down their passing options).

In my experience, the number of players on a team that are effective nodes on offense is a key differentiator in how good a team is and at what level it can compete.

It also can predict time of possession.

As a coach, one thing I sized up as the competition warmed up was how many players could cleanly trap and pass.

I put teams into one of four buckets

  • Level 1 is a team where all players can move the ball and keep it with the team consistently (50-70% of the time). These teams can compete at elite levels. Metcalfe’s law here says the value of the network is 121 units (11 x 11), as all 11 players are effective network nodes.
  • Level 2 has 8 (+/-1) players who are proficient nodes. Their Metcalfe’s Law value is around 64  (8 x 8), about half value of a Level 1 team.
  • Level 3 has about about 6 players as proficient nodes, or a value of about 36.
  • Level 4 has 4 or fewer of players as proficient nodes. This is typically a beginner level team. Metcalfe’s Law here says the value of the network is about 16 (4 x 4), where only 4 players are effective network nodes,

I used Metcalfe’s Law to predict time of possession by comparing the values of the network for each level of team.

In a Level 1 vs. Level 2 match-up, for example, I would expect the Level 1 team to have the ball 1.8x more than the Level 2 team (L1 value of 121 divided by L2 value of 64). That factors out to about 65% possession for the Level 1 team vs. 35% for the Level 2 team.

Here’s how that approach predicts time of possession for match-ups between teams at different levels (shown is the time of possession for better team):

  • Level 1 v 4: 1 will have ball 94% of time
  • Level 1 v 3: 77%
  • Level 1 v 2: 65%
  • Level 2 v 3: 70%
  • Level 2 v 4: 88%
  • Level 3 v 4: 70%

If teams are on the same level, possession will be close to 50/50.

In my experience, these estimates fit well.

It makes sense. With each successive player who becomes a reliable node in the offensive network, the ways a team can keep the ball goes up by even more.

So, what does this mean?

As a player, one of the most valuable ways to improve your team’s offensive effectiveness is to improve your turnover ratio.

 

Does the Mexican National Team subsidize MLS?

A recent Twitter thread explored why potential MLS team owners, like St. Louis FC, are willing to pay a $200 million franchise fee to get into the MLS.

A point made there was that a Ligue 1 side in France’s top soccer league just sold for $110 million, so how can an MLS side with no history be worth more?

Twitter users Ian Mailoux and Paul Cox laid out specifics of soccer market in the U.S. that I hadn’t considered before.

I was aware that MLS owners all each have a stake in SUM (Soccer United Marketing), which owns broadcast rights for MLS and US National Team matches.

But, I undervalued what that stake was worth.

I didn’t think MLS and national team match broadcast rights carried enough value to justify $200 million MLS franchise fees.

I considered these, plus MLS team revenue, to be a breakeven proposition for MLS owners, at best.

I assumed the owners were willing to pay high franchise fees, betting soccer would grow to NFL or MLB proportions in 10-20 years and then they could sell their teams for multiples of what they paid.

But, the folks above pointed out that SUM also owns the broadcasting rights to ANY soccer match played in the U.S., including Mexican National Team matches played here.

I’ve attended  MNT friendly and USMNT Gold Cup game in the same city. The MNT friendly drew more than double the USMNT, if that’s any indication to the what the difference in value in broadcast rights might be.

So, having broadcast rights to MNT in the US starts to increase the value of a stake in SUM above breakeven.

I imagine that a stake in SUM includes broadcasting rights for games of major tournaments played on US soil like the Gold Cup and the big one: 2026 World Cup.

Adding that to the valuation starts to make the exorbitant franchise fees look more reasonable.

This also sheds light on other recent actions taken by US Soccer.

I thought the single-focus pursuit to host the 2026 World Cup was mostly for the good intentions of bringing the game to the states to stoke interest in the sport.

Silly me. It makes more sense that the payout to SUM owners from the broadcast rights to those games was the prime motivator and why the MLS (/SUM buy-in) franchise fee is up to $200 million.

The franchise fees allows SUM/MLS to monetize some of that 2026 money now, to keep the lights on.

It also makes sense how US Soccer has snuffed out competing leagues and has gained tighter control of lower divisions, like the USL: so it can control the broadcast rights of those leagues.

Those probably aren’t worth much now, but why should SUM chance another league — that it doesn’t own broadcast rights to — getting a foothold on their monopoly?

Good discussion about true competition on the 3Four3 podcast

Guest Ben Fast and host John Pranjic have a great discussion about the nature true competition that is lacking in soccer in the U.S. and the role of governance in this 3Four3 podcast.

It would make Austrian and George Mason University economists proud.