US Soccer - Dansplaining

I wish I had something new and original to say about Klinsmann, but what can you even do at this point?  We're not going to get rid of him unless we don't qualify, and that's too high a price to pay.  And my happiness at beating Guatemala is more than outweighed by the men's Olympic team failure.  The stakes were technically lower - because the faceplant in Guatemala City on Friday raised the stakes in Columbus to unacceptably high levels.  But missing out on the Olympics is a marketing disaster as well as a developmental one, and the men have now missed three out of the last four.

That's not all Klinsmann's fault as a coach - I expect Andi Herzog will be invited to spend more time with his family very soon.  I'm a fan of Herzog, but the team's performance spoke for itself.  Hell, it rushed the podium and grabbed the mike for itself.  It was a stupid and ugly performance, and it's impossible to argue that the better team didn't win.  I'm sure at some point in the history of association football, a team has won without registering a shot on goal - but it wasn't Tuesday in Frisco.

I don't see how Olympic failure is NOT Klinsmann's fault as technical director, though.  I'm aware of the theory that our talent pool is so crummy that expectations above the asthenosphere should be dismissed out of hand.  Usually this theory is put forward by those who advocate and/or would benefit from Manhattan Project-like spending on youth soccer, and is given in the same spirit was when Greek philosophers suggested adding "-kings" to their title.  But let's assume for a moment that it's true, and the nation's youth is shot through with obese, emoji-using layabouts who won't get off my lawn.  Klinsmann is making $320,000 a year to change that, and it's not at all unreasonable to expect some results for that investment.

Oh, I'm sorry...I meant $3.2 million a year. 

Steve Sampson would probably be willing to stink it up again for half that salary.  Although that's probably an unfair comparison.  Sampson's staff got us into the Olympics, after all.

But we're going to make it into the Hexagonal, and probably squeak through to the World Cup.  (We almost always end up squeaking through, that's no particular disgrace.)  We're stuck with Klinsmann until the World Cup...or until we fail to qualify for same.  Go team.

Kyle Beckerman's starting to get enough recognition to be officially underrated, by the way. 

Klinsmann's exorbitant salary is not actually at the heart of the USSF v. USWNT dispute, which freaking EXPLODED this week.  It's merely an exacerbating factor.

I had been saving the title of this post for when I had my own AM radio show about feminism.  Twenty hours of week of me telling women why they're mistaken about their experiences.  I've been pitching this everywhere, I'll let you know what happens. 

But I need to borrow it this week.  Not only do I believe I have original insights on a topic that I understand imperfectly at best, but I hold these opinions with a strength inversely proportional to their importance on actual events.  I was born for this.  Cometh the hour, cometh the man. 

You probably have already read Elizabeth Mitchell in the New York Daily News eviscerating the USSF the day before the lawsuit was filed.  I also found Neil Blackmon's coverage interesting, him being a civil rights lawyer and all. 

The USSF has maintained an adversarial relationship with both its senior national teams since God was a boy.  Mitchell's article doesn't always compare apples to apples, but it's apparent that this was a long time coming.  This was one of the most predictable public relations blow-ups in recent American soccer history, so naturally the USSF was caught off-guard. 

Does the PR war matter?  If it doesn't now, it never will.  Hillary Clinton took time out to throw a supportive Tweet to the USWNT.  And when Landon Donovan asked whether equal pay, as opposed to revenue-based pay, was really the solution, he was just about boiled alive.  And rightly so, but more on that in a bit.

The USWNT hasn't had the goodwill of the public behind them on a controversial issue against patriarchal diktat since way, way back in the summer of '15.  For those of you who weren't around back then, many of the Women's World Cup teams had a problem with games being held in stadiums with artificial turf.  Long story short, the players dropped the lawsuit after gaining exactly zero concessions. 

It looked bad at the time - and still does - but playing and winning the World Cup ended up not only highly lucrative, but very helpful to the current lawsuit.  These aren't the backbiting flops of 2007, or the vanquished villains of Japan's 2011 Cinderella run.  Now they are heroes, with the ticker-tape parade to prove it.  The only thing that could add to the luster is yet another Olympic gold, which they may very well obtain this summer.

After all, last year there were at least suggestions of a boycott.  There are no whispers of such a thing this year.  If the players aren't going to use their most dangerous weapon, then it's no wonder that the courts look like a better alternative. 

I just hate their chances, is all. 

These are athletes, and the history of athletics embracing basic human rights, let alone equal rights, is as spotty as twelve leopards.  And this history of USWNT unity, at least since Mia Hamm volunteered to have two fillings in solidarity with Tisha Venturini, fails to dazzle.  And the generally player-sympathetic Blackmon cautions against believing the EEOC will bring down tablets from the mountain:

Given the various different ways to resolve the underlying cause of the women’s complaint, the movie/television notion that there will ever be a “verdict” or “ruling” on the complaint seems unlikely. This is perhaps the strongest argument for the theory that the complaint is simply about improving the bargaining position of the women’s player association. But given the strong and hostile position taken up by US Soccer yesterday, these are two sides that appear to be heading farther apart from one another, with time growing scarce. 

As with every good intellectual argument, both sides are taking hostages.  It's almost understandable that the USSF would be annoyed at being sued by the USWNT, since that same federation is underwriting the National Women's Soccer League.  No rational observer thinks that league makes money yet, and if the USSF were to, um, grant its independence, I don't see the league finishing its record-breaking fourth season.

Fortunately for the USWNT, while they don't have a gun directly to the head of a toddler like the USSF does, at least they know where a vulnerable Fed relative lives.  Mitchell spends a lot of time on Soccer United Marketing, and it's probably worth noting that SUM is one of the level bosses in the eyes of the NASL...and we now learn that the NASL and the USWNT share an attorney, Jeffrey Kessler. 

I'm not generally sympathetic with the NASL's fight against The Man, but I understand where they're coming from here.  The NASL is paying dues to the USSF, which are being used to hire a promoter owned by its rival.  That has to rankle a tad.

As Mitchell argues, it's probably even more frustrating for the women.  The USSF is paying them based on metrics defined by an outside company, which they can affect only indirectly, and which they are not currently allowed to measure.  If your pay depended on factors you didn't control, weren't allowed to know, and could be defined by your employer pretty much by whim?

Well, you'd be most of America, I guess, but you still wouldn't be happy about it.  The USWNT is in a position to try to change that, and they should.

This is one of two reasons that Landon Donovan's suggestion that pay be based on revenue crashed on takeoff.  Who measures revenue?  Who defines value?  How is potential increase in audience measured here?  These aren't just philosophical questions, either, as long as the USWNT doesn't get to peek at SUM books.

The other problem that gender-blind revenue measurement isn't merely beside the point. 

The USWNT's slogan, #EqualPayForEqualPlay?  That's dirty pool.  I love it, but it's cruel.  #FairPayForFairPlay would be more accurate, but less effective.  No wonder the USSF is punching at fog right now. 

I'd wondered aloud whether the men's and women's players unions would be better off combining, if #EqualPayForEqualPay was really the goal....but on reflection, that would be highly counterproductive for everyone except the USSF. 

Remember what I said about the USWNT not holding strong against outside exploitation from evil bureaucracy?  Well, the men are basically the People's Front of Judea on a good day.  Their MLS contingent was confident to the point of mouthy going into the latest CBA negotiations, and were rolled like one of Don Garber's Cuban cigars.  It also doesn't help that scabs haven't been this easy to find since the plague ships rolled into Genoa. 

And that's if - if - the men would be willing to deign to recognize the women as peers.  It's an unprovable and unspoken assumption that "pay players based on revenue" is based on the premise that the men do and always will earn more revenue.  Or that the USSF would make sure that the men do and always will earn more revenue.  Inertia and status quo aren't friends of the USMNT, either, but the USWNT have done worse against those opponents than against Marta herself.

This is why Landon Donovan took so much incoming ordnance for his seemingly-bland tweets.  And, why he had it coming.  It isn't merely about preserving the independence and character of the women's team, and keeping it a separate point of celebration for its fans.  If standards are defined by men who don't understand or benefit from what the women's team brings....well, no kidding, the women won't meet those standards.

(That said, it is a little tough to digest the idea that the men winning the World Cup wouldn't be more impressive, or valuable, than the women winning the World Cup.  Those are ridiculous bonuses, because those are ridiculous premises.  Once the USMNT starts to make those less ridiculous, the offered bonuses will go down.  This is another argument that the men and the women shouldn't be treated "equally," because the women probably realize that bonuses never to be paid aren't actually bonuses.)

The truth may not be "somewhere in the middle," but it's no great insight to see this is where both sides will end up.  Absent a credible threat to strike before Rio, and present the dwindling of leverage once Rio is over, if the USWNT ends up doing better than the USMNT, I'd be surprised.

Although that's usually what happens, though, isn't it?