The best part of the new Minnesota MLS franchise? They were allowed to keep their old name! Welcome to MLS, Minnesota Kicks!
There's little to add to sincere and joyous congratulations to one of the best fanbases in America. I don't think anyone's pointed out how this will fill the cultural gap in St. Paul made when "Prairie Home Companion" signed off. But I have a feeling supporters of MNUFC aren't going to be particularly receptive to mock-ups of the 2017 generic Adidas jersey with Powdermilk Biscuits as a sponsor.
(The "N" in "MNUFC" obviously stands for "Not Manchester United, or any of the other Uniteds, and since we're not flying airplanes we can call ourselves United if we like, damn your impudence.")
I'm going to go ahead and assume Minnesota United is going to be a huge hit, on the grounds that anyone can see the support for soccer has been steadfastly nurtured among patient and determined fans for literally decades. So let's see if we can get Milwaukee on board next. Two huge rivalries, ready-made - even the Fire will benefit, and the Fire could use the boost. And it'll be sad if the rest of the league's response is "Wait, why are you standing because you hate Milwaukee?" to one of Minnesota's most enduring chants.
Minnesota United's presumed success - look, don't tell me I'm jinxing anything, we're not in a damn Greek myth - will also finish disproving one of the more popular market franchise theories. Or, at least put a dent in it. You would think that there is a finite sports dollar in a market. A bizjournals.com study that broke this down to ridiculous levels has eluded my Google paleontology, but you can reconstruct its findings here, here and in a fun, outdated interactive chart here.
The premise is simple, really. Population of city and amount of disposable income divided by existing pro sports teams = feasibility for expansion. I do recommend that chart; it's fun, and educational. Well, although not in the way the authors intended. The chart predicts Orlando and Montreal as good spots for MLS expansion, and by golly here we are. But you will notice it focuses on comparative pro sports deserts - large communities whose pro sports needs are either underserved or non-existent.
Cities like Omaha
and Baton Rouge
where the poor, benighted locals have literally nowhere to spend their sports dollar.
So based on that study, you would conclude that the New Uniteds in Atlanta and Minnesota/St. Paul are doomed to abject failure. Although those teams could always move to Dayton (NOT Cincinnati) or Bradenton (NOT Tampa) or Bridgeport (um, did Bridgeport get a LOT prettier in the past couple of decades? Because it was one of the ugliest cities in the hemisphere the last time I looked at it).
Atalanta Atlanta (you can't have three Uniteds in the league, I've been told, so Atlanta's going to have to change) has sold a whole spitload of season ticket deposits - how does 22,000 taste? And MNUFC, despite the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Timberwolves, and those god-damned Golden Gophers (sorry - Iowa City native)? You have to feel good about their future. Considering they survived their past.
So this week Hope Solo -
Don't give me that. I gave you eight paragraphs and three pictures of cushion. Do you know where the thinkpiece industry would be without Ms. Solo? Do you? Come on, you can read one more. I'll try to put a joke in it, okay?
So this week Hope Solo, in recognition of her words and deeds in service to American Soccer, was awarded the Golden Boot by US Soccer. Remember in "Goodfellas," where Joe Pesci shows up thinking he's going to become a "made man" only to find the room is empty except for oh my God this is exactly the sort of metaphor Bill Simmons would come up with. No wonder people hate thinkpieces.
Sunil Gulati, Jill Ellis and Dan Flynn basically gave OJ the death penalty for trespassing. The punishment makes absolutely no sense, unless you look at it as a Lifetime Achievement Award for being a huge pain in the ass. Hope has alienated the vast majority of her co-workers and acquaintances - the usual fate for those who pride themselves on their honesty.
If it wasn't for "cowards," it would have been for the Zika picture. If it wasn't for the Zika picture, it would have been for her T-shirt line. This made Klinsmann's treatment of Landon Donovan look like the deification ceremony of Augustus Caesar.
And it's almost horrifying how fine her ex-teammates are with it. I realize it's difficult for players to Fight the Power. But there's keeping a judicious silence, and then there's getting a judicious boot in. Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, perhaps innocently enough, distanced themselves from Solo's comments about Sweden's cowardice. Because sure, who needs the aggravation, who needs to hand out bulletin board material, who needs the sour grapes?
In retrospect, it looks like Morgan and Rapinoe might have inadvertently given USSF an excuse to push Solo off the cliff. According to Alicia delGallo's excellent article on the aftermath of Solo's ouster, Alex Morgan has decided to stop short of sackcloth and ashes:
"....it's a bummer that this happened to one of my teammates, but at the same time I don't agree with the things that she said in the Olympics."
There has been talk that Solo was treated unfairly - and yes, of course, she was. This was intentional, vicious disrespect. Gulati, Ellis, and an undetermined number of one or more teammates seem to feel Solo is reaping what she has sowed. But here's Gulati's statement, quoted by delGallo:
"Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we've had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. national team member, US Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action."
In the words of Colonel Sherman T. Potter, horsehockey. Solo was no longer necessary for imminent tournaments, didn't have a great Olympics, will be pushing 40 by the next World Cup. She probably would have been dropped even if the US had won the gold medal. Solo gave Sunil and the USSF a flimsy pretext to humiliate her in public, and the USSF couldn't wield the axe quickly enough.
Whether Solo deserved it depends on - well, this is a subject I've studiously danced around in the past couple of blog blithering I've done on her. I'm not a medical professional. I have no standing to speculate on Solo's health, and amazingly enough, Solo has not confided in me. So I'm being a regular Drew Pinsky here, and I accept the criticism in advance.
When your alcohol use affects your relationships, your career, or your health, that's a sign that there's a problem. It could very well be that Hope Solo is not, physically, an alcoholic. She's just had alcohol-related incidents that have gotten her into a hell of a lot of trouble. So I'm operating on the assumption that she is.
Which, to me, makes this a medical issue, if not a humanitarian one. And, "taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope," the USSF ought to be deeply ashamed of itself.
Solo was hurting herself and others, and substance dependency probably had a lot to do with that. By keeping her in the fold, I believe the USSF accepted responsibility for her treatment and well-being. Here, in fact, is what Gulati said before suspending Solo for 30 days before the 2015 World Cup, instead of for the 2015 World Cup. Kevin Baxter in the LA Times had a great article at the time, but I'm having trouble getting a reliable hyperlink to it. The headline was "Hope Solo has work to do during her suspension, U.S. Soccer says."
"There are a number of things that Hope is being asked to do in that 30 days," Gulati said in a conference call. "And then we'll evaluate where things stand at the end of that period and make a decision going forward."
But Gulati and Coach Jill Ellis sidestepped questions about whether the team believes Solo has a problem with alcohol that might requirement treatment.
"Neither one of us denied or confirmed that," Gulati said. "She's been given time to deal with some issues. And we think that in this period she'll certainly start that process. And we'll evaluate."
If Solo complied well enough before the 2015 World Cup, then in my opinion the slate should have been wiped clean - especially after she helped win the damn tournament. And if Solo didn't fulfill those obligations at the time, but was named to the team anyway - that was a huge and irresponsible risk. Either way the federation has forfeited trust on this issue.
Yeah, Hope Solo probably was a headache to Gulati and Ellis. Was this their first alcoholic? And yeah, Solo was probably still a jerk even a year into or after treatment. Was this their first recovering alcoholic?
There has been some speculation that Solo's outspoken support of the players' #EqualPayOrDEATH! movement was a factor here. I'm skeptical of that for a couple of reasons. Solo wasn't the only prominent player in that movement. Megan Rapinoe is also aging out of her position, and her chances for the 2019 World Cup are virtually nil, and she is at least as outspoken on political issues as any player in USWNT history. She will be phased out gracefully.
And...well, I hate to kick Solo when she's down, but if she was the woman who was going to lead negotiations, then this might be addition by subtraction as far as the players are concerned. Yes, Solo might have taught herself labor negotiations over the past few years, and might have been a formidable intellectual force that USSF lawyers could not have coped with. I don't know how to put this delicately - signs point to no. There are at least a dozen other players who will be more sympathetic here.
Hope Solo's athletic abilities were no longer sufficient to contribute to the US women's national team. That happens to literally every player at some point, even if it seems like the decision was made to early. (Hi, Landon, if you happen to be reading.) Solo had simply made too many enemies to rate a dignified farewell, like USSF gave to uncontroversial shy girls like Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach.
I hope Gulati, Ellis and the federation think it was worth it. Because if randomly angry Hope Solo was too tough to handle, wait until we get justifiably angry Hope Solo.