This has been an eventful week for FC Dallas. First, congratulations to the Fighting Dallases on their second Lamar Hunt US Open Cup victory. The Dallas bandwagon over the past few years has been building up steam, and now Oscar Pareja has his first trophy head adorning his wall. Perhaps it was over the top for Pareja to murder Jay Heaps and use his head as a souvenir, but that's the rough and tumble world of the Open Cup for you.
This is conditional, of course, on the US Soccer Federation rejecting La Maquina's appeal of their loss to the LA Galaxy in the fourth round. I assume by now it has been rejected, but in the case of a surprise verdict, something like three or four games will need to be replayed. We will follow this story as it continues to develop.
Speaking of developing. FC Dallas and its youth system just became the latest hotspot in the hotly contested, yet strangely tedious, war over solidarity payments and/or/but/if training compensation. For deep background, read Brian Straus' ode to the FCD youth system here. Next, read Drew Epperley describe how ex-FCD prospect Weston McKennie fled their youth system for Germany about fifteen seconds after midnight on his 18th birthday. Follow with Epperley quoting Don Garber's frustration with it. And, should you be so inclined, read Peter Welpton explicitly state that the USSF, and its opposition to solidarity payments, will cost teams like Dallas now and in the future.
Remember how a bunch of pay-to-play youth clubs were suing their own alumni and the MLS Players Union over not being able to wet their beaks in someone else's pond? (I've been tedious on the topic in the past.) Well, now it's MLS whose ox got horny. I fully expect a number of the more youth-oriented MLS teams to See the Light on this issue. Especially when the alternative is Losing Talent For Nothing.
There's been a consistent claim of the moral high ground among those in favor of inflicting solidarity payments on professional American clubs, on the grounds that academies should get "something" for their "investment."
Which ain't always how investments work, but let's stroll past that.
FC Dallas and Schalke were bidding for the labor of an 18 year old. The legal term for an 18 year old is "grown-ass man." Unless you want to give MLS teams the right to confiscate passports like they do in Qatar, there are going to be some issues with keeping an adult from working in his chosen profession wherever the hell he wants.
I got told the other day that the Jerk Store was out of me. I called up, and there was no such store. And I'm not surprised. Because you're not allowed to buy and sell human beings anymore. So the Jerk Store, which apparently was once a big thing, has gone the way of leaded gasoline. Blame that abolitionist Lincoln.
Both Welpton and Epperley reminded us that McKennie had kept his amateur status, so in fact Dallas' loss could have been Virginia's gain instead of Schalke. Forgive me if I misinterpret things, but if FC Dallas values its youth academy as producing the level of a college freshman, rather than a promising professional, that's nobody's fault but FC Dallas.
Presumably Dallas could also have matched Schalke's offer, but unless Epperley badly misstated the situation, the decision was whether McKennie would be a reserve in Dallas or a reserve in Schalkesville [NOTE TO SELF - LOOK UP THE CITY WHERE SCHALKE 04 PLAYS AND REMEMBER TO DELETE THIS NOTE TO SELF BEFORE POSTING]. Epperley told us that Dallas could have, but didn't, offer McKennie as much or more than Gyasi Zardes got from LA. Well...that's probably not what a reserve player in MLS is worth. I wouldn't know Weston McKennie from the Westin Peachtree Plaza, but maybe Dallas didn't offer McKennie more money because they didn't think he was worth more money. Which makes all this talk about FCD getting a return on its investment superfluous. Schalke, not FC Dallas, will be developing McKennie's career as a professional.
So I'm not receptive to the idea that FC Dallas got nothing. What FC Dallas gets out of its investment is the right to say that it trains professionals for a professional career. Welpton was miffed that McKennie did not even credit FC Dallas, but others certainly will.
Finally - and this too is consistent in this conversation - too little agency is given to McKennie himself. If McKennie developed, during his late teenage years, the skill and desire to become a pro on the Bundesliga level, then credit should go primarily to McKennie. If it was FC Dallas and their coaching that brought McKennie to that level, then they can take another lump of clay and do the same. And if McKennie was a special talent - then what claim does FC Dallas have, aside from "dibs"?
Solidarity payments and training compensation are nothing more than sops to ameliorate the control clubs had before the Bosman ruling. The motivation is control of player value, not the well-being of small clubs. Whether MLS would profit from or lose out by the enforcement of FIFA's regulations does not change how good or bad those regulations are. If you believe American law should be changed to accommodate the convenience of youth clubs who don't or won't offer contracts fit for adults, well, get out your crayons and write your Congressmen.
If FC Dallas' vaunted youth system is vulnerable to the loss of one player - a player who was trending in the near term to be an MLS reserve, for God's sake - then it probably didn't rate the glowing profile Straus gave it. Which might be why, for its push for the double or triple, Dallas signed Carlos Ruiz. Youth will be served - as an appetizer.
I lied about the no Rapinoe content. This is your first and final warning. Eject or die alongside me. This plane has a hot date with the cold ground.
In the interests of faking an objective, neutral viewpoint, let's focus on the main difference between Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe - Rapinoe has an opportunity to demonstrate while on a team that represents the entire United States; Kaepernick does not.
So this is going to be a narrowly-focused stinkpiece about this sort of demonstration during international games. It will not be about whether I agree with Rapinoe and Kaepernick - mostly because no one is asking me what I think about their actions. And it has nothing to do with soccer, in America or not, whether I think playing the national anthem before club games is a political statement in and of itself, let alone purely an exercise in flag-draping marketing meant to turn a passive act of watching sports into a display of patriotic conformity without cost or effort.
Nor is anyone asking me about whether I think displays toward the national anthem and the flag reflect upon, or in fact have any damn thing to do with, the American military. Nor am I being requested to describe my irritation at the conflation of the anthem, the flag, and the military, on the grounds that I'm still a god-damned American even though the last thing any of us wanted for the military was my active service - except maybe our nation's enemies. You don't want me on that wall. You don't need me on that wall. And if I was the thin fat line keeping us from being overrun by the forces of evil, we'd all be speaking Canadian today. But that doesn't mean I don't have the same rights and privileges of citizenship as everybody else, and if you don't like, take it up with the blasted Constitution.
Like I said, I'm not going to express an opinion about any of that. This is just about Rapinoe at national team games.
I should probably just link this and be done with it. You, beloved reader, are more than welcome to pretend I did so. It's a very helpful primer on what political statements athletes are allowed to make - basically, none.
There is a long and storied history of players bucking this rule. Socrates and his teammates at Corinthians demonstrated for democracy in Brazil. Others, like Marc Bosnich, Paolo di Canio and Josip Simunic, chose to represent ideologies that are, shall we say, less noble. FIFA says no to all of them.
And to be coldly realistic - of course FIFA bans political demonstrations, especially in international games. Because if they allowed any, there would never be an end to them.
So Rapinoe is clearly guilty.
However, this misunderstands what Rapinoe is doing. Rapinoe is rebelling. She is demonstrating. The status quo is a political position, and passivity is support of the status quo. This can probably be best argued in the negative - if a ban on political display didn't benefit the elites who rule soccer? Well, then, there probably wouldn't be one. And if political display benefited the elites? Well, then, it would probably be mandatory.
Keep in mind, this is the sort of power FIFA claims over fans - not players, spectators:
"Uttering insulting words or sounds" in subsection 3 up there is about 4 AU broad. If that provision were applied to the letter, there would not be a game played in front of a paying customer anywhere in the world.
There is a long and storied history of those in power imposing their politics on players and clubs. I'm sure if I take the time, I could think of a pretty famous and obvious example
but for now you can take my word for it.
You might also have noticed that the enforcement of these rules is arbitrary at best. Simunic was suspended for ten games. Di Canio, one game. Bosnich, as far as I remember, none, although cocaine ended up doing what politics could not.
Rapinoe, despite the USSF's statement condemning her action, has not and will not be suspended. However, she probably will be dropped from the team slightly sooner than otherwise. In an earlier post about Hope Solo, I assumed Rapinoe would be phased out with the hero's sendoff she deserves. That seems extremely unlikely now.
So I don't hold the USSF statement on Rapinoe against the federation. It's one they had to make. Rapinoe's club has been more supporting, because although they too are subject to FIFA's fiat, they aren't nearly in the international spotlight the way the USSF does, and in any case do not represent a nation. Expecting the USSF to support Rapinoe would be like expecting the National Park Service to support littering. The USSF had to do something, so they did the least they could be expected to.
But that's not the point. Rapinoe isn't weak or stupid. She knew the likely consequences of her actions, and considers herself strong enough to handle them. Unlike with Kaepernick, she broke a clear and obvious rule. It was, and is, a broad and erratically-enforced rule.
There's probably a lot to criticize over Rapinoe's actions - I haven't even mentioned the name Heather O'Reilly, for example. And while in some quarters Rapinoe has received rave reviews for drawing attention to her cause, others, amazingly enough, were less delighted.
You may have noticed that I've blithered about Rapinoe's actions without once mentioning the cause for which she and Colin Kaepernick are demonstrating for. This would probably annoy both of them. On the off chance either are reading.
If they are reading - hi, guys. I have a reason I haven't mentioned police brutality. The main lesson we have learned is, if you agree with the politics of the protest, then you agree with the protest. If you don't agree with the politics of the protest, then you are against the protest. Francoists were fine with changing Barcelona's badge, Brazilian autocrats were irritated with Socrates, and anyone smart enough not to be a fascist think Di Canio and Simunic more than had it coming. I agree with Kaepernick and Rapinoe, therefore, I agree with their protest. If Rapinoe, from the bench, decides to protest the national anthem by extending her arm in a fascist salute, well, then, that would not have my support.
Claiming a larger issue on this - whether its the sanctity of the flag, the honor of the military, or the dignity of FIFA rules - is beside the point.
Oh...yeah, the Washington Spirit hurried up the anthem to spite Rapinoe, didn't they. Rapinoe's reaction, in the micro sense, was out of line. Bill Lynch's homophobia, as shown by his refusal to hold a Pride Night, is beside the point - if Rapinoe shouldn't be forced to stand for the anthem, then Lynch shouldn't be forced to hold a Pride Night (at least by anything except market forces), and Rapinoe wasn't demonstrating for gay rights anyway. But Lynch's actions shown, ultimately, how shallow the exercise is. Playing the national anthem before club games is patriotic marketing, nothing more. If playing the anthem was truly an act of honor and dignity, then Lynch should have been ashamed to jerk around with it. It would have been refreshing for him to conclude that the anthem represents all the rights of all the citizens, and therefore could not be dishonored by Rapinoe no matter what. But maybe we need as a people to understand that if our feelings are fragile, then so are our rights.
Also, it's a crummy song anyway. Change it to "Rockin' in the Free World" or something.