Thursday, September 5, 2019

GUEST POST: Part 1: Pay to Play by Gabriel Penaloza

As we sometimes do this is a guest post from Gabriel Penaloza aka @FPLLEns on Twitter. He is a great follow on Twitter and has delivered a wonderful article about the game in the United States. Please take the time to read it!

Part I: Pay to Play

We live in a time of increasing nuance in the way we see ourselves and our intersectional identities. With this increased awareness of what makes us different, we have also experienced an increased divide in society. Indeed there are parallels to the division we see in soccer with those we see in the country itself, the social and cultural backdrops are inevitable.

The more we learn about ourselves, the more we realize that loss of identity, which should not be confused with loss of ego, is among the most destructive experiences we can undergo. To address briefly, loss of identity is a diminished capacity for an individual to know oneself. Loss of ego, on the other hand, is the dissolution of the concept that one is the center of existence. The prior is destructive, the latter is used in therapeutic techniques including meditation and treatment for PTSD, but I digress! The point is that cracks in our identity grow with time, like the grout lines of a poorly tiles floor. Our identity is our rudder, our homunculus is our guide.

When we think of ourselves and what identifies us, the factors we will consider range from our physical existence and appearance to our dreams and aspirations. We define ourselves using a variety of cultural identifiers (race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, education, values, political inclinations, socio-economic status, etc). Some of our identifiers are physical; all of them are social and psychological. I include dreams and aspirations because they identify what we see as optimal. They indicate creativity and imagination. Can we truly think of who we fundamentally are without including to what we aspire?

Youth soccer in the United States is either thriving, with more participation in the sport than any other in the country, and a growing professional league, or it is a viper pit of poor coaching, lack of opportunities, and an embarrassing lack of vision from any central leadership that cannot even produce a top men's team to qualify for the World Cup in one of the least competitive regions in the world.

I’d like to suggest that the former is a position of privilege held mostly by people with access to soccer resources and the means by which to procure those resources.

On privilege. From the combination of the latin words privi (private) and lege (law). Pay to play introduces the private law that one must have money in order to qualify to play. The introduction of this inequity strips a future footballer of their footballing identity as soon as the young player begins dreaming about the sport. Consider the cruelty. Once a young child begins dreaming of the sport they love, and they actually REQUEST education so they can study, work hard, and realize their dreams, they are told they must pay. Dreaming, it would seem, is reserved for those that enjoy the benefits of that private law, the exclusive club.

To compare, if all education were run like youth soccer, public schools would be taught by parent volunteers with no expertise in either teaching or the subject matter. The only students that would get accepted to college would be those that were able to pay for a private school education taught by teachers that have two or three other jobs in addition to teaching. Lastly, add a caste system that entrenches power and access in the hands of a very few, therefore limiting any upward mobility for your efforts, and you have the state of youth soccer in the United States. The caste system is, however, for another article.

I want to now turn back to identity by posing a question. If an american soccer player can’t envision themselves as a top-rated player because they have neither the means nor the access required to make that a possibility, are they being robbed of an essential component of their own identity? Moreover, does the collective effect of this incomplete soccer identity of the individual with less means handicap the development of the entire nation’s soccer identity?

It seems no wonder the American “brand” of soccer has been defined as gritty at best, and embarrassing at worst. Most of the time it is just rather confusing with strings of inconsistent tactics, styles of play, and players that don't seem to know the difference between the two. American soccer has looked outwards to white, eurocentric roots to guide it’s own nationalistic brand of soccer. Why does the United States constantly look away from America when searching for it's soccer soul?

There is, however, a European model that has been ignored by U.S. soccer ‘visionaries’; France.

France’s success on the global soccer scene is in large part thanks to its low-income, immigrant population. While the United States struggles with the seemingly obvious immorality of packing refugee children in cages, France (who of course is not without its fair share of equity issues) has seen a policy of inclusion lead to France having the most native players and coaches in the last 4 world cups. A staggering 50 players in the 2018 World Cup were born in France. 21 of those play for the French national team. 58% of French born players in the 2018 World Cup play for other countries. 87% of the French World Cup winning team are immigrants of children of immigrants.

In the 1960s and 1970s France experienced an economic boom thanks to the immigrants who were brought in to rebuild the country after WWII. In 1972 the Institut National du Football (INF) was created and it worked with professional clubs to set up academies to recruit and train local youth. For free.

Here are the results:


1962- Failed to qualify for World Cup

1964- Failed to qualify for European Championship

1966- Last in group World Cup

1968- Failed to qualify for European Championship 

1970- Failed to qualify for World Cup

1972- Failed to qualify for European Championship

Since 1998:

2 World Cups and 1 European Championship.

Opening quality soccer education to everyone has brought France to the top of the soccer podium at many different levels. The French women’s team and the U20 men's team also looked to be among the best in the world after their good showings in the Women’s World Cup, the U20 World Cup, not to mention the ongoing U19 Euro team that is in the semi-final.

These players were given a path. They were offered a part of themselves. They repaid that gift by contributing to a unique football identity whose message of inclusion is resonates with every cheer in every game they play.

Few can walk the path from poverty to soccer glory like Pele, Maradona, Zlatan, Weah, Zidane, Ribery, Renard, and Mbappe. The question for Americans is, can ANYONE in this country walk it? Is it even possible?

-Gabriel Penaloza

Los Angeles, CA

Monday, May 13, 2019

It is not a movement based on...

Over the last few months many people on Reddit have seen a proliferation of posts espousing racist, anti-Semitic, and other disgusting language directed toward them under the guise of support for #ProRelForUSA. Some of these people have even implied that they are in support of Daniel Workman and my own efforts to create systemic change in American soccer.

Here are just a few small examples... 

Back in 2016 I penned a letter that was signed by 17 people (including Daniel Workman) who are outspoken supporters of the #ProRelForUSA movement.


To quote this letter

"It is not a movement based on personal attacks, negativity, degradation, racism, ethnic prejudice and hatred."

That statement holds just as true today as it did these years ago.

I am an easily "Google'able" person... search me and find my work as the Racial Justice Director of the YWCA Charleston... find the Race to End Racism 5k Run Walk... find my articles...  find my work as a 4-H agent for West Virginia State Univ. with inner city children in program after program... find my work in soccer... find our inclusive club... find me calling out US soccer for its lack of diversity and structural sexism...  what you will not find is support for racism, antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny, etc.

Once again I am going to use my voice, as limited as it is, to stand up and say that these attacks are not welcome.

We do not want your "help" fighting for #ProRelForUSA if this is what your "help" is.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How the Professional Council divides its power is sexist. Period.

 I think my tweet from the USSF AGM perfectly sums up how I feel about this picture...

Since the 2018 USSF AGM the NWSL has now LOST some of the little strength within the Professional Council it had. Previously the NWSL and USL both had 3 votes each.

Thanks to Anthony DiCicco's awesome "Who the Hell Votes in the USSF Presidential Election" article he spent quite a bit of time researching/writing we know this...

Then finally, the Pro Council, Bylaw 314, Section 2, Subpart 3 requires the Pro Council in even years to designate the number of delegates from the Professional Council to the National Council.
This is how it’s written in Bylaw 302.
(3) In the Professional Council, the number of delegates for each Professional League shall be based on the level of competitive division among the Professional Leagues.
(b) If the members of the Council are unable to reach agreement on the number of delegates under subsection (a) of this section, the Board shall determine the number.
“Shall be based on the level of competitive division” — 

Jeff Carlisle reported that the USSF Board of Directors approved of this and passed this massively disproportionate distribution of power to the men's league at the expense of the women's league.

"In one of two long-awaited decisions made at a meeting on Sunday, the USSF Board of Directors passed a proposal regarding the allocation of delegates within the Professional Council, sources said, a move which will have a direct impact on the Feb. 10 election for U.S. Soccer president."

Why nobody on the Board of Directors thought that saying that the men's 1st division should have 300% of the voting strength of the women's 1st division was wrong... just blows my mind.

We need reform in how soccer in the United States if governed... a few days ago I told the story of how our coaches are disenfranchised and how our active duty military players are disenfranchised... how they are not allowed to choose who represents them...

Now here we are discussing the fact that the men are given 3x's the political power within the Federation that the women are...

I just cant get over the fact that it appears that nobody thought to say anything?

I guess we will never know because according to the USSF Board Meeting minutes...

PROFESSIONAL COUNCIL VOTING DISTRIBUTION Mr. Gulati and Greg Fike provided background on the Professional Council voting distribution. Don Garber addressed the Board regarding the Pro Council proposed distribution. Rishi Sehgal addressed the Board regarding NASL’s proposal for distribution.

(At this point, the Board went back into an executive session. The minutes for that session are contained in a separate document.)

Yep, you guessed it... it went in to executive session after Don Garber addressed the board saying this is the distribution that the MLS wanted... I mean that the Pro Council wanted.

Stand up for the game. Stand up for the people in the game. ALL of the people in the game.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Did the USSF get our $5,000,000 worth?

I haven't been able to stop thinking about something that United States Soccer Federation COO Jay Berhalter told me at the USSF AGM in Scottsdale Arizona.

During the Budget Q&A session the conversation moved from something to the Coaching Education program. A representative from Mississippi Youth Soccer asked a great question about a program to allow the in person Grassroots License Courses to not require a $25 kick back to the Federation... she made the point that these courses in Mississippi and other rural states are oftentimes the only way to give education to parent coaches in small communities and having the course cost the state $25 per coach made it almost impossible to cover the entire cost of them.

She said their state wanted to cover the cost of the course for the coaches... the instructor, the field, materials, etc... and offer it for free but with this $25 fee that has to be paid to the USSF it made it next to impossible with their small budget.

He said it was a great question that he hadn't heard before but he would consider it but it was unlikely that the USSF was going to be able to waive this $25 fee.

He went on to tell us that in addition to the $25 that the coach pays the USSF subsidizes the cost of these grassroots courses at a rate of $12 per class.

This struck me as very odd. I asked him how they can put a price point on this subsidy since a fixed cost for the website, creation of the content, etc will be made back or reduced as more people take the courses and they receive a $25 payment for every iteration of the course (even the online ones).

Jay Berhalter then proceeded to let us know that 144,000 Grassroots courses have been completed online and in person.

If we do the simple math of... 

       144,000 classes
X    $37 per class
       $ 5,328,000

He said that it is impossible to assign as exact price for the subsidy but this is a snapshot of what it looks like right now since they have to constantly update the website and create new content.

So using this simple math and what Jay Berhalter told us during the USSF AGM....

We have spent over $5 million dollars creating the USSF Grassroots Courses and making a website for the online courses.

$5,000,000 plus dollars.

Do you think this money has delivered the kind of course/licensing program that we deserve for over $5,000,000?

I almost forgot... they announced at the AGM that

So really, we are at almost $6,000,000 to develop and administer this ONLINE course. The Federation doesn't deliver ANY of these courses. The state associations and affiliate members bear the brunt of that cost. The only cost the Federation has had on the Grassroots Courses has been the development and website costs.

I also asked for results of the post course survey results to see if those who completed them found them useful or not... he gave me his email address and told me to email him... I did on the spot. He did not send me the survey results.

So I can't let you know if people have found them helpful or not.

Basically, $6,000,000 of our Federation and FIFA's money made these... we just have to trust them that they are doing their job. 



One other thing that Jay Berhalter told us was that the USSF Pro License costs the Federation $22,000 PER COACH to put on.

So the first course they put on cost 286k for 13 coaches. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Disenfranchisement at the USSF AGM

The absolute last thing I expected to see at the 2019 USSF AGM was the disenfranchisement of soccer coaches and military members.... but that is exactly what we all saw.

Let's take it back a just one step. Just a few minutes earlier a by-law change was passed that gave the Athlete Council 4 year terms instead of 2 year terms and allowed members of the Athlete Council to complete their terms even after their time when eligible to participate had ended.

The first item of business that the newly empowered Athlete Council did was the move to continue the disenfranchisement of the United Soccer Coaches and the 50,000 military members playing on 800 bases world wide.

That is EXACTLY what Chris Aherns moved to do... continue the disenfranchisement of over 80,000 coaches and active duty military members.

Currently these coaches and military members are represented by an At Large member of the USSF board but they are not allowed to vote on who represents them. The Athlete Council moved to continue this disenfranchisement of these members of the soccer community for at least 1 more year.

Why they did this? I have no idea...

What I do know is that if the Pro Council and Athlete Council chose to vote for the disenfranchisement of the coaches and active duty military players worldwide... which it appears was what happened.... then almost the entire rest of the body of USSF voted for inclusion.

Even now... days later.

I am still pissed.

Please speak up. Please run for offices in your local club, league, and state. We need change. Radical change.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Get involved

It is that time of year again. The USSF AGM is coming up in a few days and the WVSA AGM is coming up in March. Several new candidates are running for state positions, the league I am President of has several new members on its Board, the club I am President of just added several new members to its board. The excitement, ideas, and energy among all of these new members and potential members is invigorating.

We need this everywhere... at every level... in every community... every club. New blood. New energy. New ideas. People ready to push the game forward in this country. People just like you.

I've been talking about this subject on Twitter quite a bit lately because I think this is the most important thing that we can do for soccer in this country right now. 

We have to start to change this game from the bottom up, where we can actually control things, while we also call for change at the top.


Monday, January 14, 2019

We need a plan... now.

Followers of this blog and my social media account have seen me say this repeatedly. Soccer in the United States is aimlessly floating along with no plan... 10 years ago Sunil Gulati said "Maybe 10 years down the road". It has been 10 years. We still don't have a plan.

We have a multitude of issues that all need addressed if we ever hope to get to the top of the world game...

It is frustrating to sit back and watch time slip by knowing that every day we don't have a plan forward we fall further and further behind those who DO have a plan. Pushing needed reforms down the road with no concrete plan on how to get there is... well, it appears to be being done to stall and delay any actual reform efforts.

We need a plan and we need it now.

Continue to advocate for the changes that we need. All of them.