Oh hi! I’m Jiggly. And it’s a Tuesday.
I’m writing this literally right after I’ve gotten home after the shootout loss to Puebla. Despite having had enough of my fill to drink and a preference to just sit around and watch the Harley Quinn animated show until I pass out tonight, I’m still gonna tell you my thoughts. Because you must hear my thoughts. It’s Tuesday, after all. So let’s go.
Break Glass in Case of Emergency
On Saturday, I went to the Chicago Fire’s meet and greet at the FirePitch. I do miss the old days when these were at some place like Enchanted Castle or Haunted Trails or some random Best Buy where they had a cardboard cutout of Cuautehmoc Blanco with a line out the door. Now it’s just an event to get autographs and pictures rather than a chance to really talk with some of these guys (or at least play skeeball with them). I wanted to say hi to my favorite guy, Chris Brady, but he was put in the same line as Shaqiri, so I decided to wait a bit for the line to get a bit smaller (it wouldn’t, but whatever). I walked over to one of the staffers I know and asked where the coaches were. Sure enough, they were in some tent off to the side with no one in line for them. I don’t really get pictures or autographs at this point, I just like talking to people. And when I said hi to Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown, and Frank Klopas, someone behind me mentioned how we needed to replace the Walter Payton and George Halas statues with Klopas and C.J.. Look, Walter Payton actually did quite a bit for soccer in the City of Chicago, but the Bears would probably take his statue over to wherever their new stadium will be (if they even move out). So why not put up Klopas and C.J.? Well, Klopas didn’t like the idea. He said it should just be C.J. and Zach. Humble dude wants his teammates who spent a longer time with the club to get the credit. Ya know what? I won’t let him pass off the credit. Let’s talk about why Frank Klopas is the Fire legend.
Klopas would only be right on a technicality if he said that Zach and C.J. have been around longer. Their playing careers with the club were much longer, as Klopas was nearing the end of his career by the time he reached the Fire. However, when you take into account the years in the front office, coaching, and broadcasting for the club, that’s a whole lot more. Not to mention his work even just as an ambassador for the club, visiting Section 8 events and any corporate events where the Fire just needed a guy. He was there when he was needed, however he was needed. That’s more than a lot of people can say about their club. He is Fire for life. I love that he is now on his third stint coaching the Fire.
I think it’s fun that Klopas is still coaching the Fire a decade after the last time he did it. However, maybe it’s not the best thing. I know, Klopas has the best overall record of any coach that has helmed the Fire since Blanco left and is the first MLS coach to have made it to the CONCACAF Champions League final (thanks to his legendary pelvic thrust). But, there’s a dark side to all of that that was lost within the noise of all those Barney Gumble jokes: Klopas’ tactical style is so boring and probably a bit trashy. Don’t get me wrong, he can pull out wins when he needs to. That’s about all he can do. I’ve said it before, I don’t remember where, but despite being a former attacking player, his style is incredibly negative and defensive. While he’s made some changes and appears to be letting the team play with more freedom than they have in the past, it’s still so bad. If you’ve studied the game well enough, you can tell where the momentum is, and who’s controlling it. The problem with the Fire at this point is that when they’re not controlling the game, everything feels fast and free and it feels like you might be able to see some goals today. The moment the Fire “take control”, the game screeches to a halt. It gets to a point where you’re not even sure anyone is in control of the game because it moves so slowly. Nothing happens at that point and there’s no real advantage to be had unless you’re trying to just grind out a 1-0 victory or hope that you’ll get that one goal at the end of the game.
As I said, Klopas has adjusted some things in his tactical style, but the fact of the matter is that even at their best, the Fire don’t look like a team that’s trying to win. Which is wild to consider the gulf in the team’s play on the pitch to their mentality going out onto it. Because while I believe that Ezra Hendrickson was a solid leader, a man who could hold a locker room, something changed when he left. EZ was a guy who could motivate a good team to go out and win a game. Klopas, however, is a guy who can motivate a struggling team to turn around their entire season. And that’s the difference we’ve seen since then. So while the player movement seems a bit lax, that’s really all style. You can see that Shaqiri’s lit up since Klopas has taken over, the guys seem to have a bit more life in them because Klopas put that belief in them.
The thing is that, while it might seem like maybe we should take the “interim” tag off of Klopas’ title, we really shouldn’t. Like, I don’t care what happens the rest of the season. I don’t care what silverware he wins, I don’t care how much he wins, the Fire need a new coach to bring about a whole new regime to the way things are run around here. Klopas is a temporary fix, a band-aid. He is here when you need him, and nothing more. Reportedly, based on a tweet from the somewhat controversial insider TyrusRose, he knows it, too. He doesn’t believe that he should be the coach next season. And that is honestly a beautiful thing. “Uncle Frank” knows when he is needed and when we need to move on. I appreciate that about him.
I guess the shame, at the end of the day, is that it is very likely that a new coach would have to come in and mix up the coaching staff. Zach, C.J., and even Klopas would probably have a tough time convincing a new coach to keep them on instead of bringing in their own guys. After all these years of hoping that the Fire could assemble a dugout of club legends, fans may be disappointed in the end. So, while it lasts, it’s nice to see our favorite guys out there doing what they can to help the team we all love.
The Power In Your Name
So, I’ve gotta preface this with some stuff that you may or may not know about me. For a solid few years, I covered the Chicago Red Stars for MLS Multiplex. For even longer, I’d been a season ticket holder for them, I cared about the WPS and NWSL and understood what was going on with the national team. I am also generally not a fan of international soccer, as I’m always club over country (mostly due to most American fans being incredibly annoying). And ever since certain things revealed themselves in the 2021-22 offseason, I haven’t even paid attention to the Red Stars or the league outside of my regular update on Sad Bois. This may change soon (check the Miscellaneous Notes for some fun news), but I am not fully involved in women’s soccer the way I used to be. This is why I am so confused that I still know most of the US Women’s National Team roster and so many of them have been there for pert near a decade.
Let’s set the scene, okay? It was Wednesday night, I knew the USWNT were playing, but was gonna work on helping someone out with writing stuff. Then, just checking in on the Chicago Red Stars fan discord, I noticed a bunch of people talking shit about a player that I thought was untouchable. I will be honest, I am known for being a massive hater of hers, but that specific story is long and for another time. At that moment, however, I was laughing my ass off seeing Alex Morgan getting dragged by fans. As it happened, the Dutch national team was ahead from early in the first half and the American attack looked dead in the water at the time. It was barely a half hour into the game and everyone looked so lethargic. No runs into the box, lazy passing, barely any movement. The game seemed dead. In fact, maybe it was a strategy that worked as the Dutch also got slow in the second half, allowing a somehow uninjured Lindsey Horan equalizer off of a corner (off the floor and on the board, as they say in hockey). The weird thing about that USWNT turnaround is that coach Vlatko Andonovski only made a single substitution at the half, which was objectively the correct one: Bringing on Rose Lavelle. Other than that, the team still struggled with the same issues and really only got that help when the Dutch fell off.
My point that I’m trying to get at is that there were some names on that pitch that I was so confused about because I knew them. I didn’t know why they were there. So I actually took a look at the squad list and found a few more confusing additions. Why is 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe on this roster? What is Kelley O’Hara still doing here, I thought she retired and is running a podcast? And how did Kristie Mewis make it instead of her sister, Sam? As I said, I haven’t been following closely, so maybe Sam’s injured or something. What I do know is that Julie Ertz, my dad’s favorite player, has barely made three competitive club appearances in the past two years. She did spend some of that time having a baby, but that’s a lot of time off for a player who needs to be match fit for a world-class level. At the very least, Alex Morgan had an incredible season last year with the San Diego Wave (probably the best season she’s ever had in club soccer), so I understand why she’s there.
This is obviously not something that’s the fault of the team, of Vlatko, or even of Kate Markgraf. But have you noticed how the team has been marketed for the World Cup? A lot of individual stories, some that have been told time and time again. It’s a marketing tactic used by “Goliaths” to appear more like “Davids” by separating players and hoping that the sheer amount of “compelling narratives” can bring you in. It’s just that this doesn’t change the fact that the USWNT is still the Goliath and that many of the stories are the same as they were last time around. But, I feel like it’s fitting that it was done that way because it feels like the play on the pitch is very similar. It’s a bunch of individuals that happen to be on a team. It’s not Jordan’s Dream Team, it’s more like the 2004 Olympic team that got blown out by Puerto Rico in the first round. There’s talent on the roster, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s being used or clicking. Instead of even trying to use the midfield, I saw a lot of times where they’d just boot it forward and hope someone could pull something out of their ass. They couldn’t, they had to get lucky off of a set piece.
Maybe that comparison to the 2004 Olympic basketball team was a bit too harsh, but I think that the USWNT actually provides a very apt comparison: The 2011 World Cup squad. It was similarly filled with a bunch of older players, some on their last legs. Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx, and while she wasn’t quite ancient yet, Abby Wambach. In fact, they relied on these players in a way that may have led to things not quite going their way all the way through the tournament. Everyone may remember that they lost on penalties to Japan in the final, but they had to rely on magic from a young Pinoe in the quarterfinals against Brazil (Wambach scored, but I could’ve scored in that position), and this was really that one tournament where Morgan was actually looking good on the pitch as she helped to get them past France and even get them into penalties in the final. Despite being the “mighty USWNT,” they couldn’t even find an easy way past the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the group stage, only scoring two after the 50th minute. But we still saw all the same sort of puff pieces for Wambach, Heather Mitts, and Lori Lindsey with the same sort of “here to teach the new kids” spin. Except that’s not exactly how it should go.
Look, I get it. Everyone finds Pinoe incredibly interesting, people still don’t think Morgan’s been overrated her entire career, and I’ve already said that I do think JJ Ertz is a very cool person. They’re supposed to be guiding the next generation of Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, and Alyssa Thompson into this stage of their careers. Except, by having those older players here to “mentor” these younger players, there are some who have seen a detriment to that. Over the years, we’ve seen Crystal Dunn, who was once a promising young winger, who’s developed into one of the top wingers in the world, forced to play fullback with the USWNT. And she’s there now instead of calling up an actual fullback like Casey Krueger and letting Dunn play more towards the top to help Rodman with feeding her club teammate Smith. Speaking of which, I mentioned how Morgan had a great season last year, but she’s standing in the way of letting Smith actually have a breakout tournament by forcing her onto the wing instead of letting her be the tip of the spear. And despite being the best American player right now, in my opinion, Rose Lavelle hasn’t been given a single start in this tournament. Maybe she’s also coming back from an injury, but I don’t know how she still seems to be treated like some sort of young prospect, especially when she’s 28 now (bet you feel old). Same with Lynn Williams, who can’t seem to get off the bench when the USWNT needed someone to do something in the box late in that Dutch game. It just feels like Vlatko brought over a team of names, with a few extras. Tierna Davidson, while she’s still returning from a long-term injury and playing on a disappointing defense in the Red Stars, is still a better option at CB than an out-of-position JJ Ertz or an inexperienced Naomi Girma. And right now, if I can’t have Sophia Smith at the tip of the spear, I’d rather have it be Ashley Hatch, who can play both in between Smith and Rodman, as well as in front of Lavelle.
You know what? I’m just naming a bunch of names at this point. I can try to bring up evidence, but that won’t get me anywhere, at least not me specifically. Because I’m not exactly the guy that people trust when it comes to watching film. I even disqualified myself from that earlier by saying that I haven’t been paying as close attention to “woso” as I have in the past. But what I am good at is reading vibes. And the truth is, I don’t think the USWNT “have that dawg in ‘em”. The entire organization and fanbase seem to be going into this tournament like it’s their birthright to be handed the trophy at the end of it. They are a team that looks lost when they get punched in the mouth, as they did against the Netherlands. The Dutch caught them napping and probably should’ve won if they hadn’t also fallen asleep. And after last tournament’s 13-0 rout against Thailand, it feels a bit off that they struggled to even get three past Vietnam. It’s almost like they don’t have the same quality anymore. Or maybe the rest of the world is genuinely catching up. It’s something that very few people seem to be willing to admit because there’s still this American exceptionalism around women’s sports, especially in a sport like soccer where the men aren’t as successful. But this year, I see Brazil finally stepping up in a major way, Nigeria and Colombia ready to shock the world, and England coming in without the usual arrogance of their men’s team. And I guess that’s the best comparison. Because everyone knows that the moment they start singing “It’s Coming Home”, you’re usually going home. And right now, it feels like there are a lot of USWNT fans hanging out with Wile E. Coyote out over the ledge, waiting to get handed a trophy that they probably won’t get.
Maybe they’ll deserve it more when those same people actually start investing in more than just the national team.
More Content! I said I just got back from the game and we did some filming there. Hopefully, we’ll have something up by the end of the week.
Point and Laugh. A moment to point and laugh at Austin FC for not only losing to a makeshift Haitian side in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier in the year but also for losing to both Mazatlán and Juárez in the Leagues Cup. Those teams are basically the laughingstock of Liga MX.
Don’t Make Me Choose. I’m just sad that it’s now down to either Brazil or Jamaica getting out of Group F in the World Cup. Jamaica has an amazing story, but Brazil has the vibes right now.
They’re FIGHTING. I love how Colombia took their antagonism from their abandoned Ireland friendly and are using it the whole way through with an incredibly effective physical gameplan. Love it.
New Era? I’ve heard that a new ownership group is close to purchasing the Red Stars. No info on who they are, but the team does really need to move on from its past and this is the first step forward.
Binge Watch. I just sorta decided to watch the Harley Quinn animated series on Sunday night, only to end up staying up to watch the whole season that night. I love the way it’s written, I love Harley and Ivy’s dynamic, I could say more but I don’t have enough room here. Amazing.
I love you.
And I’ll see you next week.