Saturday night, I went with my good friend, Patrick Reis, to see the WPS Sky Blue vs. Western NY Flash game. As he’s a journalist, I asked him if he’d share his thoughts on the experience. So… guest blogger under guest blogger. But it’s a new and fresher perspective than mine — I’m already an avid Women’s Professional Soccer enthusiast — and this was his first live WPS game. Here, below, is an opinion the WPS League should be taking seriously – he’s a mid-twenties, cable subscribing, sports fan with an affinity for soccer:
Last night’s Women’s Professional Soccer game was a brilliant display of athleticism and a wonderful sports spectacle, and yet I left concerned for the future of the league.
We’ll start with the positives: The quality of play was amazing. Without exception, it was a field full of world-class athletes playing at the highest level – minus the flopping, fighting and constant kvetching common to certain other not-to-be-named professional sports leagues. They moved the ball constantly and made extremely few mistakes, did amazing things with the ball that even non-soccer fans could appreciate, as well as the subtle stuff that hard-core fans could enjoy.
And enjoy it we did. Perhaps the best part was watching young kids who knew the roster top to bottom. We sat next to a pair of teenagers who referred to the players by their first name and discussed the pros and cons of putting them on the field.
Alex Morgan, soccer’s “it-girl” of the moment, provided the cherry on top. Despite coming on with only 20 minutes to go (more on that later), Morgan continued her highlight reel season (building off this gem against Boston), with the coolest cool I’ve ever seen in person. Shortly before the final whistle she raced to a ball nobody thought she’d get, touching it away from the oncoming keeper. Then she collected it before she got to the end-line, whirled around, chipped and curved the ball into the back of the net. The crowd loved it.
Great crowd, great game and a great finish. What more could you ask for?
Sadly, it was what we could have asked for less of. For starters, less driving. The game was at Rutgers, 45 minutes away. And less confusion. As we pulled into the parking lot, the attendant told us the game was sold out. Having spent 45 minutes in the car, we decided it was worth another 15 minutes to double check. Sure enough, tickets were still available, but only after a long wait in line and a healthy dose of box office confusion. That’s when the fun really got started:
As we made the trek to our section, we were stopped by a very loud, very angry, very mulleted woman who proceeded to shout at us for not knowing exactly where on the grassy hill we were supposed to sit. Now, paying $15 for a soccer game is entirely reasonable, but I can (and frequently do) get yelled at for free. So, you know, maybe we can pass on that next time.
And, hey, maybe given that Alex Morgan is so popular right now that there was a 13-year-old boy wearing her jersey, she could play more than 20 minutes? I get it, there are 100 sports reasons to rest your best player when you’re winning. But this is a business, and a business that is struggling to get off the ground. So when you have opportunities to raise the league’s profile, you have to pounce and pounce hard. Pearl Jam doesn’t fill amphitheaters without Eddie Vedder, pet stores don’t put ugly puppies in the window the week before Christmas, and Kate Goldwater doesn’t let me anywhere near her store during daylight.
For me, I don’t mind. These are all minor annoyances in an otherwise great night. I’ll go again as soon as I can. But for families with limited time and limited income (and lots of places that are more than willing to take it), one or two hitches could be enough to convince them to spend their next outing elsewhere.
Women’s Professional Soccer: This is your moment, your chance to show off what you can do. The fans are ready to do their part – 5,000 braved the logistical hassles to sell out the regular seating section, and the field-level seats, at $75-a-pop, were sold out as well. The players are doing their part and then some: playing world-class soccer as likable, fan-friendly athletes.
But unless the league irons out the kinks – and irons them out quickly – it could all be for naught.
Patrick Reis writes a daily column on energy policy for POLITICO (http://www.politico.com/morningenergy) that is funny at least twice a month, and erratically maintains a Twitter feed at @Patrick_C_Reis.