The Endless Season – Girl’s Soccer – Why It Matters

You know how hot it was. You really had to WANT to be out there. And they did, on baking playing fields which sprawl for about half a mile to the west of the enormous indoor complex south of Rt 30 near Coatesville. Nearly a dozen games on this Tuesday evening, all but one are girl’s matches. A freshly-defeated team files off the field, their coach leading them up an embankment to a vacant spot, where he chides them for lackluster effort. «We have our next shot on Thursday,» he tells them. «Blow it off this way again and you can forget about getting those letters from the colleges. They’ll be using the backs of our programs to write down the names of other teams…»

United Sports Center, mid-February, 8pm:

Three of the indoor matches feature pre-teen girls’ teams. In the adjacent gym of Lightning-Fast, speed-training consultants to professional and amateur teams alike, a petite master-trainer named Shannon Grady, who is also a professional runner, is closing the pro shop when a woman walks in with her daughter, asking to sign her up for the next Speed Clinic. The girl is ten. I ask Shannon how young she’s gotten them. Eight.

Blame Title IX if you wish. NEWSWEEK did, but for other reasons, its venerable George Will echoing a lament that the initiative was a «train wreck» which had shoe-horned female athletes into college sports at the expense of established men’s programs. Boo-hoo! The Women’s World Cup 1999 triumph would have happened without Title IX, the threnody went on, because application of the 1972 legislation wasn’t codified and enforced for well over a decade, by which time women’s sports had already blossomed on their own. NEWSWEEK subsequently balanced their spin on Title IX, putting a dumbbell-curling Michelle Kwan on the cover, and in their «Gamma Girls» cover-story, correctly crediting Title IX for facilitating the emergence of well- adjusted teen girls who weren’t back-stabbing clique-queens or basket-cases. Go ahead, blame Title IX for the legions of Type A parents eyeing sports-scholarship dollars. But if you look a little deeper you’ll realize that this is a small price to pay for the bounties of the girls’ soccer-mania unfolding around us.

Like many of us of above a certain age, I can recall when soccer was an autumn boys’ sport, grudgingly included as a sidelight to football in private schools. You didn’t see «pick-up» soccer games they way you do with basketball or football. And girls played field hockey. As the growth of soccer in this country parallels the growth in women’s sports altogether, it seems as though a junction was unavoidable: no other sport offers all girls the same wide-open opportunities and possibilities.

ALYSSA- my niece, was far less outgoing than her twin older sisters. Small, but solid, she had no team-sport experience at age 10 when I enrolled her in Lionville Youth League soccer in an attempt to open her up. As she’d signed up late, her first time on the field they put her into a game. She didn’t know anything about positions and rules («What position are you playing?» I asked, just before she went in. «I’m a captain.» she said), but made up for it with such agility and aggressiveness the coach was near tears when I moved her on to a traveling team a year later.

She needn’t be big. Or tall. Or strong. She needn’t possess the natural gifts which separate the Mary Lou Rettons and Michelle Kwans from their peers early on. There are no expensive lessons, equipment, clothes or facilities. Give her a few yards of space and a ball, and she can stay busy for hours. It’s democratic, equal-opportunity as can be. Her sport’s not a «girls’ sport» or some other segregated subset, but a universal game, the biggest in the world. And now, like generations of boys before her, she has idols of her own. Some, like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, are icons, household names, drawing crowds wherever they go. Some, like Philadelphia’s own Heather Mitts and Lorrie Fair (both of whom are models), are gorgeous enough to be sex symbols. And tough? Oh yes, feminine, but at the same time, tough. Best of all, tough.

FELICIA- another tiny, shy girl, younger and far less physically-aggressive than Alyssa, this dark-eyed beauty had a tendency to shrink from soccer’s inevitable collisions. But she’s on the Phoenixville United team, coached by Stassi Theodoropoulos, himself something of a local legend in youth soccer training. A former professional club player in Europe, Stassi, 54, lives the sport and has an excess of excited energy which he spends in drilling several teams, including the girls’ varsity at the Villa Maria Academy. His work with the Phoenixville United grew them into a machine which thrashed most of their opponents, including some older girls’ teams. And Felicia? She’s grown too, her timidity a distant memory as she now tears into any opponent who comes her way.

There are the school teams. There are local clubs like the Lionville Youth Association and Phoenixville Area Soccer Club. There are bigger organizations like the Intercounty Soccer League and Philadelphia Area Girls’ Soccer (PAGS), which provide a framework for much of the league play throughout the region. All of this adds up to an impressive tapestry growing thicker by the week, and you don’t need to look very hard to see its evidence. New playing fields are popping up everywhere, and on any given weekend or evening you’ll likely to drive past a girls’ match.

Charlestown Park, Phoenixville, October:

Now with autumn, the fields get little rest. Be it Saturday or Sunday, before one game finishes, other teams arrive and are warming up at the sidelines. It’s the same way down the road at Lionville Youth Association. Not to mention at the schools. It’s the same way everywhere. And once the girls reach their teens many of them are playing for both their schools and their league teams. Even Stassi, with all his energy, can’t match that. With the main season in full swing, he’s had to hand off his beloved United team while he tends full-time to the Villa Maria girls. But they’re in good hands he assures me, and he’ll be keeping an eye on them all.

In an editorial I wrote for Women’s Physique World in 1999, I called our Women’s World Cup victory the finest day in women’s bodybuilding: «What else can you call it when the predominant image across America is an ecstatic young woman ripping off her shirt and flexing triumphantly before the entire world, and no one questions it?» A new paradigm of physical acceptability had been launched with these new heroines, I said, «and that’s significant to us because their prominence is forever tied to straining sweaty muddy-specked quadriceps, bone-crunching collision and all-out exertion. It’s raw muscle, shown in function. And thus needs no excuses. Lady-like? Ha! You tell Mia she’s not ladylike!»

Charlestown Park, Phoenixville, early April:

April? That’s right, it’s early April…a raw, rainy Saturday afternoon, but Stassi’s United girls are loving it. The rain and the mud are part of the fun. They’ve just shut out the other team four-zip, and despite the rain they happily kneel on a blanket, clowning for some post-game photos. It’s those other people huddling in the rain who don’t seem to be enjoying it. But that’s ok…they’re just grown-ups. What do they know about fun?

It can only get better. Our local heroines, the Philadelphia Charge, completed another stunning season last year where they lead the league until the final week. We head into this year’s Women’s World Cup with tens of thousands more devotees than were on-hand for the last, many destined for those same fields. They’ll be ramping up the volume on a new generation of superstars who ratchet the standards of physical possibility even higher. The young league-team girl amidst this growing swarm enjoys a freedom her mother only dreamed of, a future unfettered by antiquated notions of physical correctness, sports-conditioning and the limits of femininity. From the mud and dust of her local sward, through the scrapes and bruises of countless collisions, she can see. And she can soar.

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Laced Soccer Shoes – How To Go About Them

Most soccer cleats are laced but you definitely will find a few that does not feature laces and are designed in such a way that they keep the feet in firmly and do not interfere with performance. Lacing is among the most important things you should learn to have an easy time keeping your fit right and also ensuring that the laces do not end up causing any sort of fall risk or injuries. Whether you are getting soccer shoes for your child, youth or you are an advanced soccer player getting a pair, it is important to know the ins and outs of properly tying your laces.

Tips for children

When tying laces on children soccer shoes, the traditional criss-cross lacing pattern is best. The laces should be tight enough to keep the show in place, but not too tight to make the fit uncomfortable.

A traditional bow-knot should finish off the lacing at the top and the ends of the bows tied again to create some sort of granny knot.

It is important to choose laces that are long enough to allow double knotting, but not too long that a lot of bulk is left to flap around or even get caught under the shoe sole once tied. It is best for parents to tie their children’s shoe laces until they are in a position to tie them properly.

Tips for youth players

They should be able to tie the laces by themselves with the criss-cross still being the best pattern. The lace should be threaded underneath both eyelets nearest to shoe toe ensuring that both ends have equal lengths. The underneath threading should be done all the way to the ankle before a bow-tie is tied, followed by a double knot when the show is on.

The laces should remain tightly drawn from bottom to top and a bow knot tied at farthest point outside the feet as the shoes can allow. It helps keep the knot away from the instep to reduce impact on the knot from an instep-drive kick.

Tips for advanced players

Influence on laces is what needs to be focused by the advanced soccer players. The double knot should be away from midline of instep than last eyelet can allow.

The laces should also be tied in such a way that there is no risk of being raked by opponents. The issue can be addressed by using long laces that can go round the foot arch and using a surgeon’s knot to tie them.

Important to note is that some shoes may come with features that can have an effect on lacing. Tongue loops are some of the features and they help in preventing slipping of the tongue to the sides. Some may also come with a tongue flap which is an extended tongue that folds over knots after tying to create smoother instep surface. It is also not uncommon to find shoes with lace sleeves to cover the laces and knots. Choose a design you feel works for you in terms of lacing convenience and ensuring laces do not interfere with your performance.

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Indian World Cup Win No Fluke, Suggests Flash Cricket Simulator

Earlier this year, the Indian cricket team won the 2011 edition of the Cricket World Cup. Although India were the favourites leading into the tournament, cricket is a sport where any of the top teams can beat any other on their day. Thanks to the existence of online cricket simulators, we can try to determine what the chances were of India winning, and how the other placings should have gone.

ODI CricSim is a flash cricket simulator that determines the results of matches by crunching over 200 variables from each player’s actual world career, including the average length of a batsman’s innings, the chance of hitting a four or a six on any given ball, the bowler’s strike rate and the bowler’s economy rate. For this experiment I used the ODI CricSim engine to run 1,000 simulated World Cups based on the quarterfinal standings of the various teams. The teams for each match were the same as the teams in the actual world, and in cases where a simulated team advanced when their actual world counterpart did not, the quarterfinal team was used for their next match.

The results were as follows:

First Quarterfinal – Pakistan vs. West Indies:

Pakistan 572
West Indies 428

Second Quarterfinal – India vs. Australia:

India 576
Australia 424

Third Quarterfinal – New Zealand vs. South Africa:

New Zealand 399
South Africa 601

Fourth Quarterfinal – Sri Lanka vs. England:

Sri Lanka 568
England 432

The results from these quarterfinal matchups suggest that New Zealand beating South Africa was the biggest upset of this stage of the tournament. South Africa was the only losing team that the simulator suggested should have won. In fact, South Africa were the team with the highest simulated chance of winning their quarterfinal, which will add more heartbreak to Proteas fans who felt that this tournament was a great chance for their team to break their Cricket World Cup duck.

First Semifinal:

There were four possible matchups for this semifinal, and the following were the predicted chances that the matchup in question would have resulted:

New Zealand vs. England (172 iterations)
New Zealand vs. Sri Lanka (same as actual world) (227 iterations)
South Africa vs. England (260 iterations)
South Africa vs. Sri Lanka (341 iterations)

The simulator results were as follows:

New Zealand vs. England: NZL 105, ENG 67.
New Zealand vs. Sri Lanka: NZL 134, SRL 93.
South Africa vs. England: SAF 181, ENG 79.
South Africa vs. Sri Lanka: SAF 180, SRL 161.

Second Semifinal:

There were four possible matchups for this semifinal, and the following were the predicted chances that the matchup in question would have resulted:

India vs. West Indies (247 iterations)
India vs. Pakistan (same as actual world) (329 iterations)
Australia vs. West Indies (181 iterations)
Australia vs. Pakistan (243 iterations)

The simulator results were as follows:

India vs. West Indies: IND 197, WIN 50.
India vs. Pakistan: IND 238, PAK 91.
Australia vs. West Indies: AUS 138, WIN 43.
Australia vs. Pakistan: AUS 186, PAK 57.

Final:

There were sixteen possible matchups for the final, and the following were the predicted chances that the matchup in question would have resulted:

India vs. South Africa (157 iterations)
India vs. Sri Lanka (same as actual world) (110 iterations)
India vs. New Zealand (104 iterations)
India vs. England (64 iterations)
Australia vs. South Africa (117 iterations)
Australia vs. Sri Lanka (82 iterations)
Australia vs. New Zealand (78 iterations)
Australia vs. England (47 iterations)
Pakistan vs. South Africa (53 iterations)
Pakistan vs. Sri Lanka (38 iterations)
Pakistan vs. New Zealand (35 iterations)
Pakistan vs. England (22 iterations)
West Indies vs. South Africa (34 iterations)
West Indies vs. Sri Lanka (24 iterations)
West Indies vs. New Zealand (22 iterations)
West Indies vs. England (13 iterations)

The simulator results were as follows:

India vs. South Africa: IND 98, SAF 59.
India vs. Sri Lanka: IND 69, SRL 41.
India vs. New Zealand: IND 63, NZL 41.
India vs. England: IND 54, ENG 10.
Australia vs. South Africa: AUS 65, SAF 52.
Australia vs. Sri Lanka: AUS 57, SRL 25.
Australia vs. New Zealand: AUS 47, NZL 31.
Australia vs. England: AUS 37, ENG 10.
Pakistan vs. South Africa: PAK 22, SAF 31.
Pakistan vs. Sri Lanka: PAK 19, SRL 19.
Pakistan vs. New Zealand: PAK 14, NZL 21.
Pakistan vs. England: PAK 12, ENG 9.
West Indies vs. South Africa: WIN 13, SAF 21.
West Indies vs. Sri Lanka: WIN, SRL 14.
West Indies vs. New Zealand: WIN 8, NZL 14.
West Indies vs. England: WIN 6, ENG 7.

These results give the following percentage chances of winning the 2011 Cricket World Cup, given the quarterfinal standings and given that the simulator is accurate:

India 28.5%
Australia 20.6%
South Africa 16.3%
New Zealand 10.7%
Sri Lanka 9.9%
Pakistan 6.7%
West Indies 3.7%
England 3.6%

It is important to note here that these rankings do not reflect the relative merits of each team, but their chances of winning the tournament given the quarterfinal standings and eventual opponents in the semifinals and final. Perhaps disappointingly for the tournament itself, the two top teams met each other in the quarterfinal stages, robbing it of what would have been a titanic final between the eventual champions and the triple defending champions.

The Most Surprising Soccer Transfer of the Season

Twice a year when the transfer window opens, the soccer world goes crazy with players changing clubs and newspapers and soccer websites all over the world speculating on the latest superstars playing the game of musical chairs.

While some big name transfers such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Real Madrid finally came to their expected conclusions, one transfer caught my eye this season. That of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s move from Italian champions Inter Milan to Spanish and Champions League winners Barcelona, with Samuel Eto’o going the opposite direction.

Now, Ibrahimovic is not a bad player and on his day can be one of the best players on the planet. But he has failed to live up to his massive hype in my opinion. Who can forget the 2 Champions League matches against Manchester United last season where he was virtually anonymous?

Samuel Eto’o on the other hand has proven himself to be one of the most lethal strikers in the world. Only 28, he has his best years ahead of him and unlike Ibrahimovic, doesn’t choke on the big stage. Don’t forget, it was his goal in last season’s Champions League final that started Barcelona on the road to victory.

On top of the player exchange, Inter Milan also received a transfer fee of 45 million Euros. I have no idea how it was done, but Inter manager Jose Mourinho must surely have negotiated the best deal of the season. Or does Barcelona know something that we don’t? Only time will tell.

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