an interview with professional olympic gold medalist heather mitts

To slightly misquote Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, the girls are back in town. Yup, you heard that right. Women’s professional soccer is back.

Heather Mitts of the USWNT and Boston Breakers

heather mitts dishes with WSOTP on her olympic triumphs, the new women’s pro league, and more.

Resurrected from the ashes of the failed WPS and WUSA through a jointly subsidized venture by the USSF, the Canadian Soccer Association and the Mexican Football Federation, the new eight team National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is looking to finally find the right formula for women’s soccer in the States.

The first order of business for the fledgling league was to allocate the fifty-five players whose salaries are covered by their respective national federations, and I was intrigued to see who ended up where. Would big name players stay with their older clubs, or would some be picked up teams closer to home? And of all the players out there, the one I always tend to keep an eye out for is fellow Cincinnati native, Heather Mitts.

A long time member of the US Women’s National Team setup with an impressive 138 caps, Heather has earned three Olympic Gold medals and a World Cup runner’s up medal in the process. Mitts is also one of the few players in NWSL who has had the privilege of playing in the other two editions of a top-tier American women’s league. And if for some reason you’ve not heard of the marking back for her on-field exploits, it’s quite possible you have heard about her off of it thanks to stunning good looks that have earned her a modeling career. All in all, not too bad a gig for a girl from Ohio.

So with the launch of the new league just around the corner, I thought this would be a great time to reach out to Heather to pick her brain about NWSL, her career with the national team and more.

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ten words or less #39

andrei arshavin giraffe shirt

if arshavin's fashion sense catches on, we all have reason to be pessimistic.

It may just be me, but I feel like my recent posts have taken a rather pessimistic view of the beautiful game. A quick look at my front page shows a total of seven non-round-up posts, and four of them are nothing but me bitching about some current aspect of the game. I must think soccer is going to hell then, right?

Well, sort of… but I could also just be moody and hypersensitive to issues that I think are currently plaguing the game. If it makes you feel better, you can call me a pessimist. I won’t take it the wrong way.

However, if you’re not yet concerned about the state of affairs in professional football, just take a gander at a few of the links below. We’ll make you into pessimist in no time.

Is Serie A’s decline due more to TV than stadiums? – theelastico.com

The Home Nations collectively shudders at the site of this. – footballshirtculture.com

You can actually feel the sorrow in the author’s voice. – twofootedtackle.com

While a valid point, is there a workable solution? – soccerissue.com

Is Balotelli a Dynamo Dresden fan, or just their inspiration? – dirtytackle

Pelé makes boots now, undoubtedly thinks they’re the best ever. – theoriginalwinger.com

Neymar has nothing on these guys. – youtube.com

A good effort that needs revising: too much white space. – kckrs.com

the nazis and their football

Professional football in the modern world is omnipresent. No matter what obstacle it faces, the game has a way of overcoming the impediment to continue steamrolling along.

nazi germany and football

the nazi's knew the power of the beautiful game.

A tsunami strikes your country? Don’t sweat it, you’ll just go ahead and win a World Cup. Your homeland has been at war for the better part of two decades? We’ll just go ahead and call you the “Asian Cinderellas.” Your nation has been embroiled in a five-year civil war? Wow, it pretty much ended because of your famous player.

Whether saddled with despair, destruction or disaster, soccer just seems incapable of being stopped. The sport is so culturally ingrained into the fabric of (most) modern societies, pulling the plug on the game during dire circumstances could have monumentally negative effects. Much like the Romans using gladiatorial games to distract the masses from plague and famine, today’s world leaders know the importance of the game’s ability to sooth the populace during times of trauma.

But when Europe was in the depths of the second Great War, this rule didn’t always hold true.

All across the continent, just as was the case during the first World War, league football finally found reason to grind to a halt. England suspended their first division from 1939 to 1946, Italy during the 1944/1945 season, and France from 1939 through 1945. Between bombed club grounds, the imprisonment of players in concentration camps, and the popular idea of general survival, the professional game didn’t really have the resources necessary to carry on throughout the war.

Curiously though, soccer didn’t take a break everywhere during World War II.

Nazi Germany, the primary antagonist of the era, was one of the few nations that attempted to keep their football leagues running during the war. Already well-known for their reliance on propaganda to influence public opinion, it’s not surprising that the methods of the ancient Roman’s did not go unnoticed by Hitler’s Nazi Party.

So just as was the case with every other aspect of German society at the time, the Nazis went about changing football to suit their interests. No portion of soccer — the club game, the international game, tactics or players– was left untouched.

The Club Game
Upon the Nazi takeover, clubs –along with numerous unions and other organizations– with left-leaning memberships were either dissolved or forced to merge with those that supported the Third Reich ideology. A wave of new Nazi-supporting and military clubs also flooded the regional competitions, often drawing away memberships from clubs that were around prior to the regime.

The club game also saw a drastic reorganization on a national scale, as the regional leagues which predated the interwar years were scrapped in favor of new, Third-Reich-approved regional leagues called Gauliga in 1933. While that development in itself isn’t all that interesting, it does become interesting when you consider that Germany was continuously expanding its borders during this time. This necessitated the expansion of the Gauligen system to provide distraction to accommodate new territories and peoples. Without this, we would have never seen an Austrian side crowned the “champion of Germany,” such was the case in 1941 when Rapid Wein won the national Gauligen Tournament.

While one of the staples of the Hitler regime’s ideology was racial purity, the expansion of their regional league system along with their expanding empire meant that inferior races could end up being drafted into the competition. Considering the importance of physical superiority to their Aryan racist agenda, how could the Germans allow non-German’s to participate in their displays of athletic dominance?However, I find this direction that club football took under the Nazis to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the Nazi influence on the sport.

Well, they didn’t. Predictably, the Nazis could best be described as “selective” when they considered their Gauligen expansions. While Western European conquests (Austria, Alsace, Lorraine, and Luxembourg) were given their own or incorporated into existing regional leagues, clubs from Eastern countries (Poland and Czechoslovakia) were barred from joining Gauligen and had to play in their own competitions, unless the club was of the German ethnic population in the area.

The other interesting side of the Nazi Gauligen system was their choice to continue on with regional competitions in the first place. While Germany stayed with the traditional system, the rest of Western Europe blazed into today’s 21st century-style national leagues: England’s First Division, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Holland’s Erediverse, etc. Germany, in a time when consolidating resources to help the greater cause was popular, missed the boat on truly being able to capitalize off of the domestic popularity of football. Additionally, it would have allowed the regime to handpick individual clubs for inclusion instead of having to incorporate entire groups of leagues.

But as we all know, the Nazi’s didn’t always make the smartest of decisions.

The International Game
Just as mentioned above, a big tenet of the Third Reich government’s propaganda was the physical superiority of the German people. After all, you can’t possibly go around claiming that your country’s people are the “master race” if those same people aren’t the biggest bad-asses in all athletic pursuits.

the nazis always made sure that anyone attending the matches (including the players) knew who was running the show.

the nazis always made sure that anyone attending the matches (including the players) knew who was running the show.

Hitler’s first opportunity to flaunt the extraordinary talents of his athletes was the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The chancellor was, of course, delighted with the medal haul Germany posted during the Eleventh Olympiad, tallying an impressive Games’ high of 89. But the Olympics were too big of a spotlight on the Hitler’s ideology for the party to leave the outcomes to pure chance alone. And the football tournament, recently demoted to the red-headed step-child of international football after two successful World Cups, seemed the perfect place to use the invisible hand of influence.

When the pre-tournament favorite home side crashed out at the quarter-final stage, German allies were the next to receive the benefit of the Führer’s favor. Fascist Italy, who had just hosted and won the 1934 World Cup went on to win the tournament… how much benefit they received from the Nazi’s influence remains debatable. However, the Silver-medalist Austrians certainly couldn’t say the same.

Peru faced off against the soon-to-be-annexed Nazi-neighbors in the semifinal, and went on to win 4-2 after extra time. However, a quick appeal was lodged by Austria over a multiple dubious points: 1) a phantom pitch invasion by Peruvian fans, 2) the pitch wasn’t suitable for football, and 3) that the referee gave favor to the Peruvian players’ who were generally big bullies to the Austrian players during the match. FIFA and the Olympic committee agreed, declaring the match null and calling for a replay in an empty stadium.

Peru, keenly aware they were being bent over, told everyone to shove it and forfeited the match and brought the rest of their Olympic delegation home. After all, the outlandish decision made by the organizers seemed impossible given these following facts:

  1. Peru had a negligible following at the tournament, given the difficulty of Peruvian citizens to afford the long trip to Germany. So who would have stormed the field for them? Not that it mattered how big their following was: it would have been the responsibility of the Nazi soldiers at the stadium to keep them back, and they weren’t exactly a group known for their leniency.
  2. Wouldn’t both the Olympic organizing committee and FIFA be the ones responsible for approving the use of the pitch before the game? Additionally, why was the visiting team punished for a pitch invasion? After all, it’s FIFA tradition to punish the hosting side.
  3. Claiming a referee bias for Peru during the match is ludicrous: they had three freaking goals called back in the nullified 4-2 win. I don’t care how biased you think a referee is against your team, if he cancels out three of the opposing team’s seven goals, he can’t be that biased.

Both FIFA and IOC have since pointed fingers at each other regarding who made the decision to force a replay, proving that both organizations have been corrupt since the dawn of time. Either way, it’s generally accepted that Nazi and Italian Fascist influence played a major role in the decision to make sure that their Germanic/ideological brothers from Austria moved on.

Tactics
Everyone knows about the militaristic culture that was pervasive in Nazi Germany. Though every Third Reich organization served different purposes — from the Hitler Youth, to the paramilitary Schutzstaffel (or SS), the Gestapo secret police, all the way up to the full-blown Wehrmacht army — they all had one common characteristic: offense is the best form of defense.

Assuming you received your schooling anywhere in the Western hemisphere, you learned all about this Nazi tactic, most commonly called blitzkrieg. If you would rather not try to recall the nightmarish memories of your high school history class, I’ll let Wikipedia provide you a quick lesson:

Concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the latter is broken, proceeding without regard to its flank. Through constant motion, the blitzkrieg attempts to keep its enemy off-balance, making it difficult to respond effectively at any given point before the front has already moved on.

During the early parts of the war, the blitzkrieg strategy so highly effective that the Nazi’s practically waltzed their way through Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland and France. This success quickly inspired the application of blitzkrieg to other, non-military portions of German life.

Being a game of opposing teams doing battle with one another, football made for the natural candidate for the application of blitzkrieg theory. The football application of “lightning war” was championed by Karl Oberhuber, the head of the Bavarian Gauliga at the time of the fall of Western Europe.

Sure, there is some truth in the phrase “a good offense is the best form of defense.” Just look at team’s like Barcelona, who’s offense is so good that the other team rarely sees any possession of the ball. But Oberhuber’s ideas of shifting the formation to a threadbare defensive line in order to provide more attackers up front (utilizing zany formations like a 2-3-5 or 1-3-2-4) took that idea to the extreme. He was so overtly opposed to defensive tactics, especially those of legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapmann and German national team coach Sepp Herberger (whose managerial style, to Karl at least, was “too Jewish” or “too English”… one and the same I guess?), that he feared that the country’s footballing standing would suffer.

After threatening journalists and clubs who dared to criticize his footballing blitzkrieg ideas, Oberhuber was able to convince top clubs such as Bayern Munich and FC Nuremberg to adopt the system. And just as you would probably predict, both clubs did horribly with so much space in the defensive third for the opposing team to waltz through. All the opposition would need to do is kick a long ball over the wall of offensive players and then use their numerical advantage at the other end of the pitch.

Needless to say, Blitzkrieg football — and Oberhuber’s sporting future for that matter — didn’t last very long.

The Players
While clubs, journalists and supporters were obviously hard hit by the Nazi crackdown in the game, the individual players probably took the biggest beating of them all. Much easier to target and eliminate than larger organizations, players, despite their social standings, were often subjected to the same harsh treatments suffered by the rest of the general populace.

First and foremost, and as to be expected, was the exclusion and elimination of Jewish players from the game. One prime example of this was the murder of Julius Hirsch at Auschwitz in 1945. Hirsch, the first of only two Jews to have ever played for the German national team, was even a decorated German soldier during World War I. A number of other Jewish players lost their lives during the Holocaust, including Henrik Nadler, a Hungarian international.

FC Start in 1942

the players of f.c. start felt the heavy hand of hitler's nazi agenda.

The Jewish players, however, weren’t the only players to face persecution at the hands of the Nazis. The most famous of example of this is the so-called “Death Match” in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in August of 1942.

A conglomerate of surviving former players from Kiev’s two most successful clubs, Dynamo and Lokomotiv, banded together to form FC Start as a means to play the sport they loved — and indirectly challenge Nazi sovereignty. The side became wildly popular after bashing a series of local and regiment teams in the area, thus becoming a symbol of defiance that didn’t stand well with their German occupiers. Hoping to quickly dispel the folklore gathering around the team’s undefeated record, the Third Reich sent in the heavy hitting Flakelf team. The official German Luftwaffe side was known for dominating within their gauliga, and were fully expected to stifle Start’s potent attack. Instead, they lost 1-5 to the Ukrainians.

Obviously, the defeat of pure Aryan Airforce pilots by a bunch of dirty Russki’s didn’t sit well with the Nazis. A rematch was requested by Flakelf, and three days later, the teams faced off again. Rumor has it that the men of FC Start were visited by German SS officers both prior to the match and at the half to remind them of the outcome that should happen and the possible consequences of their victory. Though descendants of the participants dispute that fact, what isn’t disputed is that Start emerged victorious again, with the score of 5-3. Within the next ten days, a majority of the players were rounded up and dispatched to work camps, where only a few escaped execution or death.

Although the players living in the battlegrounds on the continent were engulfed in Second Great War, they weren’t the only players who’s playing lives were greatly affected by it either. Hundreds, if not thousands, of players from around Europe freely (or not so-freely) gave up their playing careers as they were drafted into their countries’ war efforts. England, unsurprisingly, had an entire battalion composed of footballers. Some footballers served in the army prior to their playing careers, including Russian legend Lev Yashin, Considered to be the finest goalkeeper of all time, a 12-year-old Yashin worked in constructing wartime goods including weapons and tanks parts.

—————————————-

Needless to say, World War II was a dark time in human history. The importance of soccer during that time could easily be considered trivial by many, especially when compared to the atrocities and horrible events that regularly occurred under the reign of terror brought on by Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

we've been here before, but have we learned from our past?

But what I found amazing as I was caught up in all of the research needed to write this article, was the power of the sport to help raise the spirits of the oppressed peoples during this dark time. Football was a means of escape from the horrors that were every day life, as well as an avenue for the oppressed to stand up against the might of an impossibly huge enemy. Even when the war claimed a region’s footballing scene as a victim, in almost every case, the game was one of the first things to return to help aid the recovery efforts.

Yet, the lessons of old are just as important now as they were then. Today, we are again seeing a rise in Nazi influence in supporters groups around Europe. While we aren’t at war in the way we were during the 1930′s and 40′s, racist chants and fascist overtones are again echoing through our stadiums. It’s troubling because the clubs it seems to be affecting the most aren’t being near as proactive at stamping it out as we would like.

But I take hope from these lessons from World War II: we know that football can still persevere and conquer its evils. After all, it’s conquered this foe before.

ten words or less #34

sexy mike ashley

after seeing newcastle owner mike ashley's sexy body, i bet you're not mad at me anymore for not posting for a week. right?

I feel a bit like a bad boyfriend right now, one who’s been accused of ignoring my long-term girlfriend for a while, since I haven’t posted in a week. And even though it appears that I’ve not been working on it — ignoring the fact this TWOL post has been sitting around for at least a week itself — I promise that I’ve got some original content in the pipeline for you. Whether you’ll find that new content interesting, that’s another issue…

So, consider this quick posting a small bouquet of flowers to make up for my perceived lack of attentiveness.

“FIFA: For the Good of the Game a Select Few” - grantland.com

Barcelona youth teams occasionally have to play on dirt pitches!?!? – youtube.com

I would watch this. – regista-blog.com

Spanish football is in some serious (financial) shit. – fourfourtwo.com

Germany loves my favorite formation: the 4-2-3-1. – soccernet.com

If true, I’m just glad it’s not some Union-Jack monstrosity. – football-shirts.co.uk

More bad ass football art. – miniboro.com

A brilliantly written article on racism in football. – runofplay.com

ten words or less #33

Aaron Biber and Tottenham's Peter Crouch

crouch visited and got his haircut by aaron biber. when biber's barbershop was trashed during the riots, the looters shockingly left the autographed crouch photo he's holding.

Welcome back, distinguished readers, and thanks for reading my latest article on wrong side of the pond. I am attempting to keep today’s posting very formal, proper, and short as this blog needs to get into in-season form for the start of this European campaign. So with that in mind, let’s skip the silliness today and get on to the sub-ten-word links below.

No word on whether he was red carded or not. – mirror.co.uk

WTF is that face, Landycakes?!?! – dirty tackle @ yahoo.com

Farewell to the best defender of his generation… after Maldini. – therunofplay.com

This took balls… brilliant work by adidas marketing. – kckrs.com

Sir Alex 1 : the Daily Mail’s Bob Cass 0 – whoateallthepies.tv
A tip of my hat to 2-time defending fantasy champion Lippadona for pointing out this link.

The new La Masia: now that’s an academy. – theoffside.com

Don’t care if everyone’s linked to it… brilliant. – arseblog.com

The Canadian MLS clubs always nail branding. – designfootball.com

ten words or less #28

ronaldo trains with the brazilian national team ahead of his last game for brazil

fat ronaldo looks on as he "trains" with the seleção for the last time.

Summer has arrived with a vengeance in Southwest Ohio. Sweltering temperatures normally reserved for August have plagued those of us living in the humid Ohio/Miami Valley region, causing us to suffocate on the air so thick and heavy that Cristiano would trip over it.

Researching for the blog has been a welcome excuse for me to sit on my couch and enjoy the air conditioning over the last week or so, and today’s post is the beneficiary of said sloth. So if you’re trying to escape the summer heat, why not sit back and check out some of the interesting bits of soccer blabber from around the tubes.

The Gold Cup TV schedule. You should watch it. – totalsoccershow.com

How to build a stalker: step one… – kickette.com

Donor hair: Chicharito, Neville, Fabio, Park, Kuszczak, Berbatov, Obertan? – redcafe.net

Pienaar has to be thinking, “Great… always the same kit.” – footballshirtculture.com

The highlights of the tactical evolution from 2010-2011. – guardian.co.uk

FIFA adds racism to their stable of “awesomeness.” – msn.com

Before Ronaldo. After Ronaldo. - youtube.com

I want to hang these up in my house… tonight. – kckrs.com

disappearing act

sympathy is not a feeling that i thought i would ever feel for freddy adu.

however unlikely it is that i’m feeling that way, the fact of the matter is i do. this is despite the fact that i find the ghana-born, america-refined attacker to be a snot.

freddy adu playing for rizespor.

have you seen the man in green in blue? not many have in recent times.

to be fair, he has pretty much experienced the rags-to-riches cycle that every immigrant would define as the “american dream.” freddy ended up here by pure freaking chance, winning a visa lottery (yes, they really have lotteries to dertimine who gets to move to america). it was also around this time that his special talents were recognized. all reports show that despite struggling to keep the adu family’s heads above water, his mother attempted to keep her son grounded by turning down the advances of european giants.

instead she allowed freddy to ink a deal with MLS in 2007, keeping her boy at home with the local club, d.c. united. starting his professional career at the age of 14 brought even more hype, with the american media outlets stopping just short of hailing freddy as the second coming of pelé, and at the very least proclaiming he could walk on water. everyone was talking about him: wilbon and kornheiser argued his merits, 60 minutes did a piece on him, and he was even on letterman.

imagine yourself as a 14-16 year old, hearing all of these “experts” tell you how amazing you are/will be. think how difficult that would be to digest and it not inflate your ego. my head certainly would have grown stratospherically huge if that happened to me. so while the kid wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was certainly getting used to being fed off of one.

but contrary to everyone’s professional predictions, the start of adu’s career in MLS could hardly be considered “flying.” quarreling with coaches and indifferent performances lead to a disappointing tally of just 14 goals in a 103 appearances in four MLS seasons. not exactly the stuff that of legend, but then again, much better than i would have faired in the league during my teenage years.

regardless of whether he impressed me during his stateside spell or not, freddy’s displays somehow earned him a “big money” move to europe at the super mature age of 18. benfica signed up the boy that would be their in to the cash-lined pockets of the american sports market. they had the first true american prodigy (ESPN told us he was next!).

flash forward to 2011… adu who? at this point freddy can, at the very best, be called a flop.

benfica, on the hook for a retardedly-long 5 year contract, saw a return of just 2 goals in 11 games in the 2007-2008 season. since, they’ve loaned him out for four successive seasons. unfortunately for adu, each loan move was to a lower and lower league. even worse for the starlet, each loan proved less and less fruitful. aside from a loan to monaco (ligue 1: 9 games, 0 goals), the rest of his moves were to sides such as belenenses (portuguese second division: 3 games, 0 goals), aris (greek first division: 9 games, 1 goal), and çaykur rizespor (turkish second divisoin: 8 games, 2 goals).

for those of you keeping track at home, that’s a grand total of 5 goals in 40 european matches. with an attacker that lethal, i’ve already put $10,000 down on the USMNT winning the 2014 world cup (odds as of writing… 81-1).

pele kisses freddy adu.

curse of the kiss? perhaps pelé stole all of adus talent and promise.

if you’re like me, you probably thought, “maybe a move back home owuld rejuvinate his flagging career.” you have to think that an MLS side would have jumped at the chance to bring him home on loan. but with no moves ever materializing, perhaps the domestic interest in adu hovers somewhere around zero too.

the youngsters fall from grace, quick and steep, begs to question: how this could happen? perhaps he’s not ever been correctly focused (at least he’s not on twitter constantly anymore). maybe he’s being held out in the cold by coaches who are biased against americans (they do exist).  or perhaps it’s that he’s just not that good (probable).

then again, he does occasionally remind us why we were all hyped about him in the first place. adu starred at the u-20 world cup in 2007, as well as at the 2008 olympic tournament in beijing. you would have to think that a player that was named to both tournaments’ best XI’s would be able to make an impact in one of europe’s first divisions.

sadly, he hasn’t been able to.

so a poor immigrant boy wins a nike contract, makes a dream move to europe and is called up to the USMNT. it should be a feel good story that even disney would murder to get the rights to. it should make you feel warm and fuzzy, want to eat an apple pie and scream from the rooftops about the american dream. but the grandiose sense of entitlement that young mr. adu has acquired during the process is enough is enough to make make most anyone feel disdain for the little bastard.

at this point though, i feel bad for him. as annoying as a bratty little kid is with a huge ego, deep down i always hoped he would prove me wrong in europe. after all, how awful would it really be if he had developed into the player we all thought he was capable of becoming? a superstar in bob’s camp wouldn’t be a bad problem to have.

unfortunately though, all we can really hope for anymore is that freddy adu will some day find his feet again.