an open letter to u.s. soccer

WSOTP - Blog - US in St Louis

Board of Governors
U.S. Soccer Federation
1801 South Prairie Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616

Greetings and good afternoon:

Running American soccer — at least I’d assume, seeing as how I have no experience in doing so — is an incredibly hard task. It’s probably a pretty thankless task at times as well. Few probably reward you for the countless hours you’ve put in, and the only feedback you receive is when people are angry or aggrieved.

I’d imagine that’s particularly true these days, considering the growing laundry list of complaints that the growing American soccer audience has for you. Opening up the pyramid, promotion and relegation, the banning of headers in the youth game, and claims of sticking with incompetent national team manager are all hot button topics in US soccer, and I’m sure there are countless others. Dealing with all of that can’t be easy, and coming up with solutions for those complains is likely even harder. In short, I respect — and even mostly approve — the work all of you do.

But not all of it.

You see tonight, the men’s national team kicks off qualification for the 2018 World Cup against St. Vincent & the Grenadines. They Caribbean minnows are ranked 129th in the world according to FIFA, pretty lowly when compared to our (admittedly disappointing) ranking of 33rd. And their record in international play isn’t exactly sterling either, so saying I’m worried about the USMNT losing to them isn’t really a concern.

So what’s my problem? In two words: the field.

Without a doubt, St. Louis is a hotbed of American soccer. Both historically and in present day. And even if it wasn’t, a city and population of its size is absolutely deserving of hosting a national team World Cup qualifier.

But — and let me make this very clear — when playing for the opportunity to qualify for a World Cup, it should be played on the absolute best surface possible. And you know what doesn’t qualify as the best playing surface possible for a professional soccer game that’s been organized for the sole purpose of reaching the most prestigious tournament your game offers?

A baseball field.

Even a well manicured baseball field like the one at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, even one used by a Major League Baseball franchise, even one who’s had a month to meticulously prepare — none of them should be utilized as a stage for our nation’s team to qualify for a World Cup in a single game. Why? Because their playing surfaces and facilities are not freaking made for soccer!

The grass surface on those fields typically isn’t one designed for the wear and tear exerted over the course of the average game of soccer. That means increased divots and therefore a less clean playing surface. The dimensions of the playing surface aren’t arranged to allow for a full-sized international field — and a field that just exceeds the minimums really shouldn’t be counted. That leads to cramped play and potentially the need to adjust your tactics. And most glaringly, there’s the need to deal with putting a temporary surface over the dirt baseball infield. Which of course leads a less clean playing surface and the greater chance of a player getting hurt when temporary turf slides across the dirt it sits on top of.

And that’s not to mention the kind of message it sends to the international footballing community. Look, we care so little about our national team’s success that we’re willing to sacrifice it to make a few extra dollars.

Do I think it will affect the outcome of tonight’s game? Probably not, but it could. But that’s besides the point.

When you think about it, there are easily fifty stadiums in this country — between MLS, NFL and NCAA football — that would be better suited right this very moment than Busch Stadium in St. Louis would be today. And that’s even if they were still playing the game tonight.

Don’t give me the “Well, New York City FC play on a baseball stadium and they did just fine” nonsense. The postage stamp they play on at Yankee Stadium looked like a U-10 field, and I’ve heard from several MLS players that surface there was far from ideal. If you want to turn to the grass-on-top-of-turf example (Ex: Dallas’s AT&T Stadium/Seattle’s CenturyLink Field) to mute me, don’t. Those games were mostly for friendlies, and even then you’d see coaches from Mexico to MLS clubs complaining that it was an unsafe surface too.

Long story short, when the national team is playing in games of importance, there’s really no reason at all that we should ever short change our players with a handicap of a substandard pitch. It’s embarrassing that we should be forced into such a situation just so we can make a few extra bucks.

And let’s just pray nobody gets hurt.


D.J. Switzer
Wrong Side of the Pond

an open letter to gareth bale

Tottenham winger Gareth Bale's signature heart goal celebration

gareth, you’ve got me feeling the love again.

Mr. Gareth Frank Bale
Tottenham Hotspur FC
Bill Nicholson Way
748 High Road
N17 0AP

Mr. Bale:

Let me start this off by saying that I owe you an apology. After all, when anyone inquires who my favorite player is, your name is the always the first to come out of my mouth.

From the day you signed from Southampton, through the Premier League record 24 games without a win, you’ve been the Spur I’ve most admired. Maybe it’s because you turned into a massive signing for me on FIFA ’07 while you were still a starlet playing for Saints. Or maybe it’s because you were a swashbuckling left-footed left back that balled on the set pieces, much like I once aspired to be. I don’t know exactly why; you’ve just been my favorite player for a long, long time.

But, I’ve admittedly been pretty harsh on you at times this season and last. For a number of reasons. None of them would surprise you. They’re the same complaints which you’ve heard from everyone else at this point.

Despite understanding why you go down so easy — to avoid greater injury, you try to avoid the contact if possible — I’d get myself worked into a tizzy at the frequency with which you did it. Curses would be mumbled (sometimes) under my breath when you deserved a foul you weren’t given, but your perceived reputation for simulation instead earned you a wag of the finger or a yellow. We’ve all got our vices, let’s just not forget that we need to work to improve them.

There’s also your propensity to drifting out of position that drives me a little crazy. I’m by no means insinuating that you’re bad on the right, or insinuating you shouldn’t cut into the middle from the left any longer. It’s great that you’re capable of attacking from various parts of the pitch. Adding other dimensions to your game makes you less predictable, thus increasing your overall effectiveness. But sometimes its important to remember just how friggin’ exceptional you are at flying down and attacking from that left wing. I’m aware it’s not always your decision on where you get to play, but I also don’t think AVB is telling you to head to the right all the time either, right?

And lastly, there are those persistent rumors of a move to a bigger club. Again, I know this isn’t all your fault, too. Playing the way you have over the last few seasons, you were bound to catch the eye of many clubs trying to achieve big things… and journalists trying to achieve big sales. But you haven’t hurt their cause either. To us fans, the thought of you wanting to leave smells of inflated ego and a lack of loyalty. Then again, I doubt I’d be able to ward of the flirtations of a Real Madrid or Barcelona at 23 either.

Tottenham's Gareth Bale rounds Aston Villas' Brad Guzan

calm, composed and completely dominant against aston villa, bale played the way we all want him to every week. and for the most part this season, he’s delivered.

But after watching you against Aston Villa on Boxing Day, dropping a hat trick and generally dismantling the Birmingham outfit — almost singlehandedly — it finally snapped me out of this temporary funk of disappointment I’ve had with you recently.

Reflecting back over the season so far, you’ve actually easily been our most consistent player. Perhaps this is at least slightly attributable to the way Villas-Boas is deploying you, but you can see how you have matured, too. Smarter on the dribble, picking your times better, your service from the wing even better. Even your set pieces have been far more effective, if a little too Cristiano-esque. I used to gripe that you never used your right boot, but you’ve scored twice with it this season. I was even impressed by your move to have the ears pinned back, a move that undoubtedly reduces drag and undercuts your opponents’ jibes.

But seriously Gareth, you’ve been a revelation for Spurs this season. Our hope. Our spark. Our star. And while I’m hardly the first to say it about you, it’s worth saying the adjective again: unplayable. Pundits, journalists and bloggers alike all agree.

And though I sometimes get caught up in the emotion of the game, yelling/tweeting at you in frustration, don’t take it personally. I’m sure you don’t, but let a guy pretend. It’s just I have high expectations and a metric-shit-ton of belief in you. You play the game the way I always wanted to play, but wasn’t capable of. And though I’d like to think you will stick with Tottenham for the rest of your career, I can’t fault your for the ambition. It’s the same drive that let’s you do what you’ve done this campaign. Just be smart about where you go, and move for reasons aside from the fattest contract, and you’ll still be my favorite player.

It’s a privilege to get to watch you play week in and week out. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Looking forward to the rest of the season… and hopefully beyond,

D.J. Switzer
Wrong Side of the Pond

an open letter to simon borg

MLS' writer and commentator Simon Borg

here we see borg standing next to a woman. she probably has no clue how uncomfortable her presence makes him feel.

Mr. Simon Borg
420 Fifth Avenue, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10018

Mr. Borg:

I am writing with regards to your comments concerning female soccer fans around the 59′ mark in the May 2, 2012, edition of the ExtraTime Radio podcast on Since the podcast itself has been edited to remove said comments — and just in case you’ve managed to forget what you said during recording — I’ve provided the quote below:

It’s fine if you’re a female and you want to be a super-fan. Clearly go for it, that’s your choice. But there is something to be said for how appealing that might be to the other sex. Having a woman that’s such a fan, like painting your face, tuning in to every podcast. I don’t know how many males would be into that.

It’s great that in Kansas City there are a lot of women in the stands, it’s great, but for the guy who wants maybe a serious relationship… If you are following just casually, but if you’re such a die-hard, I don’t know, it comes a point that it is a bit of a turn-off. (source)

Where to start, where to start. Oh, I know… that was a pretty sexist statement. Effectively, you’re saying that it’s not really socially acceptable for women to be “super-fans”, or at the very least that it’s not “appealing.” You know what else used to be unappealing for women? Voting, being in the work place, and wearing jeans. Perhaps you’d like it better if we could wind back the clock to the good ol’ days before women’s suffrage was ratified, where ladyfolk wore respectable, floor-length dresses and they knew their role was to let their husbands enjoy an MLS match without being bothered by her cumbersome yapping.

Last time I checked, ExtraTime isn’t a league-sponsored dating advice podcast. It’s an MLS-centric and soccer podcast, so perhaps we can stick to commentary that’s along those subject lines. Even if your show was about dating, your comments could best be described as terrible advice. Isn’t it awfully presumptuous on your part to assume that not that many males would be into a females that are “die-hard” soccer fans? You confirmed that’s not what your into, but I can guarantee that there are plenty of guys who are.

Female Timbers Army Members

trust me when i say, there's a man out there that finds this young lady enamoring.

In fact, one of the multitude of reasons I decided to marry my wife was due to her being an ardent soccer fan prior to the two of us even meeting. I liked that I didn’t have to take her to her first MLS match (never mind her 20th or 30th), that she played and continues to play soccer, and that I didn’t have to explain to her the difference between club football and international football. She has her own opinions about the sport independent of mine, and we’ve even had heated arguments spawn out of conversations about who should be in Tottenham’s starting eleven on match days. To be honest, I had to marry a girl like her just because she understands my passion for and need to write about the beautiful game.

However, my biggest problem with all of your comments, Mr. Borg, is that you’re not just some small-minded journalist writing for a mid-sized, Midwestern city’s newspaper or blogging at some underexposed blog from the same portion of the country (ahem). No, you write and talk on the league’s official website. Which means you’re technically on the league’s payroll, and therefore represent their interests. And whether you believe it or not, your influential position means you can help to shape the thoughts and ideals of your listeners and readers. That makes statements like these extremely dangerous.

I can guarantee you that MLS wants those female fans just as much as the men, and I’d imagine a short walk up to Don Garber’s office will confirm as much. Their tickets and replica gear cost just as much as their male counterparts, after all.

And if you think about it for a minute, female MLS fans could potentially be even more valuable than male. They’ll bring not just themselves to the game, but could also potentially lure admirers to attend — men have done far worse to earn a woman’s admiration — or bring an army of children to games too. Soccer mom’s are a powerful demographic, or so the story goes.

So next time your on air and the topic of conversation swings in a similar direction where your personal opinion on non-soccer matters could come in to play, stop and think for a moment. Otherwise, you should probably get used to pulling that foot out of your mouth.


D.J. Switzer
Wrong Side of the Pond

an open letter to sepp blatter

sepp blatter

blatter's racism remarks are just the latest in a long line of major gaffes by the fifa president.

Mr. Sepp Blatter
FIFA-Strasse 20,
P.O. Box 8044 Zurich, Switzerland

Mr. Blatter:

I am writing with regards to your recent off-color remarks during an interview with CNN World Sport on November 16th, 2011. Considering all of the outrage that you’ve faced since it’s publication, I’m sure you know which remarks to which I’m referring. But just in case you’ve forgotten (as is probable with any 75-year-old man), or if any of the public that read this aren’t yet aware, I’ve quoted you below:

I would deny [that there is racism on the pitch]. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But also the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination. And on the field of play sometimes you say something that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better.

Judging by those statements, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to the game you claim to govern and protect.

only potty mouths would cover their blab hole during matches.

If you had, you would have noticed that your sport’s most popular league currently has two ongoing investigations into on-field incidents of racism involving several very high profile players. If neither of those incidents ring a bell, perhaps you’ll recall an incident during last season’s much hyped series of Clásicos where Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets called Real Madrid’s Marcelo a monkey. And in case you hadn’t noticed, all of these incidents occurred on the pitch, which is pretty contradictory to your statements above.

Still not convinced that racism still exists on your hallowed professional pitches? In both Busquets’ and Terry’s alleged abuses, the accused both covered their mouths while speaking. I don’t know about you, but I only cover my mouth when I don’t want anyone to see what I’m saying. With these star players keenly aware that a million cameras are pointing at them, why else would they cover up what they were saying?

On top of that, you seemed shocked that everyone — and I do mean everyone — was so offended by your comments. It’s like you thought, “If Sepp deems it true, it is true!” But, instead of apologizing gracefully and owning up to your callous remarks, you swatted them to the side and threw up a picture of you and a racial minority, as if to say, “See it’s okay that I said that because I’m friends with a black guy!”

To be honest, we all should have expected this from you. After all, you are the same guy that suggested that women’s soccer’s would be more popular if the ladies would sport some shorts that hugged their rear-ends a bit tighter. You’re also the same guy that said John Terry’s adulterous life choices would have been celebrated if only he were in Latin America instead of Europe. And considering you didn’t think FIFA had a crisis on it’s hands when it was exposed that Executive Committee members were accepting bribes in exchange for their World Cup bid votes, we really shouldn’t have expected you to think racism was an issue anymore either.

Take a look around you, Sepp: your house is clearly out of order. Corruption runs rampant at nearly every level of your organization. FIFA effectively raped and pillaged South Korea and South Africa during the last two World Cups, leaving each country saddled with massive debt for unusable stadiums as you mandated tax loopholes that enabled you and your cronies to pocket more of the profits. The next tournament looks to be more of the same, assuming Brazil are even capable of pulling off all of the required preparations in time to host the damn thing.

fifa's motto should be weighing heavily on sepp's mind right now.With all of that in mind, it’s time to leave the game, Mr. Blatter. You’re stranglehold on world football has been too long, and it’s time to allow someone else to come in and clean up your mess. The sport needs a new direction, and you’re clearly not capable of providing the necessary leadership.

Disgracefully, gracefully, I don’t really care how you go. Just go. Hell, I’d be fine for you just to retire away to your native Swiss hills or the Caymans or somewhere else where you and your dirty money can be shielded by friendly bank privacy laws… we’ll just be glad to be rid of you. If you have any respect for the game you’ve been “serving” for so long, you know deep down that your resignation is — like FIFA’s slogan — “for the good of the game”.

Time’s up, old man.

D.J. Switzer
wrong side of the pond

an open letter to rafa márquez

spoiled cry baby, rafa marquez.

Sr. Rafael Márquez Álvarez
Red Bull New York
600 Cape May Street
Harrison, NJ 07029

Señor Márquez:

I am writing with regards to your actions following your recent match against Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, September 21, 2011. As a fan of Major League Soccer — and the sport of football in general — I felt that your blatant disregard for proper professional etiquette has brought great shame upon your club, your league, and yourself.

Perhaps your home fans were a little harsh on you during that match, booing you every time you touched the ball. I can see how that would rattle some players. But then again, maybe they were somewhat justified in their booing seeing how you have been mailing it in all season despite collecting the third highest paycheck in the league. You’re also a veteran professional, used to playing in front of 90,000 fans at the highest level of the sport, so I would wager that you’re more than capable of handling some boos here and there without having to show them a childish, obscene gesture.

Maybe you were frustrated because your squad shipped 3 goals in the first 21 minutes to your Mormon-country visitors, which helped to drop your squad into the outside-looking-in position for this year’s playoffs. Though then again, you haven’t really been playing like you want to help your team make the playoffs, highlighted by this awful bit of defending by yourself in said game. So with your performances in mind, I don’t think it’s very fair for you to say “there isn’t an equal level” between you and your teammates, and that the loss was to blame on the rest of your back line not being able “perform at the same level.”

Not that I should have expected anything different from you, and that’s my fault for assuming that you had abandoned your previously wicked ways. After all, you’re the same guy that was red carded for a mid-air headbutt on Cobi Jones in 2002 World Cup knockout round, and again for charging Tim Howard and kicking him in the head during a 2009 World Cup Qualifier at Crew Stadium. You also publicly insulted Landon Donovan’s family during a 2004 interview, which is by most accounts, a pretty classy move. Let’s also not forget that you cheated on your first wife with your now second wife.

Long story short, Rafa, is that you need to quit being a gigantic prick and get over yourself already. When Jimmy Conrad claimed you were arrogant a few years back, he hit the nail on the head perfectly when he said, “we’re apparently a step below or a whole level below whatever he thinks in his own mind.”

Well, I hate to break it to you big boy, you’re not better than the U.S., MLS, Red Bull or anything else for that matter. Nobody cares that you used to play for Barcelona, all they care about is how you are playing now for your current side. And since you’re the one who put pen to paper on an MLS contract two years ago, you’re also the one that has to deal with whatever perceived unhappiness you’re experiencing. Despite rating yourself as a highly desirable commodity, I don’t exactly recall any clubs of importance clamoring for your signature over the summer transfer window.

Don’t like how your teammates are playing? Maybe you should try using all of that experience you’ve picked up over the years to help educate them .Don’t like being booed by your own fans or berated by the press? Maybe try playing a little bit harder. They boo because they expect more of you and your $4.6 million a year contract.

I’m sure in your 15 years of professional experience — from Atlas, to Monaco, to Barcelona and New York — that you’ve faced some pressure heavier than this. After all, this only MLS, right?

Time to grow up, big boy.

D.J. Switzer
wrong side of the pond