Soccer Can Be More That Just A Game

“The Beautiful Game” series explores how soccer makes a difference off the pitch.

Two weeks ago, TSG ran the first part of our Supporter Series about the Tony Danza Army, a group of guys who support the Pali Blues of the W-USL.

In writing the piece, it was suggested that TSG request a quote from Pali Blues’ General Manager, Jason Lemire. Not really knowing too much about Pali Blues at the time, I suggested that Mr. Lemire should comment on TDA and the opportunity to attract new fans with the recent folding of the WPS Los Angeles Sol.

At that time Mr. Lemire chose not to answer the second part and I assumed he was being respectful of the still unfolding situation for the Sol. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the Pali Blues had a deep connection with the LA Sol. The co-founder of the Blues was one of the original owners of the Sol and the Blues coach was, until the Sol disbanded, the general manager of the WPS team.

In other words, the two teams were basically sisters in the LA market. But, according to an Open Letter to Pali Blues’ fans penned by Mr. Lemire,  the connection ran much deeper. Both teams shared a common belief that their mission transcended performance on the field to the inspiration of young girls and women. So with the folding of the Sol, Los Angeles may have lost more than just a women’s professional soccer team.

It would be easy to dismiss a (semi)professional soccer team’s desire to inspire young women, but the impact can be tremendous. Mrs. Shinguardian, my wife,  played soccer through college and credits the sport with being a big part of the women she has become.

Championships are only part of the goal for the Pali Blues.

All team sports provide some level of commitment, teamwork and goal setting, but, according to Mrs. Shinguardian, soccer stands above the rest for women. As she pointed out, soccer is one of the only team sports that has identical rules for men and women.

In women’s soccer, the ball is the same size (unlike basketball), the field is the same (unlike softball), the gear is the same (unlike lacrosse) and the rules are the same (unlike hockey).

The underlying equality in soccer may not seem like a big deal to men— it didn’t at first to me — but rest assured it is one for women and girls. To the extent then that teams like the Blues and the former Sol can be a positive influence on young women speaks to the power of the beautiful game to have an impact on lives, not just trophy cases and bank accounts.

Mr. Lemire finally did eventually comment on the folding of the Sol in that Open Letter to Pali Blues’ fans and supporters of women’s soccer in LA specifically. The letter provides insight into what Pali Blues is all about and an invitation to all within the LA market to be inspired by what is going on at the Stadium by the Sea.

With permission from Mr. Lemire, here is his Open Letter:

An open letter to the supporters of women’s soccer in Southern California from Jason Lemire – General Manager of the Pali Blues.

The Pali Blues Soccer Club, back-to-back national champions of women’s soccer in the USL W-League and an organization dedicated to the growth of the women’s game, was greatly saddened by the news that the Los Angeles Sol of Women’s Professional Soccer had been forced to discontinue operations.

The news also reaffirms our resolve to do whatever it takes to keep our own team, the Pali Blues, playing, winning, and inspiring young players right here in Los Angeles, for years to come.

It is no secret that the Pali Blues – an amateur organization dedicated to nurturing top collegiate and international talent – shared a special bond with the Sol.

Blues co-founder Ali Mansouri was one of the Sol’s original owners, along with Blues coach Charlie Naimo the Sol’s General Manager. LA Sol players, including FIFA Player of the Year Marta, were on hand for the Pali Blues thrilling 2009 playoff victory over the Colorado Force at the Pacific Palisades Stadium-by-the-Sea. They even signed halftime autographs.

However the bond between the organizations ran much deeper. Both the Blues and the Sol were founded with the goal of inspiring a generation of girls and young women who are growing up playing soccer in record numbers. Nearly forty years removed from the passage of Title IX, this new generation enjoys unprecedented acceptance and celebration of the female athlete. Yet, if the shuttering of the Sol proves anything, perhaps it is that there is still much work to be done.

Anywhere in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles where the volume of mass media is set perpetually high, girls and young women are still fighting an uphill battle against a pop culture that prefers them…well… as something other than a strong-willed, disciplined and confident individual. For every female executive or female athlete on television there are ten beer commercials or diet pill ads. In sitcoms and movies women are all too often still the shrews or one-note love interest of the male hero. In pop music, the fawning, submissive girl of “I Will Follow Him” and “My Boyfriend’s Back” has been replaced by “girl as sex-object” in a list of songs entirely too long to name, just as one is almost certainly playing on the radio right now. So what can these girls, and their parents, use to help stem this tide? What is the antidote to the tabloids, the gossip girls, the reality show catfights and pop-star-as-stripper ethos? The answer is the same as it has always been: role models.

With the discontinuation of the LA Sol the families of Los Angeles have not only lost an incredible collection of remarkable athletes, they have lost an incredible collection of remarkable women. Do parents take their daughters to see world-class women’s soccer players so they will learn to copy their step over moves, tactics, diving saves and goal scoring heroics? Of course. But the greatest lesson has always been to appreciate the player as whole, the result of years of hard work, dedication, discipline, teamwork and self worth. Jackie Joyner-Kersee has a great quote: “If a young female sees my dreams and goals come true, they will realize their dreams and goals might come true too.”

Most young soccer players will not go on to full-ride college scholarships. Even less will go on to careers as pro athletes. Yet we all hope the young women in our lives will grow up believing in their capacity to pursue their own goals and dreams, whatever they may be. And for those gifted and dedicated few who do achieve the heights of women’s soccer, we must continue to offer them a world class place to play, right here in Los Angeles. Right here in our community.

We encourage all LA Sol fans to continue to press for the return of the WPS to Los Angeles. But in the interim, we hope it is at least a small consolation that your city is still home to one of the most successful women’s soccer organizations in the world. This spring and summer, the Pali Blues will once again be home to some of the best up-and-coming national and international talent in the world. Our team has featured Olympians, NCAA All-Americans and National Team standouts. There is a reason why our motto is “Where Tomorrow’s Stars Play Today.”

If are find are asking yourself, “will the Pali Blues still be around in 2011?” the answer is only with your support.

The good news is we have created a wealth of fantastic ways to support our team. The purchase of just a few season tickets (cheaper than a season parking pass at the Home Depot Center) is one opportunity.

Signing your AYSO/Club team up for a halftime game or ball kid spot is another.

So is attending Pali Blues Summer Camp or Striker and Goalkeeper Camp.

If you are a business leader, we have comprehensive, community-inspired sponsorships available at a variety of levels.

Finally, the Pali Blues Blue Hat Club, the combination ticket/merchandise package and tax-deductible donation, was created with the expressed intent of helping to keep the Blues in our community beyond 2010. (We were proud to welcome our first member family this week!)

We are planning a wide variety of fantastic game day events including our Beat 627 initiative to break the world record for most people in one stadium juggling soccer balls while sending thousands of balls to needy children both here in Los Angeles and around the world. We will also host our 2nd Annual Teddy Bear Toss, this year collecting bears for FirstStar to distribute to some of the most disadvantaged kids in the country. As always you can keep up with all game announcements and team news at www.bluessoccerclub.com.

Though we will never be able to replace the Sol, together we can help keep the passion for women’s soccer and women’s athletics burning bright. Together we can continue to offer the girls and young women of Los Angeles the heroes and role models they deserve.

Jason Lemire – General Manager of The Pali Blues Soccer Club.

Jason can be reached at 310.867.0977 or at Jason@bluesoccerclub.com.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. A sad tale of the demise of the Sol in Los Angeles, but is is heartening to know that the area has another team to carry the torch of women’s soccer. And a great supporter’s club to boot.

    I think one of the greatest things about American soccer (besides the under emphasized point Mark brought up about equality) is the relationships that our domestic game creates between players, teams, and fans. American soccer is still smaller enough in this country that the gulf that separates the player from the fan is not so wide. The accessibility of the organizations are unbelievable. I just spent the weekend watching my local USSF first division team (Austin Aztex) host tryouts. I hung out with the supporter’s group president, the team’s owner, and the general manager as perhaps future American stars played right before our eyes.

    We are in the formative years of American soccer and as fans of the international game we MUST invest in soccer INSIDE this country. Yes we are missing the talent and skill of European leagues, but without putting time and energy into our domestic leagues (at all levels) we will never get our game to where we want it to be, on par with the rest of the world.

    If we do not invest in American soccer the whole movement will go the way of the Sol. Too often I spoken with soccer fans in America who shun the domestic league (and sometimes the National Team as well), but if we really are fans of the world’s game and want to prove our soccer loving credentials we have to support our domestic league. I feel as though to love soccer one SHOULD support the game in their backyard.

    We’re apart of the most crucial time in the development of soccer in this country. We can chose to invest in its future (and see it being played live right in our cities) or we can continue to support soccer far away, complaining that our game is not a good as what we watch a world away. You can support both, but only one is unique (for better or worse) ours.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/15 at 7:04 PM

      Agree with you FBM, 100%.

      It’s World Cup year and there is such a great opportunity for the USSF / MLS to promote the game in this country. I do not feel that they are doing enough. For example, I live in NYC and attend about 40% of NYRB’s home games. This year though, they have a brand new, football specific stadium, with a capacity of around 25,000. I do not think I have seen one advert in – any medium – about tickets, information or just drumming up new and more support. I know there in a lot of things going on in NYC, but even if they targeted immigrants like myself who love the game, and watching it live, then they’re building numbers – but they need to start spreading the word. They have a fantastic opportunity to build a lasting legacy.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Max G on 2010/02/14 at 8:31 PM

    Amen, FBM.

    Your story with the Aztex is what more and more American fans are waking up to. There’s a time and place to cheer for Man U, but the intangible benefits of supporting your local side can be truly spectacular.

    Reply

  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/14 at 10:51 PM

    I would say it is nothing short of amazing that a women’s soccer team can manage to survive, thrive and touch so many people in the Los Angeles area when the NFL and it’s marketing muscle couldn’t instill the Raiders or the Rams….

    …cheers to the Pali Blues…

    Reply

  4. Posted by kaya on 2010/02/15 at 8:23 PM

    Good points by both FBM and Matt. I could never get my butt down to a Quakes game before they left to Houston, and certainly haven’t made room in my schedule for the new Quakes. The As and 49ers seem like they’re making the southward migration… communities are hard to come by even for the big sports. They’ve got the $ though.
    Of course I’m far more clueless about the more local San Francisco teams. I better get with the program since I have big soccer mom plans. I hope my 16 month old likes soccer as much as I’m planning for her to =)
    Cheers for the inspiration, guys!

    Reply

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