Pure Entertainment: 5 Reasons You Should Be Watching Sky Blue FC

“…this is me tell you to not miss this moment of Sky Blue FC.”

Whether you are a sports fan or not, everyone knows that there are some teams that are more fun to watch than others. The ’96 Bulls – a great time. The Yankees during their Bronx Zoo era – amazing entertainment. How about the USA Gymnastics team during Rio? I bet you couldn’t turn your eyes away. Every team has their moment in the spotlight, but often times it is harder for women’s sports teams to find theirs.

So this is me tell you to not miss this moment of Sky Blue FC. They are building momentum heading toward the latter half of the season, they are meshing as a team on a new level, and they are having more fun than anyone else in the NWSL. They are the greatest team in sports to watch right now, and you should absolutely turn in. But, since I know you may need an argument from me in order to be persuaded, here are the top five reasons you should tune in and watch:

 

  1. The Aussie

Sam Kerr is Sky Blue’s starting forward and she is currently on a tear. The 23-year-old Australian National Team Player just hit her 35th NWSL goal of all time, making her the all-time leading scorer for the league. She is also currently leading the league in goals this season, and has more flair to her game than anyone else. She has made Sport Center’s Top 10 for the past two weeks – first with her insane bicycle kick against NC Courage, and then with her diving header last week against Kansas City FC. If that isn’t enough to get you interested in the front-runner for league MVP how about a back-flip celebration? How about the fact that she scored a hat-trick in twelve minutes last match in order to take Sky Blue from what was expected to be a 0-2 loss with only 15 minutes remaining in the match to a 3-2 win? Spark your attention yet? If not, check out #samkerrfacts on Twitter – you will not regret it.

 

 

  1. The Rookie

Some of you may remember my devastation a few weeks ago at Kailen Sheridan not being American (still kind of upset about it). Well, just for that fact alone you should tune in and catch a Sky Blue match. The Canadian rookie goalkeeper is something to marvel at. So much so that she could be the underdog favorite to win Rookie of the Year. She has an overwhelming presence on the pitch and a very short memory in goal (which is a necessity for anyone in her position). There is never a time that she looks shaken. In fact, I don’t think in any of the matches I have seen she has ever looked anything but confident. She barks orders to her back line, isn’t afraid to come off her line, and has ice water in her veins during penalty kicks. The last one she stopped, from their match against the NC Courage, literally made me jump out of my chair in celebration…my Uber driver was displeased so say the least. But who can blame me for being excited? She saved her clean sheet with the stop.

 

 

  1. The Vet

If you were anything like me growing up you probably watched the ’99 Women’s World Cup. It, in my opinion, is the defining moment that created the push for modern day women’s sports and its popularity. And because of that I can’t help but get a little nostalgic every time Sky Blue FC takes the field. Because I know Christie Pearce, Captain America herself, will be taking it with them. At 42 years of age she is not only the last remaining 99er to still be playing professionally, but she is also one of the most dominant center back’s in the league. Her career is winding down (though I selfishly think she should stick around a little longer) and for that reason I refuse to miss a single second of it…and you should too. The woman is a complete beast on the field and there is nothing better than seeing her break down some little twenty-something inside the box.

 

 

  1. The Rest of the Gang

I really could have made this ’21 Reasons Sky Blue is the Team to Watch Right Now’ and have listed every player, but this is not a Buzzfeed article. So here are some highlights. Kelley O’Hara – attacking right back for the USWNT who might be the most hyped person on the field at any given time. Raquel ‘Rocky’ Rodriguez – the Costa Rican National Player who looks like she is putting on a clinic in the midfield whenever she has space to move. Erica Skorski and Madison Tiernan hold the spot of hometown heroes and get to continue to play at Yurcak field, where they played during their time at Rutgers. Then there is Natasha Kai, who is currently out rehabbing after ankle surgery, but as a prior USWNT member, is someone to look out for when she returns.

But I think the best thing about this team is that they present themselves as a team – as a family. On social media they give each other shout-outs and post pictures together, they actively vote for each other for NWSL Goal and Save of the Week, and even crack jokes on each other. There is a transparency with this group of women that is rare in the sports world. And it’s clear they are not there for themselves as individuals, but rather the team as a whole.

 

 

  1. The Club

When you look at Sky Blue FC on paper they may not look too grand. They play at a college stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, are currently sitting in 3rd place in league standings, and have the most unique makeup of a club and fan base in the league. But that is what makes them so great to watch. The club embraces their differences from the other teams in the league. They may not have a huge stadium like the Portland Thorns or the Chicago Red Stars, but they have New York and New Jersey’s love and support – they don’t need your stinking stadium. And they certainly don’t need the pitch to be their only platform to connect with fans.

Whoever is running their social media accounts is doing an amazing job (slow clap). They are actively in communication and interactive with their fans across Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. They like, retweet, and respond back to the people who show their support for the club (For reference check out this video they retweeted of every Sam Kerr goal of the season set the Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”).They let their players take over so the fans can experience a day in the life. And they even get in on the jokes. They think nothing of tweeting Sports Center and letting them know that Sam Kerr did another insane stunt on the pitch. And they don’t miss an opportunity to join in on the fun with the players either.

 

So there it is – five reasons that you should be watching Sky Blue FC. But if you want a bonus one before you go, here it is: you can watch them for free on go90.com anytime you would like. You have no excuse not to watch…not that they, or any of their supporters, would want your excuse anyway.

 

You can watch Sky Blue this Saturday, July 15th take on the Chicago Red Stars at 7:00 PM (EST) on go90.com.

 

The Greatest Team You’ve Never Heard Of

“…you should support them. Not because they play with a disability, but because they are the best…”

Read this in silence. Soak in the quiet, and think about what it would be like to live in that silence for a full 90 minutes with 10 other women who are equally void of the sounds around them. Now, on top of that, play one of the most tasking sports in the world, all while trying to win a championship. Do it with minimal funding and limited support. Be five-time gold medalists at this feat. And then walk down the street after accomplishing that feat and have no one know the difference.

Welcome to the world of the US Deaf Women’s National Team (USDWNT) – the best team you’ve never heard of.

Soccer is a grueling sport on the body, and mentally it is just as tough. Working as a cohesive team doesn’t always go the way you expect it to – you make a run that someone doesn’t see, or you close down an attack on the back line only to realize that there is no support for your center back. It’s why communication is key. It’s why you always see goalies screaming at their wall during a free kick, or the coach shouting out movements and making adjustments from the sidelines. Players have to move and adapt and work in sync. And one of the easiest ways to do that is through speech.

But that is not an option for the Deaf Women’s National Team. Their style of play and their intuitiveness with each other is something that you can’t just throw someone into. They have to work twice as hard to make it look just as easy as any other team would. Their kind of cohesiveness is a rare thing among teams. I mean, we get excited when we see a no-look pass in basketball, or when a midfielder lets the ball run onto the next attacker. But those players can call for the ball and their teammate is going to hear them. That is not the case here. These women have to know where each other are and act on instinct with regards to the collective whole. They move as one, and in silence.

Even though some of the women on the team can hear with the help of cochlear implants, any type of hearing aid or implant is not allowed in their competition. Everyone must succumb to total silence to give everyone an equal playing field.

But to watch their game tape, you wouldn’t know it. They are a well-oiled machine. So good, in fact, that the US Women have brought home the gold in the past three Deaflympics. And it’s why they continue to be a force when it comes to the Deaf World Football Championships, winning in both 2012 and 2016. But these wins and trophies don’t just come from hard work, but also on the back of adversity.

Let me be the first one to call a spade a spade – they could use funding and support. In 2009, the team traveled to Taipei, Taiwan to compete in the Summer Deaflympic games but did not have enough funding for a sign language interpreter to make the trip…they took home the gold anyway. Then, in 2012, the team went to Turkey to compete in the Deaf World Football Championships. This time, one of their main sponsors pulled out the week before they were set to compete and because of this they had no jerseys. This forced them to have to raise $10,000 in the span of 24 hours in order to wear the uniform that represented their country. They did. Then they brought home the gold.

Not that many people noticed. But still, these ladies persisted, and they fought, and damn it, they did it with class. They won the 2013 Deaflympics and then continued on to win the 2016 Deaf World Football Championships. But who congratulated them? Who stood up and took notice? Was it you? Because I’ll be honest, it wasn’t me, as much as I wish it were.

These women don’t just represent the United States of America, they represent the whole speech and hearing impaired community. They do things that would make any hearing athlete completely jealous and have formed a bond that goes deeper than just the locker room. These women represent something that matters, and often times that is lost in the sports world.

Sure, when a great athlete surpasses some long-standing record we stand up and cheer. We take notice. But take a team that ranges in age from mid-teens to early-thirties, that doesn’t have the luxury of playing as regularly and has to find alternative ways to fund their training camps, coaches, and travel? We’ll let them pass on by without even as much as a glance.

Luckily, some are beginning to take notice, though their publicity is still slow coming. The USDWNT just recently held their Summer Training Camp in Seattle and created a lot of positive media attention. They practice with the Seattle Reign to hone their skills even more, they celebrated Pride at the Seattle Storm’s WNBA game, and they got out there and did meet-and-greets with fans – signed autographs and showed who they were to this nation who has seemed to have always forgotten them.

But the coolest thing they did, by far, was play a match against the Seattle Sounders, a women’s soccer development team, where every fully hearing individual played with earplugs. The videos they posted were awesome and showed just how difficult it is to play without sound. And just by doing this, these women were able to not just show their strength, but brought awareness to a whole community.

Every time the USDWNT takes the field they don’t just do it for themselves. Heck, they have other jobs that actually pay them…and some of them are still even in high school. But they put on the uniform and they are elevated to a purpose that is higher than most athletes could even fathom. They are a proud team, and they have every right to be. They love the game, and they love who they are and what they represent.

So the question is, can we love them too?

It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or know someone that does. It doesn’t matter if you are connected to the speech and hearing impaired community, or if you are even a sports fan. The point of the matter is that these women play for America. They play for a community that gets shafted a lot of the time. They play for the love of the game and they play for a cause. And aren’t those reason’s enough to give them some support?

I thought it was. I thought it was more than enough reason. But if you are still on the fence then watch some of their game tape, or their player interviews. Go to their website and see what they are about. They are a team that could use your help, and your love, and your support.

Follow them on twitter – @USDeaf_WNT. Donate to their gofundme page. Or, you can be cool like me and buy a t-shirt from their etsy shop (I won’t lie, I am super pumped to rock it once it gets delivered). The point is to do something – to show them some love. You don’t necessarily even have to pay any money, just give them a shout-out on social media. Let them know that you see what they are doing, and you are appreciating the work they are putting in, and you are supporting them.

And you should support them. Not because they play with a disability, but because they are the best, and they play for you and for me, and for every girl who has ever been told she was different or that she couldn’t. Support them because even when you didn’t, they still wore that American Crest over their hearts and played for you…and won for you. Over and over again.

 

I Believe That We Will Win…every couple years or so

I want the chance to buy the ticket and scream the chant and to have it matter more than every four years. I want my rivalry.

You ever have one of those moments when you think you have solved some huge problem, only to realize you are a complete and utter moron and expelled way too much energy on something that could never be a solution? Yeah, that was me last week with regards to women’s soccer, and let me tell you, it was super embarrassing and outrageously disappointing. But it led me to see an even bigger issue.

Ever since Hope Solo was released from her job as the USWNT goalkeeper I have been on the search for who is going to fill her shoes. Sure, there were the immediate fillers of Alyssa Naeher and Ashlynn Harris, but who was going to be that long term solution – that young blood who was going to be able to hold solid and consistent in the net like the US Team is accustom to having? And yeah, maybe that is a strange thing to focus on, but I love the defensive side of sports. It’s what wins championships.

Well, two weeks ago, when Sky Blue FC played the NC Courage I was sure I had found our girl. I mean, a goalie who is on the losing team, but is essentially the whole highlight reel of the match? That is something I can work with. Oh, and she’s only 21? Perfect! This rookie was playing on the next level. She set a club record for saves in a single game. She went one-on-one against Debinha inside the box and came out victorious. Sure, she needs some polishing, but I’m thinking to myself that Kailen Sheridan is the future. I look at the stats and the facts and I see that she was almost a sleeper pick in the third round of the NWSL draft and I am really starting to get excited. I’m going to call it before anyone else sees it. Because why isn’t anyone in the US talking about this girl? She has some real talent. But then I look her up on social media and my theory on the future comes crumbing down.

I mean, I wasn’t wrong – she is the future…for Canada. Right there, on almost every tweet is the Canadian flag emoji. I know – how daft of me. I am still mentally kicking myself for this personal blunder. And the worst part about it is that everything I have read or seen about this woman is amazingly cool. Like, I wanted to grab a beer with this girl – that’s how cool she seemed. But now I can’t. It’s goes against everything I am as a US Women’s Soccer fan. Right? Because USA v. Canada in women’s soccer is like Yankees/Redsox, or Duke/UNC, or Army/Navy. We love to hate each other. It could be said that as a US Women’s Soccer fan I root for two teams – the good ol’ US of A, and whoever is playing Canada. And I am sure the same thing could be said in reverse for Canadian fans.

But this got me thinking as to why I felt the blow of Kailen Sheridan being Canadian like a punch to the stomach. Why did it feel like someone ripped open a perfectly healed scar? Was it because I had forgotten about this rivalry in my big old American heart? Yeah, I think that is exactly why, and I immediately despised myself for it. This sports rivalry is something that has been engrained in me through time. So why have I not been able to feel it in a while? It’s just been simmering under the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head to the point that the smallest thing set it off – a rookie. But then I realize it’s been simmering for a while – over a year – because US hasn’t had the pleasure of facing our number one rival since February of 2016. And if you’re asking me, I think that is a disservice to not just women’s soccer, but sports in general.

Could you imagine a season where Coach K and the Blue Devils don’t travel to Chapel Hill? How about if they just canceled Redskins v. Dallas for next football season? What if Barcelona didn’t play Real Madrid? The year would be a lot less exciting.

And now that I look at women’s soccer since the Olympics, it has been less exciting on the National level. And sure, some of that has to do with the fact that we have a couple more years until the next World Cup, so the team isn’t getting the publicity that they were back during Rio. But I would like to argue that during this time in between these major competitions we American fans just kind of assume that everything is smooth sailing for the USWNT. We are just going to keep winning until the next major event comes and then we will tune in again, where we will arrogantly believe that we are still the best with no actual knowledge to if we actually are. But hey, who needs to see us beat Trinidad and Tobago? Who cares? We are the US Women’s National Team – these small international teams have nothing on us.

We don’t play any opposing team that we want to defeat with every bone in our American bodies. Maybe the match today against Sweden was a little exciting (lord knows US Soccer promoted it like it was a grudge match), but with a 1:30 PM match time no one working a normal day job could watch it. This last year the women have played formidable teams but no one that pushes a friendly to the next level. Can you tell me who any of the starters are for Panama? Probably not, and we should really work on that. But can you tell me at least one player on the Canada National Team? Sure you can – Christine Sinclair, who loves to make our lives a living hell for 90+ minutes (and now you can also remember Kailen Sheridan as the current 3rd string goalie). And even if you couldn’t name a player on the Candian team you still know in your heart of hearts that no matter what, that is not who you root for. Ever. And, on the flip side, I guarantee Canadians remember Alex Morgan’s name after her 2012 overtime header to advance to the Olympic Finals. And there is no way they would ever chant ‘I BELIVE THAT WE WILL WIN.’

So my question (put not so eloquently), is why don’t we have a real rivalry anymore? US/Canada is the match we actually want to see even when it isn’t for a World Cup or an Olympic medal. It’s a blood bath, as Carli Lloyd would say. It’s high intensity. On one side you have Melissa Tancredi stomping on people’s heads. And on the other side there’s Abby Wambach counting out to the ref on how long the Canadian goalkeeper is holding the ball before a free kick. And that is literally only a small sampling of things that happened in one match back in 2012.

That is the kind of rivalry this is. It’s dirty and messy, but oh so fun to watch. It’s one of those unique moments in sports where you don’t think that things could escalate any more, but then BAM! It does. So why do the fans have to wait so long for it? Why do we almost have to read up on the rivalry before the next match-up to understand why it is that we should care so much? I personally think that it is ridiculous, and poor business practice.

We know that match would sell out. We know those viewers would tune in…even if it is just to see what kind of crazy antics happen on the field, or how the rivalry is taken up another notch. It’s not enough for us fans to only get this type of hype for a game every few years. Frankly, it stinks.

And what makes it worse is that by doing that we are inadvertently holding back women’s sports. Because the USWNT is by far the greatest promoter of women’s sports in the world. And if you would like to disagree with me, I have no probably making that argument all day long. The world is their stage – from the 99ers to present. They are the poster children for women’s equality in regards to sports. And by extension, any team that is their rival becomes the step-poster child. And Canada is the perfect candidate to keep pushing that cause by simply giving the fans what they want to see and playing the game that they love against a team that they loath.

Could you imagine what holding an annual rivalry match between the US and Canada would be like? Can you imagine the smack talk and the bragging rights and grittiness of the game? I can. And man, I would kill for that. And what a platform that would create for women to show their strength and competitiveness and drive. And hey, I’ll even sweeten the pot – what if the proceeds of the match went to charity? Maybe the Susan G. Koleman Foundation or an International women’s charity? That way it’s about more than just the rivalry. Why can’t we have something like that?

I just want a moment once a year that I can sit on the edge of my seat and feel my heart pound in my chest and pray to the heavens that the big man upstairs rocks a red, white, and blue kit on match day. I want the opportunity to know that my team is the best year-in and year-out. And by default, that means I want that opportunity to potentially have my heart broken down the line (most likely by Kailen Sheridan making some ridiculous save that will cause me to think back to last week and once again mentally chastise myself). I want the chance to buy the ticket and scream the chant and to have it matter more than every four years. I want my rivalry.

Is that too much to ask?

8% of the World Fame

ESPN does not ignore women. We do.

I want to preface this blog article with the fact that this is not the post I wanted to write this week. In fact, this is nowhere close to that article. But that article needed a bit more time and research, and another article came out on Tuesday that forced me to take notice and respond – the release of ESPN‘s “World Fame 100.”

Essentially, the World Fame 100 is the compiling of the 100 most famous athletes in the world. It was created by looking at a lot of different sources, starting with the Forbes‘ list of highest paid athletes. The study then looked at numerous domestic and international resources, including social media, and ESPN journalists from around the world gave their input. The data that was collected on each athlete was then put through an algorithm created by ESPN’s Director of Sports Analytics, Ben Alamar. Salary was not a factor in compiling this list, and retired players are not included.

So where does that leave us?

With a lot of men. 92 to be exact. Yes, that’s right. There were only eight female athletes that made the list. And of those eight, none of them even cracked the top 10. In fact, they couldn’t even crack the top 15. That glass ceiling just proved a bit too hard in regards to world stardom.

But, without further ado, here are the eight female athletes that seem to hold some weight and represent women around the world:

 

 

It’s sad, right? Women only represent 8% of the 100 most famous athletes around the world. But whose fault is that? Newsweek seems to think it’s ESPN‘s. After the list was released, they wrote an article that was entitled “Why ESPN Loves Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron, but Ignores Women.” But this one isn’t on ESPN. They just compiled the list. And I must say, the way they came about doing it was rather fair – they took a worldwide approach, sought out social media presences, and even had an analytical formula. Could it have been done a little better? Yeah, maybe. Maybe get journalists that aren’t just from ESPN. But other than that, not bad. So despite what Newsweek may think, ESPN does not ignore women. We do.

Just ask yourself the question, ‘When was the last time I watched a women’s sporting event?’ Was it the World Cup or the Olympics? Because if it is, then you too are part of the problem.

We can’t only love women’s sports every other year. We can’t say we love Serena, but refuse to know the names of any of the other top 5 women’s tennis players. We can’t only care when they are playing for America. And we certainly cannot only care when there is a scandal around.

Look at that list. I could make the argument that every single one of those women are famous for reasons other than their athletic ability. Serena – her current absence from the sport. Ronda – her complete demise from it. Masha – her PED scandal (read last week’s article). Simone Biles – her recent stint on DWTS where she was told to smile and then amazingly told the judges that smiling doesn’t win you gold medals. Hope Solo – getting kicked off the USWNT after a stretch of embarrassments. Caroline Wozniacki – getting dumped by Rory McElroy after their wedding invitations went out (it’s even referenced in the ESPN article). Eugenie Bouchard – opening her mouth with regards to the Masha PED scandal. And Aly Raisman – looking amazing for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition and then telling off a TSA agent.

Do any of these sound familiar? Sure they do. But can anyone tell me who Hope Solo’s club soccer team is currently? Probably not.

Because let’s face it, being an amazing athlete is not enough for a woman. Maybe for the select few it is (I am betting that if Serena wasn’t pregnant she would still be on this list), but that is certainly not the norm. Our issue is that a woman has to be more – she has to be pretty, and spunky, or scandalous, or have a temper…oh, and of course she has to be the best at what she does. It’s not enough that she just be good at a sport. If she is to be known, she has to be the best. It’s why we can always remember Mia Hamm’s name, but Julie Foudy’s might be harder to come up with. And we do that to these women. We praise the select few into stardom and then let the rest fight it out at the bottom of the heap for their measly paychecks and their local endorsement deals.

But, oh, who could forget endorsement deals? The women on this list, according to ESPN, make a combined $57,650,000 in endorsements. Not bad, right? But Roger Federer, who is currently listed at #4 on the top 100, makes 60 million on endorsements all by himself. Yeah…let that sink in.

Women get the short end of the stick when it comes to sports all the time. They make way less money and they get way less media coverage, which means they have to work that much harder just to stay relevant and to get some equality. So yeah, some of it is on the media. They would rather ask a girl who she is wearing rather than how her training on set plays is going. They are almost forced to retain every single shred of femininity about them when all they really care about is slicing the perfect backhand down the end line. It would seem the media would rather show them off the court than actually on it. Because can anyone tell me what channel you can watch your local NWSL team on? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not on TV. But you best believe you can watch Hope Solo on TMZ. You can see Masha in OK Magazine coming out of a nail salon. Or you could catch Simone Biles perform a perfect cha-cha on basic cable.

But it’s not all on the media. It’s on us. Because we watch TMZ, and read OK Magazine, and tune into DWTS. But we don’t buy tickets to see the Houston Dash play live. We don’t flip through the channels to catch the L.A. Sparks play in a rematch against the NY Liberty. And we surely didn’t watch the French Open when we didn’t even know who was playing (seriously – last week’s article, guys).

We are the problem, my friends. We restrict these women by caring more about their social life than their game. We are part of the reason that they are only 8% of the top 100 and only make 77 cents on the dollar (or 40 cents if you are a US Women’s Soccer Player).

So what do you say? Maybe watch a game instead of a red carpet event. Go to a fan day at the local stadium. Hell, maybe just follow one of your favorite players on social media to find out how their training is coming along. Your changes don’t have to be drastic to make a difference – it’s all the small steps that allow us to bring about large change.

So that’s my challenge to you: care about what the woman does on the court just as much as you care what she does off of it.

 

 

 

You can check out the full list of the World Famous 100 here: http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/worldfame100/espn-world-fame-100-top-ranking-athletes