The United States got knocked out of the Olympics in quarterfinals. It was a shock for players and fans alike as everyone struggled to adjust their expectations. The U.S. is out? Now? But there’s still so much Olympics left.
It didn’t just discombobulate the fans; suddenly an entire team of players was [theoretically] available and less physically beat up than expected for the National Women’s Soccer League. NWSL clubs weren’t expecting any U.S. players back until the end of August, and it was touch-and-go whether they’d be available for games the weekend of the 26th through the 28th.
Now with the Olympics over and the season revving back up again - Ali Krieger already played a full 90 for Washington against Houston on the 18th, a makeup from a earlier game cancelled due to weather - American players have all technically been off since August 13, the day after that ill-fated quarterfinal game against Sweden.
So with two weeks to travel back, see their families, and get some solid rest under their belts, you’d expect them all to be available this weekend, right?
It’s apparently not as simple as that.
Post-game comments from Randy Waldrum on Friday paint an unflattering picture of #NWSL/#USWNT communication. pic.twitter.com/4ksrdaH0p2— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) August 21, 2016
Did USWNT players have a timeline for reporting back to their club teams? I asked Morgan Brian this morning. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/BGEIYHjgvP— Corey Roepken (@RipSports) August 23, 2016
The Houston Chronicle reported Lloyd would be rejoining the team on Monday, August 29, meaning she’ll miss Dash vs WNY Flash away. Combined with comments from head coach Randy Waldrum and midfielder Morgan Brian, there seems to be a lack of communication going on between US Soccer and NWSL (and perhaps to a certain extent between them and Canada Soccer and Football Federation Australia too). Coaches aren’t certain exactly when players will be back, while players say it was up to them to discuss a timeline for return with their coaches and clubs.
Multiple factors at play
One factor is that of course the players really weren’t expecting to go out of the Olympics in quarterfinals. That’s not egotistical - it’s a simple fact. Nearly everyone had the United States pegged to advance to at least semis, if not outright contesting gold again. To get cut off at the knees like that is probably about as emotionally rough as it gets in sports. Who could begrudge a player a little extra time to get their head screwed on straight? Some people are able to dive right back in; Ali Krieger probably didn’t feel like twiddling her thumbs while the Spirit were playing, and because she was used mostly as a sub in the Olympics, probably had more in the tank to get back out there right away. Some people need to not be around the game for a bit. That’s human.
There’s also a previous statement by Waldrum that because USSF pays the salaries of national team players, those players don’t necessarily feel the same obligations to their club as other players. “I think it’s really important that we find a way to get back to the clubs are paying the players and the player plays for the club, not for U.S. Soccer,” he told Excelle Sports. “Because right now – to me – the national team players run the league, and I don’t think a pro league needs to be run that way.”
Add on to that Lloyd blocking people on Twitter by the fistful for even tangentially mentioning her in relation to this matter - including people who cover the Houston Dash - and you have a recipe for a rather fraught discussion of obligation and real human needs.
Lloyd was already one of the spark plugs of debate between club and country when she sustained an MCL injury playing for the Dash in late April. Recovery time was three to six weeks, putting her return somewhere in mid-June at the latest. By June 30 Lloyd said she was at 95-100%; between her recovery schedule and two U.S. friendlies on July 9 and July 22, she did not play another game for the Dash before leaving for the Olympics.
At the same time, Lloyd also said she was mentally and physically wiped out from the World Cup and the chaotic months afterward. Between the USWNT Victory Tour, returning to NWSL for the 2016 season, and numerous speaking engagements and endorsements, she was going nonstop from June 2015 until April of the following year. It’s important to keep in mind that Lloyd, like many female athletes, wasn’t in a position to turn down those endorsements either. Despite being one of the top American players and a FIFA Ballon d’Or winner, Lloyd has no multimillion club contract to pay the rent regardless of whether she shills for Comcast or not. So if she stretched out her MCL recovery in order to avoid hopping between Houston and WNT friendlies and back again because she literally could not handle it, well, who’s to second-guess Lloyd’s physical and mental health when she says straight up she needs the rest?
Lack of information exacerbates the problem
Part of what seems to be creating discord here is the uncertainty. Coaches don’t know what’s going on; players don’t know; clubs don’t know; do the federations even know? It plays into existing dissatisfaction with US Soccer and the divide many perceive between national team and club. Morgan Brian’s seeming irritation with the question of when players would be back with their clubs points somewhat at the problems with saying Ali Krieger was back with the Spirit, so why isn’t Lloyd back with the Dash: different circumstances, different players. She doesn’t know what’s going on any more than you or I, and it adds to the confusion.
At the same time, Waldrum and Dash fans also are entitled to at the very least know what’s up with their player’s availability. And yes, it is fair to say that two weeks of rest is plenty to physically recover from the effects of a tournament and international travel. If Lloyd has an injury that requires longer recovery, it should be simple enough to say that. If she needs mental space to return to 100% - well, it would be great if she had the ability to say that too, without the stigmas we attach to mental health in this country. (Exhibit A: Landon Donovan and the landslide of criticism he received after admitting he had mental health issues.)
But physically, there shouldn’t be an issue with asking that Lloyd return to the Dash after two weeks, and the idea that Lloyd can set her own schedule for returning completely undermines the notion that the league matters to the NT players as anything more than a place to park between friendlies and tournaments.
That there probably isn’t a clear-cut answer between “Carli Lloyd doesn’t care about the Dash” and “Carli Lloyd knows her own mental and physical needs best” is another part of the frustration. People are complex, and there’s valid arguments here on either side without more information from Lloyd herself. People are filling in the blanks based on what they have, which is Lloyd’s actions. Tie in the larger discussion about the USWNT’s relationship to NWSL, which is supposed to be a league building the future of women’s soccer in the United States, and it becomes even murkier.
There’s room to discuss what NWSL does mean vs what it should mean to players regardless of national team status, while at the same time allowing players the agency of being able to say what’s up with their own bodies. It’s the uncertainty in this situation that seems to be really driving the arguments. Perhaps that’s a remnant of two failed leagues; American women’s soccer fans do not do well with uncertainty. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the relative intimacy of women’s soccer fandom, in which many fans feel they have a closer perspective on players’ lives than is actually true due to the accessibility of social media. Whatever it is, please don’t block us on twitter, Carli.