The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer

1419734490.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women who Changed Soccer by Caitlin Murray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads program in exchanged for an honest review.

The premier women’s national team in the world and the gold standard all are judged upon, saved soccer in the United States not that US Soccer cares to pay them for it. The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Change Soccer by Caitlin Murray reveals the struggles and triumphs of the United States Women’s National Team from its inception through to the present day both on the field and within the confines of power within the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The Women’s National Team came together by accident in 1985 for a FIFA sponsored mini-tournament in Italy, from that small start began the rise of the powerhouse of Women’s soccer. The circumstances around this beginning would color the program in the eyes of U.S. Soccer as being unimportant for decades to comes and the uncaring concern of FIFA for developing the Women’s game was another hindrance, including calling the first Women’s World Cup anything but. Yet beginning in 1996 with the inclusion of Women’s soccer in that year’s Olympics in Atlanta, the U.S. Women would begin changing the face of the sport in the American consciousness. The pivotal moment came in 1999 with the third World Cup tournament taking place on home soil, without much hype brought about by either FIFA or U.S. Soccer, it was the players themselves that for half a year prior to the tournament promoted it in every city that would host games with clinics and friendlies that made the tournament a success in the beginning but also put pressure on the team itself to perform on the field. The victory of the U.S. Women in 1999 followed by the 2000 gold medal saved the sport of soccer in the United States—this from a Hall of Fame men’s player—after the U.S. Men’s disastrous 1998 World Cup performance. Yet after all their success, the women weren’t paid better nor given better overall treatment by U.S. Soccer. This trend would continue until present; the U.S. Women would continually have success while the U.S. Men would struggle though it was the latter that U.S. Soccer would treat like princes. The repeated failures of women’s professional leagues, two sabotaged by Major League Soccer, has been a financial burden for women players and the third attempt funded and run by U.S. Soccer has become a bargaining chip between both players and federation in the long running pay equality struggle between the two for almost two decades.

Chronicling the ups and downs both on and off the field of the USWNT in a readable manner was not an easy task for Murray. Devoting herself to the “Team” as a whole and its members at a given time, Murray would only give brief biographical sketches of historically important and momentarily prominent players but enough to help the overall work. Dealing with the team dynamic over the decades and the team vs. federation battle over the same period, Murray was able to shift between one and the other seamlessly mainly because both go together hand-to-glove. The financial issues that are prominent in the news today are nothing new between the two, it is just that the players have decided to come out in public including using U.S. Soccer’s own 2016 budget showing the organization is only profitable because of the Women’s team, a situation even more pronounced after the Men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, the team dynamics of players relationship with themselves and with their coaches shows that Women’s team is not immune to human nature and egos especially as seen in the 2007 World Cup in which the veteran’s backstabbed Hope Solo and then convinced the team to shun her when she spoke out for having been replaced in goal for a semifinal match.

The National Team is quick-paced biography and history of a group of players that join, stay, then leave to make room for the next generation, but everyone deals with the same burden to succeed and fight U.S. Soccer. Caitlin Murray’s gives the reader both an overview and intimate look at the team, it’s accomplishments, and failures. With the 2019 World Cup just around the corner, this is a must read for fans of the best Women’s Team in the world.

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Game Plan

0140369708-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Game Plan by Thomas J. Dygard
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Barton High Tigers’ head coach is injured and everyone is worried who’ll be the coach for Friday’s upcoming game, enter the student manager. Game Plan by Thomas J. Dygard follows Beano Hatton as he is propelled from nobody student manager to acting coach with all the pressures of school work and getting players to follow his lead, all while figuring out how to actually coach and prepare for a game.

Except for the first chapter, the narrative follows Beano Hatton beginning for being called to the principal’s office for the first time in his life—though not the last he’d have that week—and being asked to coach the Tigers football team against rivals Carterville. Except for telling his best friend Danny to cover for him as student manager, Beano keeps quiet until the Principal gives the team the news and hands it over to Beano. What follows is an awkward, stressful week as Beano figures out how Coach Pritchard scouts and makes up game plans while at the same time attempting to get the team to follow his lead, easier said than done with the star quarterback having an issue with him. But once Friday night comes and the ball is kicked, Beano has to manage the game.

From kickoff to the final whistle, Dygard writes a convincing flow of a football game which after the narrative build-up before and through the game of Beano making coaching decisions makes for a thrilling last third of the book. The first two-thirds of the book reads like a made-for-television young adult movie, but actually good. Though some of Dygard’s dialogue and words choices are a little off, they would be far superior to what one would hear and see on the aforementioned movie. The only other fault would be Dygard basically not having Coach Pritchard not have any notes on upcoming opponents which sounds far-fetched even for a little town high school coach with a staff of one.

Game Plan is one of those young adult sports books that is simply a good read that can be done in a day because it draws you in and frankly is nearly perfect for a book of its genre. Thomas J. Dygard hits all the right narrative keys to make this book keep the reader interested in how a nobody student manages to gain enough confidence of the football team to lead them through the last game of the season.

Tournament Upstart

ccbf31666864d71596e2b687177444341587343Tournament Upstart by Thomas J. Dygard
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

A small-town basketball team is playing against teams from the big cities looking to shock the state of Arkansas. Tournament Upstart by Thomas J. Dygard follows a little Class B team that’s decided to play against the big boys of Class A for the state championship, unfortunately not only do they have those teams to contend with but also their own internal struggles.

Taken from the perspective of their 23-year old rookie coach Floyd Bentley, the Cedar Grove Falcons arrive at Talbott State University trying not to be overawed by the big arena or facing the defending state champions in the quarterfinals. But after their upset victory, season-long tensions among the players boil up to the surface after Floyd’s inexperience with such a big event occurs. Over the next two days, Floyd attempts to get everyone back on the same page on the team even as they achieve another upset and then battle for the state championship that comes down to the final shot.

While the game action is well written, the basic set up at the beginning of the book—primarily how a team could go up a Class and the tournament still have the correct amount of teams—quickly raised questions followed closely by Floyd’s “mistake” which didn’t make much sense if you looked hard at it. The internal divisions were not bad, but they did strain the narrative somewhat.

Overall Tournament Upstart had a good premise but the young adult narrative quickly falls apart if looked at too closely. It’s not bad, but I’ve read other of Dygard’s work that I find better.

My Turn: A Life of Total Football

My Turn: A Life of Total FootballMy Turn: A Life of Total Football by Johan Cruyff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

Total Football burst into the popular consciousness with the Dutch national team at the 1974 World Cup led by Johan Cruyff. In Cruyff’s posthumously published autobiography My Turn, the former player and manager talks about the course and evolution of his entire life in football as well after his time actively involved in the sport.

Cruyff is upfront from the outset that he won’t recount every big match, for him the important thing was the development of technique and the evolution of getting better by learning from successes and failures. However, Cruyff’s explanation of his development as a player as well as the style he both played and coached are a fascinating read in which the results of certain matches come in to play. Cruyff’s stories about growing up at Ajax from a ball boy then through the developmental system give a insight about how talent is developed over in Europe, especially once he explains what he took away from how talent was developed in the United States when he played in the NASL. Yet, the most interesting stories were Cruyff’s time at Barcelona and the politics of Catalonia and Spain were a literal culture shock to him and his family.

The latter part of the book covers Cruyff’s most “controversial” time in football, his managerial tenures at Ajax and Barcelona as well as the shakeups to both clubs that he was an advisor for to bring them both to prominence. Cruyff is upfront about his thought about his loathing of boardroom managing the pitch in place of the pitch dictating the boardroom. For Cruyff this direction from on high, especially at Ajax is one of the reasons that the style of Total Football that he advocates is no longer seen in Dutch football as both technique and fundamentals instilled at an early age are never truly developed because of the increasing change of trainers and development personal because of agendas of non-football individuals who have an agenda of their own. This critique of money interfering goes handed in hand with Cruyff’s explanation of his preferred style of football as well as a rather informative explanation of the tactics of football is easy to understand even for those uninformed about the game.

Although My Turn seems to have been cut short by Cruyff’s death in March 2016, it is still a wonderful read for anyone interest in football or sports biographies.

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Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference

Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the DifferenceGet in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference by Cal Ripken Jr.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

While “Get in the Game” is listed as a self-help/business on the cover, it reads like a mini-autobiography of Cal Ripken, Jr.  Ripken, with the assistance of Donald T. Phillips, writes about eight elements that he attributed in not only making a difference in his legendary baseball career but also his successful transition to business.  Within each of the eight chapters detailing each element, Ripken shares stories and situations from his early life and baseball career that are examples of the featured element.  At the end of the book, Ripken his a brief overview of his post-baseball life and how the eight elements have influenced his transition into business.  At less than 300 pages, the book reads quick but is very thought provoking.

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Baseball’s Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story

0786471999-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Baseball’s Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story by Brian Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The mythologized and debunked tale of General Abner Doubleday’s invention of baseball in Cooperstown, New York is the focus of Baseball’s Creation Myth by Brian Martin.  The story behind the Doubleday-Cooperstown tale brings into the spotlight three men who inspired it, who spun it, and who promoted it.  Martin tells about the lives of these three men along with the social and political times they lived in when the Cooperstown story was birthed.

Martin centers his book on the lives of Adam Ford, Abner Graves, and Albert Goodwell Spalding.  Although several other individuals for a few pages do become the focus, it is these three that propel the narrative on how the Cooperstown story came to be and of how of all places Denver, Colorado is where it germinated.  Martin explains that the backdrop of the patriotic and optimistic times of the first decade of the 1900s under Theodore Roosevelt, in which the story is first introduced, is why it became such a fixed fact of Americana.  And Martin explains the different paths Cooperstown and its Canadian counterpart St. Mary’s became homes to their nation’s respective Halls of Fame.

The understanding of both Ford and Graves is center to Martin’s text and their lives and experiences are examined throughout the book especially their relationship to baseball.  A few times Martin does take side streets in his text, most notably when discussing Mark Twain’s experiences in Virginia City.  However for the most part Martin sticks to building what he believes to be a very reasonable, though admittedly circumstantial, case on the Cooperstown story was conceived and took root.

Having no real clue about what to expect from this book, I found it enjoyable read on how a mythical event of Americana came to be as well on the lives of two ordinary men who played a part in how it came about.

Controversy Creates Cash

141652729x-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Controversy Creates Cash by Eric Bischoff
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

In Controversy Creates Cash, former WCW executive Eric Bischoff gives his side of the story against a decades worth of bad press he received in the “Internet Wrestling Community”.  Bischoff quickly starts off by setting the record straight on some of his early life and how he got into the wrestling business in AWA.  Then goes through his ups and downs in WCW before leading the organization even coming close to quitting and going to Hollywood.  Once in charge of WCW, Bischoff explains his philosophy to make the organization successful and how he implemented it.  Bischoff also discussed how in 3 1/2 years, WCW went from being a multi-million dollar property to being sold for chum change and all the factors that led to it.

From the outset, Bischoff tells he readers he knows they come into reading autobiographies that they expect shameless self-promotion and/or b.s.  While Bischoff tries to avoid this, he’s still guilty of doing this, more so on the self-promotion than on the b.s. though.  Bischoff repeatedly brings up the “dirt sheet” writers and after a while it gets old, but one can tell that he feels they were the one most responsible for giving false information about him.  Throughout the book, Bischoff does discuss some famous situations in which he had been cast as the villain, but instead of going all defensive Bischoff is very balanced.  If in retrospect Bischoff believes he mishandled a situation he lets the reader know, but he never throws a wrestler “under the bus” however if it was a corporate officer Bischoff takes them to task.

My opinion of this book changed throughout my reading of it, the first half of the book I was very positive but the majority of the latter part of the book I felt only so-so especially as Bischoff really let his frustrations show that even his co-author couldn’t improve upon.  But considering that Eric Bischoff is the top five individuals ever in pro wrestler, I recommend this book.