FRIDAY FUNBLAST -- October 1st, 2021

Following soccer can be exhausting some weeks. Imagine how much worse it would be if FC Cincinnati won actual games and we had those to discuss too? As it stands, it was a full week of firings, controversies, and oh yeah, a pro sports league imploding. So, without further ado...

#JAAPOUT WITH YOUR #KOCHOUT

It’s been no secret that both Kevin Wallace and I have been on the #JaapOut train for months. We’ve been accused by a number of people of having unrealistic expectations about this team, as built, for 2021. We’ve both been told, repeatedly, that Jaap needed and deserved time to get his system in place or to allow the players to build chemistry — as if these aren’t professional athletes making (in some cases) 7 figures with years of experience playing this game. A better person than I wouldn’t be gloating right now. They’d say things like “I take no pleasure in being right…” or “It’s not a good day when you have to fire a manager.”

Fuck that.

Every single fucking word I’ve written about Jaap Stam over the past 12 months has been on point / completely accurate — and fuck you if you spent a minute of your time defending this carny.

Jaap Stam might have been incredibly talented on the pitch as a player, but he’s been absolutely dreadful since trading his boots for the lineup card. The one and only real skill he has shown consistently in his post-playing career has been the ability to get otherwise intelligent people to pay him money to manage a soccer club. The fact that he keeps getting job after job, despite stinking out loud and producing Ted Lasso-like results (minus the snappy dialogue and gratuitous oral sex scenes), is fucking batshit. Jaap at Reading? Failure. Feynoord? Failure. FC Cincinnati? Failure. At every single one of these stops, his teams have been described as dull, negative, lacking any semblance of an offensive plan, etc. Hell, we were given a free fucking preview on reddit from a Reading supporter that ended up being exactly correct as to how his tenure here in Cincinnati would go. I’d go so far as to say that betting on Jaap Stam being a terrible fucking manager is the easiest money you could’ve made.

If even I, a functioning alcoholic with a sports gambling problem, could see that Jaap Stam fucking sucked as a manager, shame on every person with actual knowledge of this game who spent time stanning for him. He showed us exactly who he was every goddamn week with teams that lacked any killer instinct on offense (despite millions of attacking dollars being poured down the fucking drain in the form of Yuya Kubo, Jurgen Locadia, Brenner and Lucho Acosta) and teams that were defensively fucking inept until Geoff Cameron showed up to provide actual leadership and insight to the backline. And all of this doesn’t even get into the bizarre and puzzling decision to take otherwise good players (in Yuya Kubo’s case, one of the highest-paid players on the team) and play them out of position in his effort to smash square pegs into his fucking round hole of a system.

It might be a while before fans understand the full breadth of Jaap’s incompetence and ineffectiveness when it comes to FC Cincinnati — we’ll obviously have to wait for the offseason and exit-interviews for people to dish fully on how Jaap failed the club (though, some of that is already starting leak out). But, the numbers alone paint a stark picture of how fucking awful things were under Stam:

• 8 wins in 47 matches, with 38 goals scored during that time (averaging less than 1 goal per match) and 84 goals conceded — for a staggering -46 GD.

• In over 50% of his matches (25 of 47), FC Cincinnati was held scoreless.

• Only 1 time, in 47 matches managed, was FC Cincinnati able to score more than 2 goals against an opponent (and even in that game, they lost 5-4).

Beyond the numbers, the matches themselves were almost uniformly hard / frustrating to watch. Over the past two seasons, you’re statistically more likely to have a found a working ice cream machine at a fucking McDonalds than a match where FC Cincinnati didn’t have multiple godawful tactical breakdowns. The team was poor playing out of the back, poor playing the long ball, and when they did create scoring opportunities, they almost always required some incredible feat of skill or unreplictable acts to put the ball in the net. Watching matches, it always seemed like FC Cincinnati was playing the game on “hard” mode compared to the opposition.

So as we close the book on the Jaap-era at FCC, what are the main takeaways from his time here? I’d say chief among them is the idea of “You are what the back of your baseball card says you are.” Jaap came to Cincinnati with a reputation of stubbornness and failure and, by god, he gave us exactly what his reputation said he would. Next time, study for the fucking test before you hire someone. Maybe also “great players don’t necessarily make great managers” (looking your way, people loudly clamoring for Landon Donovan to manage in MLS)? How about “The Chief was right, and I should listen to him more often?”

Nah, definitely not that.

WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PRESS CONFERENCES, MAN. PRESS CONFERENCES.

You would think that, following the dismissal of Jaap Stam, the fanbase would be distracted by the usual post-mortem shit that happens when a coach leaves — picking out key moments where things went wrong, scanning social media to see which former player posts a celebratory video about his ousting (“It’s a good day!”), etc. Instead, the entire FC Cincinnati fanbase decided to fight about press conferences — or, more specifically, the lack of a press conference being held to announce Staam’s firing. On one hand, I understand the fixation here; some of the best content on the internet comes from press conferences. George W. Bush having a goddamn shoe thrown at his head? Happened in a press conference. Allen Iverson ranting about practice? Press Conference. Donald Trump encouraging everyone to drink bleach? Press Conference. On the other hand, there’s no GM running the ship right now, and no real stories are gonna come from Jeff Berding repeating “Our next GM will pick the new coach” and “I can’t discuss our GM search.” So what gives?

There are two separate, but equally important, entities and backstories here that need analyzing here to help understand why this issue became a lightning rod on Wednesday: The police who invest — kidding, the Press and the Fanbase.

From the Press’s point of view, the calculus on #PressConferencegate is pretty simple — these people’s livelihoods depend on them producing content relating to FC Cincinnati. For at least one member of the team beat, their livelihood depends on people paying specifically to see just FC content; going days without fresh takes can lead to people questioning if the money is worth it. A press conference is free column inches and page clicks — even a non-answer from Berding or a dodge on a question is going to produce a quote that can be spun into 2/3 quicks graphs and a twitter link for that all-important engagement. Without a press conference, our entire reporting crew is stuck hopelessly behind the national MLS media — most of whom have spent years building connections with the types of “MLS-lifers” who FCC is interviewing now to replace Nijkamp. Hell, Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman played on teams with some of these motherfuckers — you think they’re gonna get scooped by anyone locally on this stuff? If the FO remains silent on the GM / Manager search, all our local scribes can do is wait for someone else to break the news and react (which, it turns out, is exactly what happened yesterday), and that doesn’t sell papers.

From the Fanbase’s point of view, the calculus is equally simple, but slightly different — most people don’t want to (or expect to) hear answers to questions, they just want to see Jeff Berding eat a giant plate of shit publicly. The desire for a press conference is solely an exercise in hate-watching their sports tormentor as he (theoretically) squirms under the spotlight of another fucking failure. In this fictional scenario so many have constructed, our local media peppers him with pointed questions like “How does it feel to have ruined this team?” or “Have you considered just killing yourself?” This would be followed by CL3 announcing Jeff Berding has been excommunicated from the city of Cincinnati, his family’s lands stripped from him, and his name being shunned for all eternity in some bizarre Klingon-like ritual. And I completely get this — I asked for the same thing to happen to Jaap Stam a few weeks ago just because it would make *me* feel a tiny bit better knowing that he’d have to experience a shitty day at work for the anger he’s caused me. It feels good to watch people get their comeuppance, especially when there’s a perception that they’ve skated by on it.

The trouble here is that there’s absolutely no indication that this would actually happen. The press around this team (and to be very fucking clear, I personally like every person who covers this team that I’ve met; I quibble with their opinions from time to time, but that’s fucking media life — no one is immune from a take) would generously be described as “tepid” in their treatment of both Jaap Stam and Gerard Nijkamp while they were here. Part of that is due to the all-important “fine line” that needs to be walked between asking Very Important Questions and not being a dickhead to the people you cover. But, it’s impossible to ignore that most of what was asked and written about Jaap during his time with FCC fell into the borderline-apologetic range. Which, fine — you get paid to write, I don’t. But, the idea that our local media would walk into a press conference full of piss and vinegar and turn the affair into a giant “Let’s rub Berding’s fucking face in it,” like a dog who just pissed on the carpet again, is a goddamn fantasy.

Ultimately yes, FC Cincinnati should have held a press conference about this firing (or, at the very least, given each local media outlet 15 minutes with Berding to ask questions, if the goal was to avoid a public spectacle). I get that this, paradoxically, would involve Berding doing what the fans least want him to do — namely acknowledging that he’s about to make a soccer-adjacent decision. In spite of that, holding a press conference in these situations is just “one of those things that you have to do,” like tipping 20% no matter how shitty the service was, or putting on pants before you answer the door (really, if you knock unannounced at my house, I owe you fucking nothing by way of personal appearance or your comfort level with a man appearing pantsless, but I digress). By not holding the press conference, it gave the 5th Estate a chance to make the story about the process instead of the news — and spared most of them a day of having their shit “PROGRESS IS BEING MADE, GIVE JAAP MORE TIME” takes shoved back down their fucking throats.

WE LEARN THE NWSL STANDS FOR: “NO WOMAN SAFE LEAGUE”

I’m no fan of paywalling content (unless we decide to do it here at THE POST™ — in which case I will delete this line from the column and pretend I never said it), but you should absolutely check out Meg Linehan’s piece on the absuse of women in the NWSL she did for “The Athletic” (the website that answers the lamest Star Trek fanfic question of all time: “What if the Borg, but for sports media?”). It’s a sobering and uncomfortable look at the failings of a sports league set to the music of one absolute fucking predator of a human being, Paul Riley, who was repeatedly given job after job after complaints and warnings about his behavior. It’s a fucking sickening read, but it’s something every single sports fan needs to read today, if you haven’t already.

It’s all part of a pattern of conduct with the NWSL, which continues to be one of the most tone-deaf leagues in sports. Just this past year, the league came under fire for announcing a partnership with a nearly all-white company, founded by a Trump supporter, to promote diversity and inclusion. Another club, the Washington Spirit, was forced to fire their head coach following a Washington Post report about abusive and harassing culture within the club. This is on top of the bullshit level of low pay the league offers (players make ~2/3 of the median income for women in this country) and the persistent issues regarding facilities quality and substandard playing conditions.

I know there’s been a large push among the some in the fanbase to bring a women’s soccer team to Cincinnati (the Chief has been made aware that this remains a goal for The FC’s ownership, and that TQL Stadium has a specific women’s dressing room for this very purpose), and it sucks to see the current “best option” for women’s soccer is in a league that is so poorly run. Sadly, it’s not surprising. During just my lifetime as a sports fan, the NWSL is the third league to try and “have a go” at giving women’s soccer a proper home in the United States. Who could forget the WUSA (the league featured in the only soccer movie your grandmother can name: “Bend it like Beckham,”) or the WPS (which actually featured a team just named fucking “magicJack”)? Women’s professional soccer in America has followed the same unfortunate timeline of virtually all women’s sports leagues outside the WNBA — tenuous grips on financial stability, short bursts of success, and a lack of long-term sustainability. It’s depressing that, in 2021, we’re still watching these cycles play out in real time.

Who could forget the storied "Magic Jack" club?

As I write this, the NWSL has announced that they will be suspending matches this weekend the wake of Meg Linehan’s article. And fucking good on the players for forcing this item to stay in the news. Too frequently with women’s sports, we allow scandals to skate by or be swept under the rug out of fear that negative publicity will cause the entire house of cards to collapse — that women just need to be happy they even have a place to play and that bad women’s sports league are better than the alternative of nothing at all. Frankly, that’s bullshit. We owe female athletes better in all contexts, not just soccer. And that starts with not only supporting the players here, but continuing to demand accountability from the people who run leagues. The NWSL released a lot of statements lately, but noticeably absent are resignation letters from the motherfuckers who allowed this culture to fester, or statements of contrition from owners (some of whom are MLS golden boys, like Merrit Paulson) for allowing this bullshit to happen.

I want the NWSL to succeed. I want there to be a team in Cincinnati that gets actually supported and provides a positive atmosphere for the sport. This sort of shit is important because the only way attitudes about women’s sports in this country will change is if going to women’s sporting events and watching women’s sports on TV becomes normalized in culture — and not just for women / girls, but also for men / boys. I think my own opinions on women’s basketball, for example, would be a lot fucking different if I’d grown up going to women’s games or watching them on TV. Or if it was more of a normal thing to televise a women's game in primetime, complete with studio show analysis and teams with players who had the same household names as MJ, Karl Malone, Shaq, etc. Instead, when I was growing up, there were virtually zero women’s team sports on television, and it was completely OK to just bash relentlessly if you were a pundit / talking head (Bill Simmons, one of my original ESPN “heroes,” once advocated that WNBA scorelines be banned from the bottom line so he didn’t have to see them). The game was viewed as inferior as opposed to a different flavor of a sport we all, allegedly, love watching. We’ve at least moved beyond those attitudes, but we’ve got a long fucking way to go — and it starts with the next generation of sports fans going to games and feeling as excited wearing a Rose Lavelle kit to school as they would a Messi or Ronaldo one.

But we’ll never get there if we allow leagues like the NWSL to perpetuate this “happy to be here” bullshit. We shouldn’t be happy women have a place to play. Not having a place to play should be as fucking unfathomable as MLS ceasing operations tomorrow. We should be demanding they have the best place to play on the planet, that they’re paid the best, that companies commit to sponsoring leagues equally, etc. We’re the consumers. We have that power. We just have to choose to give a shit for 15 minutes longer than it takes to read an Athletic article.

RED BULL AND VODKA, HOLD THE RED BULL

I’m strangely optimistic about the Not-Damet getting his first win this weekend at home. This is a massive opportunity for Tyrone Marshall if he wants to be seen as someone who can manage in the future, and I think he’ll be a lot more pragmatic in how he uses his squad to get a result.

Call me crazy, but 3-1 FCC this weekend.

Yup. Crazy.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT FCC’S PRESS CONFERENCE PLANS…

It’s called “Stay Tuned.”

Alright, that’s it for the Funblast this week. Will we have a GM by this time next week? The answer is yes, as you know from reading the Post. Until then, Albright forever. Nijkamp never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.