Friday, January 29, 2010

Sad end to the Sol

This is kinda new to me.

I've been a sports nut pretty much my entire life. For me, life didn't begin when I was born. It began when my dad bought me this oversized, cartoonish-looking blue wiffleball bat when I was 6 years old. We were vacationing on the Cape and I guess I wasn't allowed to bring the 30 odd Tonka Trucks I had at home along with me. We had a small Buick Skylark back then. It was a small station wagon. So my dad, in his infinite wisdom, must've decided that, hey, let me bring a big, blue wiffleball bat and ball and see if my son stays distracted enough to not cry and complain the entire time. My dad. The Genius.

Since then, my life has been undeniably enriched by that simple gesture. Baseball was my first love. Then came football, and hockey followed a few years later. I flirted with soccer during USA '94 - hey, the kids at the park were talking about it, so why not - and again during the US Women’s National Team's triumphant World Cup victory five years later. Eventually, the flirting got serious. A blog was born.

I can't tell you how many teams I've watched over the past 20 or so years, however, I’m pretty sure I’ve never witnessed a complete team. I mean, I was born much, much after the 1927 Yankees - the best baseball team ever, according to many. I missed the Celtics run at NBA domination in the 50s and 60s. Brazil's wizardry in the late-60s and early 70s was still a good ten years before I was born. So I had never witnessed a complete team before my eyes.

Until last year.

Fast forward: So, I was having a decent day yesterday. A good day, even. At least it was until I around 3pm, when I learned that the Los Angeles Sol had ceased operations for 2010.

Wait a minute? What?

The news came from a facebook post. The AP it is not, of course, so I naturally googled the news. Lo and behold, it was true: the league juggernaut was closing shop for the season, if not, permanently.

It felt eerie. Not the type of eeriness you experience when you stumble across a tragic coincidence. But rather, an outer-worldly eeriness. As if this was taking place in a dream. Or an alternate reality. Sliders stuff.I could understand if it were a different team. L.A. was supposed to be WPS’s crown jewel. Marta was there. She's the female Pele, for crying out loud. Kobe was there too, pimping the club at various media events. The Sol was the North Star. It was what other WPS clubs looked up at, and said to themselves, "we need to follow them.”

And it wasn't just the packaging or the glossy mix of soccer and stardom. The team was better than good. They were great. Like Brazil circa 1982 great. Yes, this was the team all clubs - not just WPS clubs - should look at when developing a professional soccer club.

When the Sol came to Boston last year back in May, I had read about them. At the time, they hadn't even given up a goal yet. Karina LaBlanc was a freaking wall. Marta was setting the pitches on fire. Boxxy and Aya Miyama set up shop and played keep away with other teams for much of the summer. People like to talk about being a complete team. To me, the Sol was about as complete as they come.

Not only were they great, but they also played stylishly. They adhered to Ruud Gullitt's gospel: sexy football. The way the ball slid from player to player, the crosses, the elegance of it all was just about the prettiest thing I've ever seen at soccer stadium – well, besides a dark-haired Rev Girl. And the ball became an accomplice. I wasn't around for Brazil squad of the 70s, but imagine that the way they played was very similar to the Sol last season.

Which, of course, is why I'm having such a hard time with it. It was a rare time in which some of the best football was regularly played on American soil. The world's best female players came here. They traveled across countries, continents, and oceans to play here. This country was the epicenter of women's football. And the Sol were, arguably, the best club in the world.

I know, I know. They lost the WPS title to Sky Blue. Many might disqualify their greatness on that alone. Although it was the most important match of the season, it was only one match. A hiccup. Granted, a HUGE hiccup. But they went 12-3-5 on the season. They wrapped up the first seed just after the Fourth of July – with an entire month of the season remaining. For them, it was a summer of domination.

And it was because they were a complete team, top to bottom. Their players were supremely talented, sure, but the collective was pure soccer, which was something rare, and very, very new to me.

It's a damn shame it only lasted a year.

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