Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nice Touches

The IFK Mariehamn website carries the unhappy news that the club lost 182,000 euros last season (roughly equivalent to a $250,000 loss), an amount nearly six times the loss experienced by the team in 2009. The club attributed the significant decline in its financial performance to a precipitous drop in attendance and the loss of a subsidy from the Aland Islands government which would have covered over 15% of the shortfall.

I'm surprised that the club does not lose more money in insuring its stay in the Veikkausliiga, as it is remarkable that the team can punch so far above its weight while maintaining a close eye on the enterprise's purse strings. My meager contributions to the club fell in the 2011 financial year, so hopefully those few euros portend even more found revenue streams for Mariehamn.

Other Americans will play a far more important role in IFK's fortunes this season. The club's website now also features two short pieces profiling D.C. United alum Josh Wicks and Real Maryland alum Joe Funicello.

The main takeaway from these short postings would be, I think, that Joe Funicello can cook and that both seem to enjoy the family atmosphere of the Finnish club. Or that Real Maryland alum Mason Trafford wishes he was an American and not cursed with Canadian citizenship or that Josh Wicks donates his chest hair to cancer patients... which is an incredibly selfless thing to do ("Mason är att han hellre skulle vara amerikan än kanadensare. Sen kan jag också berätta att Josh Wicks donerar sitt brösthår till cancerpatienter").

I hope that IFK's supporters get as many opportunities as possible to get to know and love Funicello, Trafford, and Wicks. Earlier tonight, I was in the basement picking something out for a charity auction next month and stopped in front of a soccer ball on a shelf that features the autographs of both Joe and Josh... a reminder of how both made the time (and in Josh's case, went well out of his way) to entertain a baby girl amused by the act of handing a pen and her toy over to an adult in uniform. I'm also reminded of sitting in the stands at Richard Montgomery watching Mason play and noticing that Josh was there as well, taking in a sport he obviously loves with a few dozen others, or running into Josh at Ludwig when he'd come out to support DC United teammates being honored by their alma mater. Best of luck to all three.

As much as I enjoyed seeing the profiles of Wicks and Funicello up on IFK Mariehamn's website, I enjoyed this bit of news on D.C. United's site much more: D.C. United has partnered with the Northern Virginia Majestics to bring women's soccer back to the Maryland Soccerplex as part of the W-League.

The loss of the Washington Freedom was depressing, but remains (at least to me if to no one else) a much preferred alternative to losing the WPS altogether. The addition of a D.C. United backed club to the women's second division resident at the Soccerplex certainly softens the blow.

It will be interesting to see how the Freedom's ardent supporters react and if the environment that made Freedom games such a joy to attend will be replicated when the season kicks off in June. The club, currently dubbed "Washington FC" on the USL web-site, will play five home games in June and July, with three of the five coming on weeknights and four of the five starting at 7 pm.

What is even more interesting to me is D.C. United's willingness to back the venture. Women's soccer is usually fodder for easy shots taken at the struggles of the professional league and brash claims about the lack of quality in the game. Outside of specialty sites dedicated to the sport, there is not a lot of positive press that surrounds it.

I think that the better view is that developing women's soccer is incredibly important to the future of the sport in this country. The women's game creates more fans for the sport generally and enhances interest in soccer for girls. Although my daughter is only learning how to articulate herself and her ideas, she has fully internalized the fact that we watch both women and men play soccer. When she wanders off by herself to dribble the soccer ball in another room, I know that this is a product of seeing women do the same thing on the field. When she tells me she wants to go to a soccer game, it is without regard to whether women or men will be playing -- she just wants to see it played.

Going out to cheer for women playing in D.C. United shirts will, I believe, cement her support for the club. I would hazard a guess that our experience would not be unique in that regard.

For all of these reasons, I'm very grateful that United's management has decided to take this step and I look forward to supporting the new venture in any way possible.

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