Social media is at the center of Women's Professional Soccer's marketing strategy, which seeks to take advantage of almost 250,000 Twitter followers with innovative ideas such as "tweet on the Twenties" during national broadcasts. But last week, Twitter was at the center of a controversy when Atlanta Beat goalkeeper Hope Solo accused Boston Breakers fans of racism after her team's 2-0 loss at Harvard Stadium.
In anger, Solo skipped the postgame media session and did not sign autographs for fans. In four separate tweets just minutes after Wednesday's game, she wrote the following:
"To all the Boston fans and especially the young children that I didn't sign autographs for I'm sorry. I will not stand for ... An organization who can so blatantly disrespect the athletes that come to play. Perhaps the WPS or Boston themselves ... Can finally take a stance to the profanity, racism and crude remarks that are made by their so called 'fan club' ... To the true fans, I hope to catch you at the next game. Thanks for your support and love for the game."
The "fan club" that Solo referred to is The Riptide, an independent group of Breakers supporters. The Riptide denied Solo's accusations, and the Breakers and Beat issued a joint statement on Monday acknowledging that while inappropriate things were said by unidentified individuals, "at no time was there any organized or coordinated singing or chanting of racially insensitive slogans or profanity by the Riptide supporters group or any other group of fans."
The statement also pointed out that Solo was wrong to use social media to address the issue. That surely is the main problem with what she did. Twitter is not the place to air serious accusations such as racism, particularly when the few perpetrators in a crowd of thousands cannot be easily identified.
Solo's anger for whatever she heard is completely justified, but to call out Boston as an organization -- a model organization at that -- is unfounded and an exaggeration. It would have been far better for Solo to speak with team officials about the situation rather than turn to Twitter. The few fans who used abusive language do not represent the Breakers as a whole. Boston's management had a right to be upset by Solo's remarks and deserves credit for standing behind supporters who were falsely accused.
Hopefully this controversy will not affect the typically great environment at Harvard Stadium. This incident came as a shock to a league with a fan base that is very family-oriented and generally lacks the kind of diehard, and frequently vulgar, supporters found around the world in the men's game.
There is no place for racist behavior in soccer or anywhere else and the Breakers will be increasing security to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. With WPS in just its second season, there is no precedent for this event or Solo's outburst. The league has not made a public example of her, but league and team officials are likely to monitor players' social media accounts much more closely.
Solo has spoken out before, most notably during the 2007 Women's World Cup when she publicly criticized then-U.S. coach Greg Ryan for favoring Briana Scurry in a 4-0 semifinal loss to Brazil. She has not said anything publicly since her recent Twitter outburst, but it could make for very interesting future showdowns between Boston and Atlanta. The two teams meet on Aug. 21 in New Britain, Conn., and on Sept. 1 in Kennesaw, Ga.
The Los Angeles Sol ceased operations in January and St. Louis Athletica shockingly folded during the season in May, but WPS expansion talks have still moved forward in several markets.
Members of a potential ownership group seeking to bring a team to Dallas were in Pennsylvania two weeks ago to tour the Philadelphia Independence's facilities and talk more seriously about acquiring a 2012 expansion team. Dallas and Los Angeles are the leading candidates. Independence owner and WPS expansion committee co-chairman David Halstead identified Seattle as the more distant third candidate. Other areas that have had at least preliminary talks include Denver, Vancouver, San Diego, Ontario, Miami and Kansas City, where a group is interested in bringing a team to the new Wizards Stadium that is set to open next year.
"We have two or three or four qualified leads where we have actually gone beyond the general information and they are sincerely interested in getting into the details," Halstead said.
Interestingly, the western New York market became a potential surprise entry after the Buffalo Flash won the 2010 USL W-League Championship last month. The Flash ownership group, led by Joe Sahlen, is exploring options in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The 2011 season is just eight months away and successfully launching a team with such a short lead time could prove impossible, but Buffalo sees an opportunity to ride the momentum of its W-League title into WPS.
Wednesday, Aug. 4
• Behind two goals from Abby Wambach, the Washington Freedom snapped a five-game losing streak and 10-game winless streak with a 2-0 victory over the visiting Philadelphia Independence. On Monday, Freedom management gave a vote of confidence to coach Jim Gabarra and announced that former Chicago Red Stars coach Emma Hayes will serve as a coaching consultant for the rest of the season.
• Kelly Smith scored twice, including a first-minute goal, as Boston beat Atlanta 2-0 for its sixth victory in seven games.
Saturday, Aug. 7
• Sky Blue FC broke a four-game losing streak with a 2-1 road win against Atlanta, which allowed a tiebreaking own goal in the 71st minute.
• League-leading FC Gold Pride was held to its second straight 0-0 draw, this time by the Chicago Red Stars in Hayward, Calif. FC Gold Pride (12-3-3, 39 points) still owns an 11-point lead over Philadelphia with six games to play.
Sunday, Aug. 8
• The battle between second and third place lived up to its billing as Boston and Philadelphia tied 2-2. Breakers forward Lauren Cheney opened the scoring in the 25th minute before two quick goals from Independence defender Holdfridur Magnusdottir put the home side ahead. But Kelly Smith's 10th goal of the season, which came early in the second half, earned Boston the draw.
Wednesday, Aug. 11
• Washington Freedom at Sky Blue FC, 7 p.m. ETPuma's Project Pink initiative to raise money to help fight breast cancer continues as Sky Blue FC wears pink jerseys that will be auctioned off. The effort is leaguewide and all proceeds go to local breast cancer charities. Boston, FC Gold Pride and Philadelphia wore pink last week. Washington will wear it at home later in the month.
• Philadelphia Independence at Chicago Red Stars, 8:30 p.m., webcast on www.chicagoredstars.com
Saturday, Aug. 14:
• Washington Freedom at FC Gold Pride, 10 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 15:
• Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers, 6 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel
• Atlanta Beat at Philadelphia Independence, 6 p.m.