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How Much Vlatko Is Too Much Vlatko, With Abigail Segel

Sophia Smith lines up a shot in the US Women's National Team's game against the Netherlands in the Women's World Cup on Wednesday night.
Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images

I get lost in the World Cup in much the same way that I might in a city that I don't know. Some of this can be attributed, easily and not incorrectly, to me being a soccer idiot—I have some broad ideas about Cultural Soccer Expressions and some names rattling around in my head, and some vague sense of what has happened in the past and a vaguer-than-that sense of how that might impact what happens in the future. I read the coverage on our site and enjoy it, but it doesn't really stick; I watch the games and enjoy that, too, but as often as not it doesn't really scan.

And so, just as I might if I found myself on some strange and narrow streets without a map, I kind of just follow the noise and the crowd and my instincts. There are more informed and effective ways to travel, but this works for me pretty well most of the time, or at least delivers more or less what I'm looking for. Still, it was nice to have Abigail Segel, our editorial intern and a certified Soccer Knower, on the podcast this week to act as a sort of tour guide to the sights, sounds, and Vlatko-related vexations of the U.S. Women's National Team and this still-new Women's World Cup.

I won't say that I covered myself in glory on this one in terms of insight or analysis or even clarity of expression; in the first 15 minutes alone I misremembered the name of a prominent USWNT player that I had watched score a goal something like 24 hours earlier, which is both a family tradition and embarrassing. But Drew and I weren't really there to hold forth on this one. Abigail knows a lot about this team and this tournament, and the idea was to get out of the way and learn as much of that as we could. While I wouldn't vouch for any of it sticking, I at least felt like I was noticing and getting upset about the right stuff while watching the USWNT's draw against the Netherlands on Wednesday night. Where was the damn midfield? I asked myself. What was Vlatko thinking? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I at least knew what to look for, and also who "Vlatko" is. He's the coach. Looks kind of like David Blatt. We talked about that, too.

While much of the episode was given over to the USWNT and a slightly smaller amount of consideration was given to the rest of the field, we also talked about how the Women's World Cup is covered, jumping off from Abigail's excellent story about the indie soccer media outlets that crowdsourced their way to the dang antipodes for the event. We talked about a shared antipathy to VAR and the ways in which it's used to enforce offsides rules, and the tactical use of ears in the stream of play. After a brief disquisition on the worrying disconnect in the longstanding and load-bearing relationship between supply and demand—here I was finally in my element—we got into the dumb stuff, and there Abigail was truly on our turf.

There, as elsewhere, she was a delight, whether breaking down the poutine and bagel options in Montreal—McGill's dining hall poutine ranks about where you'd expect—or joining us in weighing our shared dependence on modern conveniences in and around the kitchen. She was also very patient with both my discussion of my Guy Remembering process and Drew's recollection of his horrifying bachelor lifestyle aesthetics. You already know this if you've read her work, but this is what makes Abigail such a prodigy—she taught us some new stuff, and was patient with our old-guy shit. You can't teach that.

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