Richmond AFC coach Ted Lasso and his less-wordy assistant, Coach Beard emerged from their offseason on Wednesday to announce the players named to the U.S. Women’s National Team that will compete for soccer gold in the Olympics this summer in Japan.
“Hey howdy folks,” began the affable Lasso, before announcing the U.S. women and wondering why there isn’t a Golden Hat when a player scores three goals, to go along with the Golden Boot.
While Beard and Lasso are fictional characters, the team was the real McCoy, and the seven-minute video was more charming than reading a roster should ever be allowed to be.
The Apple series named Ted Lasso, where Jason Sudekis stars in the title role of a college football coach tapped to lead struggling Richmond AFC, is a classic fish-out-of-water story. It was released last August, and the action takes place in a swanky Thames-side neighborhood on the western edge of London. Lasso is small-town southern, and never even got all that far in the college game but went viral when he danced with the Wichita State Shockers after winning the Division II championship. For his joy and innocence, Lasso was embraced by the American sports world.
If you haven’t watched the series, go do it now and come back to finish this column. And anyway you want to have the first season down before the second one arrives July 23.
OK, now here’s the hard truth. Coach Lasso would never make it in the real professional or Division I sports world. He’d be drummed out in a season. College football coaches are rarely player-first in any way but rhetorically, and some even come out and say the most unintentionally condescending things. Given the inequity of the system, where a Division I coach might make $5 million a year while scholarship players get called out on minor infractions, it’s not set up to create life-long friendships.
And I think that’s why Ted Lasso, the series, is so great. It’s not about the money and power that define modern professional sports, but the friends you make along the way. Or more generally, what we tell kids sports are about. Teamwork, character, passing up the shot in order to get someone less heralded involved. That’s right I’m talking to you, Jamie Tart (you know who I’m talking about since you’ve just watched Season 1).
Lasso’s world sees winning and losing as equal teachers. He’ll sub out a star to make a point. And that’s why he’s brought in, because he’ll make the wrong decisions in hopes of a larger goal.
Take for instance Coach Lasso’s loyalty to veteran player Roy Kent. In the world of Coach Lasso, this makes absolute sense. Kent is the moral conscience of the team. He sees the players around him for who they are. So of course Lasso would have his back beyond the expiration date on his pro career.
And that’s why Coach Beard, played by Brendan Hunt and a credited writer on many episodes, is the actual coach behind the motivator. He’s the one with the stats and the gameplan. Lasso is the friendly front of the operation, but Beard is the brains.
The show Ted Lasso is a hit because big-time sports have strayed so far from the ideals we learned about as kids, and Coach Lasso embraces them. He’s all about fairness. He even cultivates a friendship with the girl in the neighborhood who is always kicking around a soccer ball. He hires Keeley Jones, a social media star and player girlfriend, because he sees her marketing talents beyond the WAG stereotype. He gets on Kent for being bothered by Jones’ sexual history. He creates the Diamond Dogs, a group of men who give sensitive and supportive personal advice. He bakes biscuits. He has an anxiety attack. He talks about his feelings.
In short, Ted Lasso is the coach we deserve.
It makes perfect sense that Lasso and Beard should announce the women’s soccer players who will represent the U.S. this summer. Because those ideals are the same ones that those women have been fighting for every time they take the pitch. You know who would be first in line to advocate for equal pay at AFC Richmond?
It is a perfect collaboration between sports and fiction. And it begs the question, what kind of video will they do if the American women actually bring home the gold?