UPDATED with additional tweet from Megan Rapinoe, statement from NWSL league commissioner Jeff Plush, and response from Reign coach Laura Harvey.
The WNY Flash played the Seattle Reign tonight, but not at their usual home field in Rochester, Rhinos Stadium. Instead, because Rhinos Stadium was booked for a concert, WNY found a backup in Frontier Field, which as you can see below is actually a baseball field.
It’s not the first time that soccer has been played on a baseball field with soccer lines drawn on it, but due to the layout of the stadium, the field WNY and the Reign played on was 58 x 100 yards.
NWSL regulations state that minimum width for a field used in a league game should be 70 yards. And in fact, WNY had to get an exemption from the league in order to move their game to Frontier.
#NWSL regulations say 70 yards wide minimum for field. NWSL spokeman tells me field given expemption for this game. FIFA minimum is 50 yards— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) July 9, 2016
The tiny field made play ridiculous, including turning every single throw-in into a long ball that went directly into the middle of the 18.
Several USWNT players expressed their dismay on twitter at the size of the field, including the Reign’s own Megan Rapinoe and former WNY Flash player Carli Lloyd. The WNT players are all in national camp since they played South Africa earlier in the day, but you have to imagine if they were with their teams, there would be even more dissatisfied tweets aimed at WNY and NWSL.
This is shocking, disrespectful & such a shame that we as professional players, are expected to play on this surface pic.twitter.com/5uLx36WHm6— Ali Krieger (@alikrieger) July 10, 2016
On top of that, WNY’s broadcast was its usual low quality and not in correct aspect ratio. There are several NCAA fields in cities around Rochester, for example Syracuse, which probably would have had at least the same broadcast quality. Seating capacity might be smaller, but one game with limited seats for fans seems an even exchange to provide a quality field for pro athletes in a league that theoretically is supposed to have minimum field standards.
Seattle Reign coach Laura Harvey had this to say about the whole sloppy mess, including that she was told the field was actually 110 x 61:
Just want to be clear around the facts of tonight. pic.twitter.com/lTvFdVZ0LD— Laura Harvey (@LH1505) July 10, 2016
In audio recorded after the game, Harvey said she was “lied to the whole week” and that the Flash had also mistreated her injured goalkeeper, Haley Kopmeyer, by not taking her to the hospital.
NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush issued a statement apologizing for the decision to approve WNY’s use of the field:
“The field dimensions were not up to our standards, but due to various factors, the league office made the decision to grant an exception for this evening’s match. In retrospect, we made the wrong decision.
“As a professional league, we need to ensure that the integrity of the game is always respected both on and off the field. We did not do that tonight and we apologize to the NWSL players, coaches and fans.
“In the future, we will ensure that every NWSL match meets our standards.”
This is a terrible look for the Flash and for NWSL as a whole. It’s not just that WNT players are appalled - the NWSL is supposedly a league whose player pool supports US Soccer, but how can the players be expected to train and develop to WNT standards if they’re stuck with sub-par facilities? If the league cannot be held to a certain minimum standard, then it’s not actually a place for players to develop and expand our national player pool, it’s just a minor league where the NT players can cool their heels in between big tournaments.
Every athlete who competes in NWSL is held to a high performance standard and expected to keep up with their WNT teammates; it shouldn’t be this much of a struggle for the clubs to also be held a similar standard, especially if the league is truly ever to grow and become more sustainable.