You can call a sports league elite, and you can even recruit most of the best U.S. players not busy with the national team, but the most basic step in being considered elite or professional is to act it.
The on-field product in WPSL Elite and the USL W-League clearly requires growth to fill the enormous chasm between the haves and the have-nots. But all 38 clubs from the two leagues combined should be held to high standards of conduct and procedure. Two teams – one from each league – did not do that in the past week.
The Philadelphia Fever fell short in this area on Thursday when they took a poorly conceived route to Long Island and wound up arriving more than an hour after their WPSL Elite League match against the New York Fury was scheduled to begin.
“We went through Times Square,” one player said. “And I don’t think we were supposed to do that.”
It doesn’t take more than a few days in or near New York City to realize Times Square is no place to be in a bus during weekday rush hour. And anyone with rudimentary familiarity with the area knows Manhattan is not on anyone’s list of shortcuts to Long Island on the way up from Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
“Well they should probably get a more competent driver next time,” remarked WPSL commissioner Jerry Zanelli, adding that the team would not be disciplined.
One night later, the W-League match between the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Women and the Colorado Rapids Women kicked off nearly an hour late in Chilliwack, outside of Vancouver. Similar to the Fever’s Times Square blunder, the Rapids Women flew into Seattle and made the long drive north to cross the border.
W-League Commissioner Amanda Duffy said that the league had been made aware ahead of time of some travel issues the Rapids Women were having.
As Fury head coach Paul Riley said, “I’d rather leave at 12 and then go to the mall and eat and walk around the mall for a half hour, and then come to the game to make sure you’re here.”
Fever head coach Stuart Gore called it “a very unfortunate situation for both teams.” In truth the delay did not appear to impact the match. Both teams played hard with the Fury standing out as vastly superior—an expected scenario coming into the match.
Riley and his team remained calm during the delay and came out of the blocks firing despite being held off the scoreboard for better than a half (the Fury eventually prevailed 3-0). The Whitecaps, who drew Colorado 1-1 on Friday, were similarly unaffected by the delay to their game, according to Vancouver head coach Jesse Symons.
Still, the delays are inexcusable for leagues aiming to be taken as next in kin for top flight women’s soccer.
“You want to call it the WPSL Elite league then you have to leave early,” Riley said. “To be at the Holland Tunnel at kickoff time to me is unacceptable. If this was a TV game tonight with WPS what would have happened? We would have been done with Fox Soccer, the whole thing would be done.”
The crowd at Hofstra University on Thursday was small to begin with and many left the stadium prior to the late kickoff. A scheduled halftime match between two local youth clubs was turned into an intra-squad scrimmage when one team left before halftime—which arrived after the match would have ended had it started on time. Only a smattering of fans remained for the second half.
Tom DeBonis, who runs the Fury, elected to allow Riley to speak for the club, but was clearly not pleased with the lateness of the Fever.
“If they don’t approach it professional then how are we going to move forward?” Riley said.
Zanelli said the league is off to a solid start and that they are looking to correct some early mistakes as they look ahead to 2013 and beyond. Having clubs arrive to road matches on time is a basic principle of sports at all levels, and is a mistake WPSL Elite and the W-League would just as soon never see happen again.
With reporting from Harjeet Johal and Jeff Kassouf.