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Narrow Rochester field brings criticism for NWSL

Soccer games at baseball stadiums are never ideal, but they’ve been done many times before. Heck, one of Major League Soccer’s marquee franchises, NYCFC, is playing at the hallowed ground (well, technically that’s the parking lot) of Yankee Stadium.

There’s ‘not ideal’ and then there is what happened on Saturday in Rochester, N.Y. With the team’s normal home — Rhinos Stadium, located about two blocks away — booked Saturday due to a 90s throwback concert headlined by TLC, the Western New York Flash moved its match against Seattle Reign FC to Frontier Field, a baseball stadium.

So Saturday’s Flash-Reign game moved to Frontier Field, and the result was an extremely narrow field, which livestream announcers quoted at 58 yards wide and 100 yards long. The small field also drew the ire of some U.S. women’s national team players, who were watching the livestream after earlier in the day defeating South Africa, 1-0, as well as Canada captain and Portland Thorns star Christine Sinclair.

FIFA minimum standards stipulate that a field must be at least 50 yards wide and 100 yards long, and that it must be longer than it is wide. NWSL regulations state that a field must be at least 70 yards wide and 100 yards long, but a league spokesman tells The Equalizer that an exemption was granted for this match. Other venues in the area were explored, a spokesman said.

NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush issued the following statement late Saturday:

Earlier this evening, the Western New York Flash hosted a home match at a different venue due to Rhinos Stadium not being available.

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.”

Reign FC midfielder Megan Rapinoe was irate even following Plush’s statement.

And Laura Harvey postgame was emotionally distraught over the field — “I was lied to the whole week,” she said — and the handling of goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer’s injury, in addition to the referee apparently reversing a decision to grant the Flash a goal after seeing a video replay.

Frontier Field is home to Triple-A baseball team Rochester Red Wings, and it has previously been home to the Rhinos in their glory days. The stadium has hosted major Rhinos games as well as important U.S. women’s national team games, including on Sept. 18, 1998, when Mia Hamm scored twice in front of 13,125 fans to become the first American woman to score 100 goals. Frontier Field also hosted a victory-tour match in 2004 after the U.S. women and hometown hero Abby Wambach won the Olympic gold medal.

The field was so narrow on Saturday because it did not stretch into the infield of the baseball diamond. Previous soccer matches there have overlapped the infield.

It is unclear which other facilities were explored to host the event. The 90s throwback concert at Rhinos Stadium was scheduled prior to the announcement of the NWSL schedule. The Rhinos have a home game at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday at Rhinos Stadium against Orlando.

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