For almost a year, Portland Thorns FC players and staff have discussed how they wanted to repeat as champions on their home field. Providence Park averages about 13,000 fans per game, an anomaly in worldwide women’s soccer. From pure numbers, to passion and soccer culture, no women’s club team can match what goes on in the Rose City.
But anomaly is the key word, as is “want.” Portland didn’t finish in the top two again this year after a flighty season. The Thorns again had to travel to Kansas City as the No. 3 seed and only squeaked into the playoffs with a win over Seattle on the final day of the regular season.
And thus, the match wasn’t in Portland, but in a small college venue in Kansas City, dead in the middle of a miserably hot Midwest day. Field temperatures were purportedly as high as 159 degrees Fahrenheit.
The temperature of the Turf field today. How is this healthy for us??? #Grass2015 #GrassNotTurf pic.twitter.com/YEnnVApra3
— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) August 23, 2014
The Thorns lost, 2-0, ending their season.
During the mandatory cooling breaks in each half, Thorns players were seen standing in ice buckets to cool their feet from the sweltering hot rubber in the artificial turf in Verizon Wireless Field at Durwood Stadium. Graham Hays of espnW reports that some FC Kansas City players took intravenous fluids at halftime.
(There’s a whole conversation in here about that 2015 World Cup Turf War, but we’ll save that for another day…or at least another post.)
Needless to say, Portland wasn’t happy about that, but Thorns coach Paul Riley also took shots at the facility as a whole.
“Who wants to play in this stadium in a semifinal?” Riley said after the match. “It’s terrible conditions for the players. To bring in 14 national team players and have them play under conditions like this in the semifinal, doesn’t make any sense…you can’t play football at this place. It’s impossible.”
Alright, well everyone was playing in the heat — FC Kansas City included. But that isn’t what Riley was getting at. He expanded:
“It’s a semifinal and it looks like nobody’s here, I’m sure, from the TV perspective,” Riley said. “How are you selling the league when it looks like nobody is at the game? How do you sell a league when it looks like there aren’t any sponsors? When you see Portland has 18,000, you want to get involved in this league.”
Riley’s argument is a case of ‘wrong time, wrong place,’ but they are certainly topics that need discussing. The heat was a talking point, but Kansas City’s crowd of 2,997 fans and the venue the Blues use is better suited for the meeting table at a league owners’ meeting.
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is a leader among those pushing for higher standards as the NWSL heads into a critical stretch in Year 3.
Yes, many of the league’s teams need better venues — and Kansas City is not on top of the list. Yes, more than 3,000 people should be at a playoff game (that heat, though).
These are conversations that need to be had, just probably not on Saturday after the match. But guess what? We’re all talking about it, and it’s a temporary distraction from talking about what went wrong with the Thorns. Emphasis on temporary.
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