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Lauletta: Key rule change latest news to slip under the radar

A group of Houston fans wait out a weather delay. The scoreboard behind them shows a caution message.
Photo Copyright Maria Lysaker for USA TODAY Sports

Take a look through the National Women’s Soccer League’s 2024 Competition Rules and Regulations and you may find one interesting and important change. When a match is unable to be completed due to weather or other factors, it will not be declared official unless 75 minutes have been played. This is up from 45 minutes, or more specifically the end of the 1st half.

If a match does not reach the 75-minute mark and is unable to continue, it will be suspended and picked up from the point it was stopped. Every effort will be made to resume the match within 24 hours.

The old rule was on display last season when, on April 28 in Houston, a lightning storm halted the Dash match against the North Carolina Courage during the 52nd minute. After a delay of more than three hours that included a brief warmup before more bad weather was spotted, the game was abandoned and declared official. The Courage were 1-0 winners.

We can debate the merits of this change, which is certainly for the better but maybe not quite far enough. A better question is why it took someone scanning the guidelines on the website for anyone to realize this change. Is this not an important enough difference to the rules that it warranted an announcement?

Contrast this with the NFL, whose PR machine knows how to get it in the news. Recent changes to kickoff rules were announced in detail along with the results of the owners’ vote required to pass it. The week before that, a slew of proposals was announced. It is not a direct comparison since the actual rules of soccer rarely change. But imagine tuning into the NFL opener and seeing the most unusual kickoff ever and asking your friends why because no one ever bothered to make the rule changes public.

This could have happened early in the NWSL season had a match gone into an extended weather delay between 45 and 75 minutes.

An email to NWSL PR seeking comment on why the change was not announced and inquiring as to how new competition guidelines are implemented was not returned.

As to the change itself, 75 is certainly better than 45, but it also feels like anything short of the full 90 is not enough. We may lament when teams are forced to defend through 10 or more minutes of stoppage time, but it feels like a worse option to walk away with three points having never felt the theoretical crush of the 90th minute and stoppage time.

In 2013, the Chicago Red Stars playoff hopes, slim as they were, were officially extinguished when curfew at the Maryland SoccerPlex prevented their match against the Washington Spirit from finishing after a delay. They were trailing 1-0. The match was through 80 minutes meaning even under the new rule, it would have ended early and their playoff hopes along with it.

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The counter to that was the 2019 match in Orlando between the Pride and Thorns. Portland led 3-1 in stoppage time when a lightning strike mandated the match be halted. Despite the two-goal spread and there being less than 2 minutes of gameplay remaining, the teams waited more than 30 minutes before playing the remainder of stoppage time.

Neither of these are ideal and the two examples serve to prove there is no perfect answer to weather delays. It should not though, be too much to ask a league that needs more people to consume it, to kindly relay these sorts of important changes to its customer base.

One other change, also not communicated but mentioned here last week, is the elimination of the double jeopardy rule when a player is sent off for seeing two yellow cards. Last season, Savannah DeMelo received a premature suspension due to the old rule. This year’s beneficiary is Kylie Strom. The Pride defender served a suspension for a double-booking in Week 1. Last week she received another yellow. Her total for purposes of accumulation is one. Last year it would have been two.

The full 2024 competition rules can be found HERE.

Injuries abound

Injuries are already a major issue after three weeks. This week they hit Racing Louisville hard. Elli Pikkujamsa, who went down in Portland last weekend, was diagnosed with a torn patella tendon in her left knee. The Finnish defender had surgery last week and will miss the remainder of the season. Louisville also announced last week that forward Kirsten Wright (nee Davis) had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and has been placed on the 45-day injured list.

If there is a bright side for Pikkujamsa, her injury is the same one Mallory Swanson suffered a year ago this week. Swanson missed the remainder of the year but has looked explosive for the Red Stars through three matches this season and featured in the starting XI for the United States in Saturday’s SheBelieves Cup win over Japan.

During Week 2, Gotham lost Midge Purce to a torn ACL. And the Royals’ first franchise win was dampened by Imani Dorsey suffering a torn Achilles tendon.

Free kicks

  • Bay FC joined the Orlando Pride as the only teams to lose consecutive games in the 90th minute or stoppage time. The Pride did it in early 2023.
  • As we hit the April portion of the schedule it is a good time to note the Thorns have played 25 regular season matches in the month and only lost once. That was April 22, 2017, in North Carolina. Overall the Thorns are 14-1-10 in regular season matches played in April. They play Saturday night—in North Carolina.

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