Major League Soccer has more than a little explaining to do.
American sports fans and casual soccer supporters may not be aware that soccer/football is actually a winter sport. A match being played on a snowy field or even during a significant winter storm isn't all that uncommon in several countries located around the world. With that said, the decision to move Wednesday's New York Red Bulls vs. DC United MLS Playoff game to Thursday evening due to the nor'easter that rocked an already battered NYC/NJ area was a no-brainer, and anybody who disagrees with that statement is flat out wrong.
Why it took MLS so long to make the call remains a mystery to me.
"All the indications we had was for inclement weather, but not a snowfall of this magnitude" was what Nelson Rodriguez, the league's executive vice president of competition, technical, and game operations, had to say on the matter. That would be a fine and acceptable explanation if it wasn't completely inaccurate. Weather reports that aired on local TV on Tuesday night which hinted we could be in for some snow by match kickoff had, by noon on Wednesday, evolved into predictions that all-but guaranteed that three to four inches of snow would be on the ground before 8 pm ET. Drivers in and around Manhattan were asked to be off of the roads by 5 pm. Students and employees in multiple towns were sent home early.
Regardless, those running the show in the MLS front offices (and maybe those at NBC Sports Network, as well) decided not to postpone the match. The official Twitter account for the Red Bulls defiantly posted messages about the game still being on despite the weather worsening throughout the afternoon and early evening hours, and fans had to choose between remaining safe and warm in their homes and going out on dangerous and untreated roadways in order to watch a soccer game. Most fans with tickets chose Option A, a fact that was very clear at the start of the NBC Sports broadcast.
This is when things went from odd and bizarre to disgraceful and shameful. Workers, volunteers and even RBNY fans took to the pitch in an attempt to shovel snow off of the playing surface. They were unable to keep up with the amount of snow falling onto the field, however, and kickoff was pushed back to 8:29 pm. That time came and went without any players taking the pitch, and the match was ultimately postponed just before 9:00 pm.
I want to point out that I'm a RBNY fan who believes no MLS game should be played at Red Bull Arena this week. You have to live in this area to truly grasp the devastation that was caused by Hurricane Sandy and the storm's aftermath. The PATH train that's normally used by thousands of fans on match days isn't running to Harrison. NJ Transit remains a mess. I have friends in nearly every corner of New Jersey that are still without power and/or heat and/or hot water. For some in the area, heading to Red Bull Arena is more than just a nuisance. It's an ask, one that's just not worth it on this day.
Despite having half a day to do so, MLS didn't get the call right on Wednesday. Despite elected officials in and around NYC asking people to remain indoors, despite public transportation being slowed to a crawl and even halted in some areas, despite those who couldn't catch a bus to the arena having to drive on snow-covered roads during a mini-blizzard at night, despite parts of Harrison, Long Island, Hoboken and other towns and cities again losing power, the league refused to protect players, workers and fans until the final second. Then, to top it all off, those fans who braved the storm to watch the game that wasn't to be had to venture back out into the storm to make it home.
In short, Major League Soccer owes these two fan bases and in a big way. The league owes the DC United faithful who journeyed to Red Bull Arena, supporters who never should have even boarded buses on Wednesday in the first place. The league owes RBNY fans who found a way to get to the arena last night, individuals who have, in the past week, struggled to remain warm and sane, people who have recently had far too many "how are you doing/how did you make out/how is everyone you know?" conversations with friends and family members.
I don't blame any person who decides to stay inside rather than go to tonight's playoff contest. I'll be doing the same for several reasons. My hope is that all fans who enter Red Bull Arena this evening, regardless of team affiliation, are well taken care of; and no, I don't mean a discount on merchandise.
Those people deserve at least a free beer, don't you think?
- Sports & Recreation
- Major League Soccer
- New York Red Bulls