NWSL championship final moved from Portland to Louisville after player complaints

·4 min read

The National Women’s Soccer League championship has a new venue and start time.

The league and its Players Association announced Wednesday that this year’s championship final has been relocated from Portland to Louisville and will be played at noon “at the request of players.” The championship game’s initial location and kick off time — in Portland with a 9 a.m. start Pacific time — was met with widespread criticism by players and their supporters when announced last month.

“The NWSL and the NWSL Players Association have made progress over the past week on issues concerning player safety, transparency, and moving the League forward in a new direction,” the joint statement read.

The game's relocation means the game will now kick off at 12 p.m. Eastern time at the Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky, a soccer-specific stadium where NWSL's Racing Louisville FC regularly play.

The controversy surrounding the championship final was partly the result of a limited game time window by CBS, which will broadcast the match, because of college football broadcast commitments, and the lack of bids from NWSL teams to host the game.

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Players were also upset that the final would be played on a turf field rather than grass. The Portland stadium has a turf field. The Louisville stadium has Bermuda grass.

Turf has long been a controversial surface for professional soccer players to play on. For years, the United States Women’s National Team was vocal about their desire to avoid the surface as often as possible. In 2015, the team boycotted a match in Hawaii during their World Cup victory tour due to the poor condition of the artificial turf they were expected to play on.

The issue with turf is complicated. The ball moves differently on turf than it does on grass, the standard for some of the best soccer leagues in the world. There have also been reports that athletes are more susceptible to injury when playing on turf.

In a statement on Wednesday, Portland Thorns FC, which was slated to host the championship final in their home venue of Providence Park, said it supported the decision to relocate.

“We were the only NWSL club that submitted an initial bid to host the game despite the early 9 a.m. kickoff time, which was less than ideal for our fans and players,” the club said. “We are happy there is a resolution that works for all parties. For those who have already purchased tickets, more information is forthcoming.”

“We hope that our fans will understand that this move is made with the support of the NWSL, the Players Association, the Portland Thorns, and Racing Louisville,” the league and union said in their joint statement. “Portland understood the importance of listening to the players, and Louisville stepped up to host. Players embraced the opportunity to kick off at noon local time in another fantastic venue."

This season, the NWSL expanded playoffs to include six teams for the first time in the league's nine-year history. The last round of regular season games will be played on Oct. 31, and playoffs begin Nov. 6. The championship final is slated for Nov. 20.

Last month, several players were outspoken in sharing their disappointment with the original plans for the championship final. Some called the decision to play a game on turf and at 9 a.m. "laughable" and said players "deserve better." The collective uproar, however, was met with little action at the time.

But, in recent weeks, as the league and its players navigated scandal after scandal, this joint decision to relocate the match is the first sign that the league is willing work with players towards some much-needed change within the league.

Last week, when the NWSL returned to play — after a weekend of postponed games in the wake of a scathing report by The Athletic that exposed years of alleged sexual harassment and abuse within the league, the Players Association unleashed a string of coordinated protests. One of those actions included releasing a list of eight demands with a Wednesday deadline for the NWSL to oblige.

Some of those deadlines were extended by five days, both sides said.

“We are all dedicated to rebuilding a league that protects and promotes the best athletes in the world and that is focused on the players, their health, and their safety,” the joint statement continued. “The Players Association and the NWSL have also worked to come to an agreement on several of the demands set forth by the PA last week. Both parties have agreed to a good faith five-day extension on the remaining items to finalize details and logistics and keep this progress moving forward.”

Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. Follow her on Twitter @melanieanzidei.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NWSL championship moved from Portland to Louisville after complaints