This is a weekend when Vancouver Whitecaps were hoping that the city would be abuzz with chat about the forthcoming Manchester City friendly and the team in general.
The Caps have become the talk of the town, but it’s not the kind of chatter that they will be welcoming.
Today’s postponement of the MLS match against Real Salt Lake, is a huge PR disaster for both the Club and the League.
What exactly went wrong? Could it have been avoided? Can blame be apportioned? Should it be?
There’s these questions and a lot more, and the finger pointing has been going on all day.
A lot of it has been coming out of Utah and this hasn’t helped fan the flames or extinguish the anger of the Real Salt Lake supporters.
RSL coach Jason Kreis was very blunt on the Club’s official website, although he did agree that calling the game off was the right decision:
“The coaches did get to walk along the sideline, but not on the field because it was tarped over. In our opinion it was probably a pretty good decision; the grass was pretty long and there was water coming up every time we took a step.”
“You do have to take into consideration the health and well-being of the players, so I’d have to say that this was the right call based on the amount of the field I was able to walk on.”
When asked about whether Vancouver should forfeit the match, however, his unhappiness with events was evident:
“I do think there is a leg to stand on for saying that it could be a forfeit because [Whitecaps FC] is responsible for providing a playing surface that we can play on. With decisions to play international friendlies could come some accountability for what that is going to mean for your league games.”
Real Salt Lake fans have been a bit more hysterical in their reactions, fuelled by the Man City game, the fact that their team is in the middle of a hectic schedule and a number of fans made the trip north of the border to see the match.
They can abuse the Whitecaps all they want, but remember, the Caps would not be playing this friendly or putting down this new pitch without the full backing of the League.
Calls for a forfeit and compensation are frankly ridiculous.
As the two country witch-hunt continues at full pace, there are two seperate questions to address in the farce.
Firstly, was the decision to postpone the match this morning the correct one? And secondly, should the Whitecaps have even installed a temporary grass pitch?
Although connected, they are also two very different issues.
On the first point, the decision to call of the game was 100% the correct one.
If the pitch is in any way unplayable, player safety has to be the main factor to be considered, followed by whether the ball can run smoothly.
I applaud the Whitecaps for taking the decision early and calling the game off, rather than starting it and then having to abandon it as conditions deteriorate.
The early decision allowed the Caps and media to lets as many fans know as possible to prevent unnecessary travel.
I have a huge lot of sympathy for the travelling RSL fans. None of that helps them.
I made the trip to Rio Tinto Stadium in June and I would have been mightily pissed off if I’d spent hundreds on a flight, hotel and ticket and then found myself in the same situation.
Turning up to a football match and finding it postponed is a horrible feeling and your emotions have so much anger and disappointment battling for attention. It’s happened to me numerous times in Scotland and it never gets any better.
Sometimes the games were called off whilst we were on the way on the supporters bus or in the car and we could turn back, but on too many occasions we were already at the ground when the decision was made.
In Scotland yesterday, Hibs friendly with Barnsley was postponed due to the pitch being unplayable after heavy rain overnight. That was due to take place at their normal grass Easter Road pitch. A pitch which has draining.
Notably, Barnsley fans that made the trip up from England are not asking for refunds of their expenses.
The thing is, this happens. It’s part of playing football on grass pitches and in all weather conditions.
Of course my previous experiences have all happened with permanent grass pitches, which brings me nicely to the second main point to question in all this.
Should Vancouver have even installed a grass pitch at Empire in the first place?
I’m an old fashioned soul. I believe that football should be played on grass and didn’t hide my excitement that the Caps were going to play two home games on a proper pitch.
I even wrote my Metro column about that very fact yesterday, now rather unfortunately entitled “Pitch Perfect”.
The company that installed the Caps pitch, also installed the Sounders one which they used today and on which they will play Manchester United next week.
It rained in Seattle overnight, albeit less than here, and their pitch held up this afternoon against Colorado. Players did slip and slide a little on the wet surface, but it didn’t rip up.
So those casting aspersions on the lawn company not knowing what they are doing, are far off the mark.
Seattle’s field was installed last week and had an extra seven days for the soil to fully bed in. Vancouver could not do this due to the BC Lions game at Empire last Friday.
Questions do have to be asked though that there didn’t seem to be any drainage in the pitch. Crazy stuff in Vancouver – the City of Raingels (as Scooby Doo might say).
Did no-one exepct rain or was it simply that no-one expected so much and/or for this to happen? Would drainage have made any difference to the situation?
The pitch could not be covered, or the new turf would simply not be able to breathe and die. A tent solution may have been possible to protect it. This would likely have proven to be very costly, although in hindsight, today’s postponement and concerns about Monday’s friendly would make this seem like money very well spent now.
But should we even had gone to the bother of pissing about with a grass pitch in the first place?
If we wanted to have an international friendly, then we had no option. The top European sides will not play on field turf and I don’t blame them, but should we bow to their demands so readily when they are making good money coming on North American tours?
I do blame this obsession with playing meaningless matches right in the middle of important league games, but then anyone that knows me could tell you that I detest mid-season friendlies.
That’s an issue for another day and I’m trying to put those feelings aside and look at this rationally.
The Man City friendly has created a bit of a buzz with some. You know, the people that won’t take the Caps or MLS seriously if we can’t be seen in a comparable light to European teams.
A good performance from the Caps could finally persuade some of these fans to come to the games, become season ticket holders and support their local team.
There is no doubt that the chance to see some top players is always an exciting prospect and part of me is looking forward to seeing them on Monday, whilst part of me really couldn’t give a toss.
Do the Whitecaps NEED to have a game against a team like Man City? To get the exposure they crave, then they sadly may need to.
The Club are not going to be making much money on this game. They’re not doing this to make a quick killing. If that’s what interested them here, they would not have given 16,000 season ticket holders free tickets.
It’s all about the exposure and they’re certainly getting some of that right now! Football fans throughout North America are certainly talking about us.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re already sold on the Caps and the MLS. You and me aren’t the kind of fan these friendlies are aimed at.
The Whitecaps probably shouldn’t have gone for the glamour or installed the grass pitch, and in arranging the game, possibly jeopardize league points and sustain injuries to players through excess games.
The fact that the Caps season is as good as over, does make this last point a bit moot now.
If it hadn’t rained overnight and had been a glorious week of summer weather, none of us would be talking about anything but how good it was to see the Caps play at home on grass.
As it is, the Club now have to weigh up whether all the bad publicity, and some bad blood, is cancelled out by a ‘glamour’ friendly and the global exposure the Caps will get with it.
The plan may have been to showcase the domestic game here in North America to a worldwide audience, but this current round of international friendlies may end up proving to be a major embarrassment to MLS on many levels – pitches, performances, crowds and perception.
The question on the lips of many Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake fans tonight seems to be: “Is it all worth it?”.[*** Picture above courtesy of Chris Deal ***]