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History is no excuse for NWSL field debacle

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Frontier Field may have a tradition of hosting soccer games, but that's no excuse.


You've probably heard about it by now: Last Saturday, the Western New York Flash hosted fellow NWSL side Seattle Reign in a secondary venue, baseball stadium Frontier Field in Rochester, due to their typical venue being booked for a concert. The soccer field at Frontier Field was a disaster, pretty much, with the field officially clocking in at 100x58, short of the normal NWSL standard of 100x70 minimum but given a pass by the league anyway. Of equal concern, and not discussed nearly as much in the aftermath, is that the field itself was clearly cockeyed, with the two half-moons at the tops of the respective 18-yard boxes oriented in different directions.

Plenty of criticism has been leveled, and rightly so. NWSL issued a short apology the night of the game, and then the league and teams involved were asked to not comment this week while a promised investigation was evidently taking place.

The Flash issued an apology on Friday, "...We sincerely apologize to the NWSL for tarnishing its reputation and image. We also apologize to the Seattle Reign organization and to the players and fans."

But one element in the same statement is bothering me. It seems those in upstate New York really want to bang the drum about Frontier Field's history with soccer, which is frankly irrelevant in this case.

Local sports reporter Jeff DiVeronica, who is one of the most prominent voices on soccer in the Rochester region, wrote a story on Monday discussing the situation, the response, and reported some key facts related to the debacle. His story, however, featured a lot of talk about the history of Frontier Field as a soccer venue.

The same went for the Flash's official statement: "The venue for the game was moved a few blocks away to Frontier Field, a baseball venue that, in the past, has had a rich history of hosting professional soccer games, including the United States Women's National Team."

But it does not appear previous soccer games, whether they were the men's pro team Rochester Rhinos of the U.S. Women's National Team, had to play a game squeezed onto a baseball field's outfield and with a crooked pitch. Let's suppose for a moment that one of those games was (no evidence to suggest that, but hypothetical here) -- just because a bad standard was used in the past, does that mean it should be used again?

The key fact to come out of this entire story in DiVeronica's piece is that the Flash had no plans to pony up the cash to sod part of the infield, like plenty of other soccer teams do in this country:

Stadium officials and Randall had planned on the old configuration used from 1996-2005, which was 110-by-61. One goal would be in front of the first-base dugout and the other in left field. For most matches, the Rhinos spent about $7,000 per game to cover the dirt infield with removable sod. The Flash weren't going to do that. The Rhinos played on dirt several times, too.

It's entirely reasonable to not play a game partially on dirt, especially a professional, first-division soccer game. It is not reasonable, however, to book a baseball field for "history" reasons and then refuse to make the outlay necessary to provide an adequate field.

And that's where the appeals to Frontier Field's history fall on deaf ears. You can't just say "This venue has so much soccer history!" and then completely fail to live up to that history by turning out subpar standards. Other reports indicate there were alternate venues in the area, and the implication is that the Flash went with Frontier Field to give the local fans a storyline, a connection to the past. It seems that got in the way of common sense, which is pretty bad.

If anything, the continual rallying cries of Mia Hamm playing on Frontier Field back in the day, and of another local pro team, the Rhinos, making the best of the venue when they played there, continues to highlight what a debacle last week's game was. You cannot fall back on the history of something as a good thing if the present won't live up to it. This story will likely continue to spin in a few more directions, from player unrest to the professional standards used in NWSL at this stage, but let's put the historical narrative to bed once and for all.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!