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Mandated water breaks are not “absolutely ridiculous”

It seems like player safety should be primary concern over team advantages.

Houston Dynamo v Chicago Fire
Robinson in his playing days.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Watching the Houston Dynamo-Vancouver Whitecaps scoreless draw from this past weekend, I didn’t expect any storylines to jump right out at me. Yes, there were some close calls on goal, Erick Torres got a rare start, a couple good saves, but it was another part of the game entirely that I want to talk about.

This season, MLS has implemented a standard for having mandated water breaks in each half, if the temperature is above a certain threshold, in this case "82 Wet Bulb Globe Temperature."

The standard is clear. It’s July, temperatures are soaring all over the continent, and giving players a chance to grab a drink of water is reasonable and useful.

Except that’s not what Houston’s broadcast thought. They had a bizarre narrative running through the game that the hydration breaks were a disadvantage for the Dynamo, who are accustomed to playing in hot weather and evidently don’t need the hydration breaks.

Here’s what color commentator Eddie Robinson said on the matter during the first-half hydration break:

"This is ridiculous, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. You don’t get an oxygen break when you go to Denver or Utah. I’m not sure there’s ever been one heat-related illness in Houston, in Dallas, maybe now in Orlando, when it comes to Major League Soccer. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, and yes, it’s a disadvantage for the Dynamo, but what are you going to do?"

Well, maybe you just move with the march of history and accept hydration breaks?

I don’t see how this is remotely controversial. I understand the logic in a vacuum, that because Houston players are accustomed to the unique features of life in that area, the heat and humidity is something they are more used to and that can be an advantage when they play at home.

But the comparison to altitude in Denver and Utah is not valid. For one thing, those places may be in high altitude, but athletes do not generally get sick from said altitude. If there was a stadium on top of Mount Everest, however, then yes, there would be frequent breaks because you can die from being in air that thin.

At the same time, I think Robinson’s assertion that there has never been a heat-related illness for a player in Texas or Florida doesn’t mean a lot. The planet appears to be getting hotter every year. Athletes of all ages in all sports can become very ill or even die from the effects of heat. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it couldn’t in the future. If giving players 90 seconds to get a drink of water is going to help prevent that, so be it.

And there is at least one case of an MLS player getting sick from heat exhaustion, as Jimmy Conrad famously had to be pulled from a game at Giants Stadium when temperatures reached 118 degrees on the field.

The Dynamo broadcast also mentioned the "advantage" of hydration breaks, in that coaches could effectively hold quick timeouts with their players to make adjustments in the game. It may not be a strict advantage in that both teams take advantage of it, generally, although I did find it hilarious when Louis van Gaal was hailed as some kind of genius for coaching during hydration breaks at the 2014 World Cup. Coaches who don’t talk to their players during the break are probably inadequately doing their jobs more than anything, but I digress.

Above all, it’s clear that hydration breaks are becoming a standardized part of the game, one meant to maintain player safety, something that teams should find a reasonable expectation. If that means Houston players sacrifice some of their so-called advantage, fine. What’s absolutely ridiculous is not the implementation of the hydration breaks during games, but the resistance to them altogether.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!