They're playing WHERE? 6 worst venues in American soccer - non-MLS division
Pele’s debut on the green dirt of Randall’s Island
When Pele played the final game of his North American adventure with the New York Cosmos on Oct. 1, 1977, it took place at a jam-packed Giants Stadium, with millions watching on television as arguably the single most influential person in American soccer history made his curtain call.
But the Brazilian legend’s NASL debut two years prior took place in a far different setting: Downing Stadium, a Depression-era facility that was hardly an appropriate theater for the greatness of O Rei.
Located on Randall’s Island, a small island between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, and historically known for insane asylums and homeless shelters, Downing was inconvenient to reach, apparently had no running water at the time and was marked by broken bottles, graffiti and many other signature signs of ‘70s urban decay.
Correspondingly, the pitch itself was mostly dirt and weeds. But when Pele was suddenly on the marquee, CBS Sports elected to broadcast the spectacle live, and the groundskeepers had to do some last-minute refurbishments … in the form of simply painting the dirt green.
“Pele had this sort of green fungus on his leg,” Clive Toye, general manager of the Cosmos later recalled. “He thought he had caught a disease in his first 45 minutes playing in New York but all it was the green paint coming off.”
USWNT and the Hawaiian holdout
Up next is a match that – thankfully – never actually took place.
The U.S. women’s national team barnstormed the country on a “Victory Tour” after winning a third World Cup in 2015, determined to thank its adoring fans while spreading the game to places that didn’t often get to watch them in person. It was a fine idea (and a hefty payday for both players and federation to boot).
In that sense, its December visit to Hawaii for a friendly ver Trinidad & Tobago was a laudable effort to share the love with a state that often gets left out of these sorts of things. The problem was that the facilities in Honolulu turned out to be well below the usual standard. Way, way below.
For a team already stewing over its uneasy relationship with the federation, the last straw came when Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL on a University of Hawaii practice field that had “plates,” in coach Jill Ellis’ words, just outside the lines.
When its pregame training session at Aloha Stadium revealed buckling, gaps and dangerous seams on the artificial turf – U.S. Soccer later could not confirm that iits had inspected the field before booking the venue – the players refused to play, and documented the conditions via their various social-media streams:
— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) December 6, 2015
— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) December 13, 2015
“I think the training grounds that we were given and the playing surface of the stadium were horrible,” Alex Morgan told Fox Soccer. “I think it’s hard because no one’s really going to protect us but ourselves. So we’re put in a very hard position because obviously we want to play in front of these fans and we want to train before the game, but injuries happen when you don’t protect yourself and when you’re not protected from those higher up from you.”
NWSL’s Flash, Reign play on a postage stamp
The National Women’s Soccer League has achieved some great things. But July 9, 2016, is a day that will live in NWSL infamy.
That’s when the Western New York Flash hosted the Seattle Reign for a league match that had to be relocated from Sahlen’s Stadium, the team's soccer-specific home in Rochester, to baseball’s Frontier Field in Buffalo. Sahlen’s, you see, was booked for a ‘90s throwback concert featuring TLC, SWV and Jagged Edge that day.
Soccer at a baseball venue can quirky and fun. But not when the hosts refuse to take the extra time and expense to cover the infield dirt with temporary grass, forcing the field to be squeezed down to a comical 58 yards wide. Perhaps it’s fitting that even now, more than a year later, the audio in the official highlights video is an uninterrupted barrage of static:
Predictably, it turned the game into something of a farce, made worse by some questionable refereeing and what the Reign said was the gross mishandling of Seattle goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer when she injured.
The images of that ludicrous pitch went viral around the world, giving the league a black eye and drawing scathing condemnation from fans, coaches and prominent NWSL players.
“I was told the field was 110-by-61 (yards). That’s 100-by-58,” said Reign coach Laura Harvey postgame. “I got lied to the whole week. I’m not making excuses. We knew what they were going to do but that’s not acceptable. This league is supposed to be professional. That’s not good enough.”
Dan Borislow and MagicJack give WPS the finger at FAU
If you thought that Flash-Reign game was shambolic, it’s got absolutely nothing on the strange, shameful episode that was MagicJack, in the final year of Women’s Professional Soccer’s existence. There are quite simply far too many stories to fit them all here, but many can be found on Deadspin, ESPNW and elsewhere.
Hemorrhaging money and teams by the end of its second season, WPS badly needed help to survive in 2011, starting with an owner who could take over the Washington Freedom from the Hendricks family. In stepped Borislow, an opinionated women’s soccer devotee whose magicJack internet phone gadget had made him a multimillionaire.
He quickly renamed the Freedom and moved it from the Maryland SoccerPlex to main soccer field at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, near his palatial beachside home.
“Magic Dan” was eager to provide support for Abby Wambach, Christie Pearce and the rest of his new possession’s superstar players, who he considered national treasures. But he had no time for nearly every other aspect of operating a professional sports team, from advertising to staffing to even basic medical care for reserve players who did not meet his high expectations.
That included minimum standards for MagicJack’s home venue, which was a fine college facility but too small for WPS and U.S. Soccer Federation standards, and in need of various trappings to bring it up to code. Borislow repeatedly refused to place WPS ad boards around the pitch, make players or coaches available to media, record video footage of games, add seats to bring the capacity up to the minimum of 5,000 – or even the 2,500 that could be allowable via a waiver – or even run a functional team website.
MagicJack was cited, fined, docked points and draft picks. But Borislow did not budge and eventually took the league to court, poisoning the well so thoroughly that WPS’ decision to go dark after three seasons was met with almost as much relief as sadness by those centrally involved.
The Magic of the Cup: Noise complaints from angry neighbors!
The U.S. Open Cup is the darling of hardcore soccer enthusiasts for many reasons, not least the pub teams and obscure locations found in its early rounds.
Things got extra-grassrootsy during a first-round match between PDL side Derby City Rovers and amateur outfit Tartan Devils FC (from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) at the Woehrle Athletic Complex in Jeffersonville, Indiana back in May.
The venue is basically a municipal sports complex located right next to a residential neighborhood. And one of the locals got so upset with the supporters’ drums and other typical sounds of a meaningful soccer match that she charged out onto the field and forced a stoppage of play, complaining that her kids were unable to get to sleep:
— Thomas Rademaker (@RademakerThomas) May 11, 2017
We don’t mean to criticize the Rovers for having the misfortune of a belligerent neighbor. It’s just too amazing of an incident to leave off this list.
Half of Rayo OKC’s pitch goes missing
Many thought the idea of a smallish Spanish club like Rayo Vallecano setting up a NASL affiliate club in Oklahoma City – already home to a USL team – was strange, even ill-advised when it became reality ahead of the 2016 season. Things would get a great deal weirder from there, however.
To their credit, Rayo OKC’s management realized that the hard, gridiron-marked artificial turf at their home ground of choice, a high-school football venue called Miller Stadium in Yukon, Oklahoma, would not be up to professional soccer standards.
So they bought a “Nexxfield” system, a soccer-specific synthetic surface comprised of pallets that would be laid atop the existing field to make a wider pitch of suitable quality, bringing the game close to spectators in the process.
However, to put it bluntly, Rayo OKC was a bad idea from top to bottom. And when a rift opened up among the ownership group in charge, locally-based investor Sean Jones – who’d bought the turf – feared that the club would sell it off, robbing him of his investment.
So he spirited half of it away, under cover of darkness.
“I had so little trust in them that I genuinely believed they were selling it,” he later said. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done it this way.”
The whole weird, silly, scarcely-believable story can be found here.