While the NWSL is on Hurricane Watch, Rory Dames says what we’re all thinking

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In the latest edition of “The NWSL needs a Commissioner”, we have a hurricane set to hit North Carolina as early as today. Hurricane Florence will hit the Tar Heel state just three days before the North Carolina Courage host the Chicago Red Stars for Sunday’s NWSL semifinal match.

Late Thursday afternoon–roughly ten minutes after a scheduled conference call with players and coaches from Sunday’s competing teams–the league released a statement regarding forthcoming hurricane:

“The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), in conjunction with the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars, continue to monitor the changing forecast of Hurricane Florence as it relates to the potential of the NC Courage’s NWSL Semifinal home playoff game being played as scheduled on Sunday, Sept. 16, at 3 p.m. ET.

 

The league and teams continue to explore all options and scenarios that would ultimately permit the match to be played in front of the NC Courage home fans.

 

The safety of the fans, players and staff, as well as the ability for the Red Stars to travel to North Carolina safely, remains the top priority for NWSL. An announcement as to the status of the match will be made as soon as reasonably possible.

However, for Chicago head coach Rory Dames, we’re already beyond “as soon as reasonably possible”. The league, in his mind, should have made the decision two days ago. “The hardest thing when preparing the team for a game is you always kind of work backwards from the game,” said Dames on a media call Wednesday afternoon. 

He was insistent the decision should consider not solely Sunday’s tip-off time (3:00 p.m ET), but also the travel his team will have to endure, presumably through inclement weather, to get to North Carolina. 

I understand the wanting the wait as long as possible to see the next phase projections and all those things but it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of rain–best case scenario–a lot of rain is going to fall. The weather conditions are going to be bad and we still have no idea what we’re doing. So it just kind of leaves an anxious uncomfortable feeling on everybody involved.”

Earlier today, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper feared time was running low for residents to relocate from coastal areas, according to reports by NPR.  The rain accompanying the hurricane is expected to be more than any other hurricane to hit the area and is projected to last through Monday.

Match delays or postponements are not something new to NWSL players. This year alone,  teams have played through rain storms and smoke from wildfires. North Carolina defender Abby Erceg is content to place her faith in the the league, “I mean there’s not a lot we can do about it. We’ve had a lot of delays with weather delays and obviously with the Orlando game, we were delayed there as we. so you kinda just have to take it in hand. The decisions that the league make at the end of the day or what’s going to be best for the players.”

Chicago striker and two-time golden boot winner Sam Kerr felt more or less the same, but added, “I think this one is a little bit different. This one is a little bit more dangerous.” She noted when the smoke threatened a game cancellation in Seattle, the players felt they could play and wanted to play. Kerr and her head coach don’t believe the numerous circumstances and possible scenarios surrounding Hurricane Florence are the same. 

Courage head coach Paul Riley offered a few potential alternatives to Sahlen Stadium if need be, “We’ll play in the local parking lot … we’re playing anywhere and you know obviously at this point it’s more about the safety of everybody That’s the most important part.” While Riley alluded to being comfortable changing the date of the match, it was unclear if he would be open to relocating to Chicago, or even Portland and giving up home field advantage. 

Though, Dames is not calling for the match to be moved to Chicago, he just wants it moved! “It’s just an uncomfortable situation. And when you see all these other events getting canceled and college football games getting canceled and all the youth soccer games from the [North Carolina] triangle area are getting canceled. It’s kind of a head-scratcher, what the thought processes and what common sense is and is not,” added Dames. 

Adding to his confusion is the fact that the NWSL has neither made a decision nor made it clear who would have the final say. “ I think the normal answer is the commissioner,” said Dames when asked where the buck stops. “But since there isn’t one. I’m honestly not sure. You know, I’m sure there’s a lot of people involved.” The NWSL has operated without a commissioner since March 2, 2017.  If the league decides to have the game in North Carolina on the scheduled day or otherwise, Dames will leave the final decision to whether to travel to his players and staff.
I’m not going to mandate somebody step on a plane and fly into something that they are not comfortable with or they fear for their safety,” Dames told the media Wednesday afternoon. ” Each person has got to make their own decision … once that decision is made or once we’re told what’s happening then we’ll have another talk amongst the group and people can make the decisions that they think are best for them.”
Many believe the North Carolina Courage should enjoy the home field advantage they earned as shield winners, but we might be beyond that. If the storm makes the pitch unsafe or causes an additional burden of travel for Chicago, the NWSL is jeopardizing everything from attendance and sales, to the health and safety of its players and staff.
Dames believes the best solution is to move the game to Portland. It seems the sensible plan to offer safety without any particular advantage to one team over another. Neither team would have home-field advantage, both must factor in travel, and to boot, the winner is already in Portland–the predetermined location of the 2018 NWSL Final. Furthermore, if any fanbase can muster up a crowd last minute, my money is on the Rose City Riveters.
As of now, no decision has been made. Backline Soccer will update this story as more information is available.