USWNT match in Hawaii cancelled over field conditions

U.S. coach Jill Ellis was infuriated at the conditions and let U.S. Soccer Federation officials at the site know her concerns.

Mike Zarrilli

HONOLULU — 

The U.S. women’s national soccer team will not play its scheduled match Sunday at Aloha Stadium due to poor field conditions. The decision came hours after the team practiced for the first time at the stadium, where U.S. striker Alex Morgan called the conditions "horrible."

The decision is drastic, but not completely startling. The team spent the past 48 hours absorbing the bad news that star midfielder Megan Rapinoe had torn her ACL on a University of Hawaii practice field Friday and would require surgery. That field was grass, but also in poor condition.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis was infuriated at the conditions and let U.S. Soccer Federation officials at the site know her concerns. Ellis said Rapinoe’s injury was unfortunate and a big loss for the team, which will seek to qualify in February for the 2016 Olympics. But Ellis was adamant that the poor conditions at Aloha Stadium are a separate matter from Rapinoe’s ACL injury. Ellis cited the narrow width of the pitch at Aloha Stadium as problematic for the players’ health. So was the buckling carpet and a huge, hazardous seam at one end of the field.

The team is here as part of a Victory Tour following its 2015 Women’s World Cup win in July. The match against Trinidad and Tobago is part of FOX Sports commemorative weekend here to remember the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After the team’s decision was made known, an attempt was made to try and salvage the match.

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However, Morgan scorched U.S. Soccer officials about what she charged was a lack of protection of the U.S. women’s national team’s health.

"I think the training grounds that we were given and the playing surface of the stadium were horrible. 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,” Morgan said.

Earlier in the day, Morgan telegraphed the hardline position the women took later that night: "I think the team needs to be a little more vocal … about whether this is good for our bodies and whether we should be playing on it if the men wouldn’t be playing on it. We’ve been told by U.S. Soccer that the field’s condition and the size of the field are the first two talking points of when they decide on a field, so I’m not sure why eight or nine of our 10 Victory Tour games are on turf whereas the men haven’t played on turf this year. There have been zero games, so that’s a concern of mine,” Morgan said.

The most popular player on the U.S. team, Morgan is worth millions of dollars in sponsorship deals and was the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade in the four-year-old National Women’s Soccer League. It is no small matter when a player of Morgan’s stature effectively charges U.S. Soccer Federation officials with failure to protect the U.S. women.

Ellis, too, could barely control her criticism of the process U.S. Soccer has used when picking stadiums for the women’s team. After winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup this summer, the team was contractually entitled to a 10-game Victory Tour — an enterprise that would help promote the vaunted women’s team while bringing some extra pay.

However, with many grass or better turf stadiums booked for football, and given U.S. Soccer’s desire to promote the team in new cities across the U.S., the women have found themselves facing the same conditions that prompted them to mount a legal challenge against FIFA. U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe could not confirm whether the Aloha Stadium field had actually been vetted by anyone at U.S. Soccer.

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"For me, what I hope for, is that we play on regulation fields in terms of size and quality. That’s my expectation from U.S. Soccer,” Ellis said, adding: "You’d have to ask them their process because I don’t really understand the process. My hope is that quality of surface is at the top of the list for the quality of players that we have.”

The shame of it is that as eager as these U.S. women’s team players are to share their World Cup win and to promote women’s soccer, they continue to feel like second-class citizens not only in pay but also in something more elemental as in field conditions.

Poor field conditions, particularly on artificial turf, are a longstanding issue for the U.S. women’s national team, as well as other international women players. A group of top international players, including star U.S. striker Abby Wambach and Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, moved to sue FIFA over the use of turf fields in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The group relented ahead of the tournament, not willing to sink their coveted tournament, but vowed to fight harder for better conditions, and more equitable treatment and pay.

In September, the U.S. backed the Australian women’s national team in their boycott over pay issues. Australia’s strike led to the Matilda’s withdrawal from two of Victory Tour matches against the U.S. women in Detroit and Birmingham.

Now, it appears, the U.S. women are prepared to take a stand of their own — despite whatever misgivings the players have about disappointing their fans. On her Instagram account, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo thanked those fans for "standing tall with us against unsafe field conditions and for #equal treatment.”