USWNT, Canada made to play on flooded pitch in W Gold Cup semifinal

By Meg Linehan, Steph Yang, Jeff Rueter and Tamerra Griffin

The U.S. women’s national team’s match against Canada on Wednesday was marred by a waterlogged field that made normal soccer all but impossible in the semifinal of a regional tournament in San Diego, Ca.

Rain had been falling throughout the first semifinal of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup, the regional championship for the women’s national teams of North and Central America plus the Caribbean. That first semifinal featured Mexico and Brazil (an invited team), and the rain continued to fall in the 90 minutes that separated full time of Brazil’s win and kickoff of the USWNT’s tilt against Canada to determine who would face them in the final.

By the time the U.S. kicked off, it became immediately clear that playing as usual would be all but impossible.

In the 20th minute, forward Jaedyn Shaw took advantage of the conditions at Snapdragon Stadium to put the USWNT ahead. Pouncing on a back pass from Canada that slowed suddenly due to the conditions, Shaw’s finish passed her San Diego Wave teammate and Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for the opening goal.

The steady rainfall that occupied the entire U.S.-Canada warmup subsided shortly after kickoff, but the pitch was already finished. It was a Slip ‘N Slide, scattered with puddles glistening under the lights and making it impossible to predict where the ball would go, or how far. Combined with the chill — it was about 55 degrees at kickoff, which is freezing by Southern California standards — the conditions have tested the teams more than they can test each other.

In the fourth minute, match official Katia García ran the ball over to the sideline to show someone — perhaps the fourth official or a match observer — that the field conditions were unplayable, with the ball barely rolling a few feet before stopping dead in a puddle. Whatever feedback García received sent her back to captains Lindsey Horan and Jessie Fleming, whose teams both gamely attempted to play on a field where no one could make more than a few consecutive touches and passes which abruptly ended in a soggy dead stop more often than not.

“It is solely at the discreation of the referee as to whether the field is safe and playable,” a CONCACAF spokesperson told The Athletic. Another CONCACAF representative said the only protocol they had been given prior to the match was that if lightning occurred within eight miles of the stadium, they would delay the game for about 30 minutes.

In the 11th minute, Trinity Rodman ran over the ball as she attempted to dribble it in a breakaway; the ball again got stuck in a puddle with Rodman carrying on at full speed without it.

There is a case to be made that the team in the less waterlogged half had a legitimate competitive advantage; the US defensive half wasn’t in great shape, but the puddles there were noticeably smaller and the ball could move much more predictably.

Reaction on social media to the playing conditions was universally negative. Former USWNT player Julie Foudy posted, “This is so insane. STOP THE MATCH.” San Diego Wave head coach Casey Stoney, whose NWSL team plays at Snapdragon Stadium, was concerned for the players on the field including multiple representatives from the Wave, writing, “So dangerous!! Make the right call for player safety!”

“Why are the players being put in this situation? No chance these are safe playing conditions,” former USWNT player Sam Mewis also posted on Wednesday night.

(Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for USSF)

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