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Despite heat warning, no changes yet planned for Reign, Sounders or Defiance games

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NWSL extreme heat policy might delay OL Reign game.

Thermometer Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The National Weather Service in Seattle has issued an excessive heat watch for this weekend, as an uncharacteristic and long-lasting heat wave is expected to settle over the Pacific Northwest from Friday through at least Monday. All three Puget Sound region pro soccer teams — OL Reign, Seattle Sounders, and Tacoma Defiance — have home games this weekend, and as of now all games are expected to proceed as scheduled.

The first game of the weekend, OL Reign hosting NJ/NY Gotham FC in their annual Pride Match, is planned to kick off on Saturday at 1 PM PT at Cheney Stadium. The temperature in Tacoma is currently forecast to be 91°F at kickoff, climbing to 96°F by the final whistle. A team spokesperson told Ride of the Valkyries that, as of Tuesday evening, the team and league were aware of the forecast and weather alert, but no decision had been made at a league level about whether to shift the kickoff time to avoid the hottest part of the day.

It’s been just over four years since Houston Dash striker Rachel Daly collapsed at the end of a midday game against the then-Seattle Reign FC in Houston and had to be taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion. Following that incident the NWSL updated their policies on scheduling mid-afternoon games, mandated hydration breaks when the heat index is above 82°F, and new for 2021, added a policy to delay a game if the heat index is above 95°F. Due to the nuances of how the readings are taken (45 and 10 minutes before kickoff, and at the end of the first half) it’s possible that the Reign game will just barely miss the threshold for delay, especially if the pitch is aggressively watered to help cool it.

Later on Saturday, the Sounders host the Vancouver Whitecaps, with kickoff just after 6 PM PT. Temperatures in downtown Seattle at that hour are forecast to be 93°F, with pitch temperatures almost certainly much hotter as the FieldTurf infill will absorb solar radiation through the day. MLS follows policies on hydration breaks similar to the NWSL, but does not have a similar rule about delaying games due to excessive heat. Instead, they have a more general policy where games can be postponed if “continuation of play would pose a threat to the safety of participants or spectators.” A Sounders spokesperson told Sounder at Heart that they were unaware of any plans to delay the start.

Of note, another Saturday evening MLS game, Minnesota at Portland, has already been pushed back 30 minutes to an 8 PM PT kickoff, due to even hotter temperatures forecast in the Portland area.

The final game of the weekend sees Tacoma Defiance host LA Galaxy II at 1:30 PM on Sunday. That game might be the hottest of the three, with a forecast high at kickoff of 94°F, climbing to 98°F by the end of the match. The USL Championship does not have their competition rules posted online, but generally follows policies similar to those of MLS for hydration breaks.

None of the three games are on national TV — the Reign are on Paramount+, the Sounders are on JOEtv/Prime, and the Defiance are on ESPN+ — so there should not be any issues with adjusting kickoff times due to TV slots. Likewise, the Tacoma Rainiers are on the road until next Thursday, so Cheney Stadium does not need to be converted for baseball use immediately after the Defiance’s Sunday afternoon game. The biggest impediment to delaying kickoffs is probably financial — if the Reign and Defiance games were pushed back to evening kickoffs, both Gotham FC and Los Dos would likely need to stay in the region for an extra night rather than fly out on the same day after their respective matches conclude. The leagues, however, could move both games up to morning kickoffs while temperatures are more than 10 degrees cooler.