The NWSL, like any professional soccer league, has minimum standards for the surfaces on which its games are played. Those standards aren't arbitrary. They exist to protect the health of the players and to protect the integrity of a game that breaks down if players aren't allowed the space to play the sport as they're trained to do through their entire professional careers.
The NWSL's standards include a minimum field width of 70 yards. This is the field the Western New York Flash hosted the Seattle Reign on today:
Halftime in Rochester, where a picture tells 1,000,000 words. #NWSL #WNYvSEA pic.twitter.com/3uoQGb6S5s— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) July 10, 2016
Situated entirely within the outfield of a baseball stadium, it reportedly was 58 yards wide.
It's easy to see it was not even that wide. That would allow a ridiculous 7 yards of space between each sideline and the 18-yard box and they clearly didn't even have that. It was smaller than most (maybe all) rec games you will play in Seattle. It was smaller than a high school game, and was smaller than any number of facilities that had to be available in upstate New York.
And yet, unfathomably, the league and commissioner Jeff Plush allowed this match in violation of their own standards. A league facing the existential challenge of earning legitimacy in a sporting landscape in which both the sport and the gender of the players who play it are in a constant struggle for respect was willing to flush those gains down a toilet as images from the match went viral across sports media.
The match itself was, predictably, trash. There were no passing sequences because there was no room to pass. The team that relies heavily on assists from long-throw taker Jess McDonald scored two goals off of those 'long throws' that traveled to and beyond the penalty spot on the postage stamp of a field. Haley Kopmeyer injured her ankle, quite seriously based on first impressions. Replacement Andi Tostanoski took a very ill-advised rush out late to get beat for a New York third. Naho scored a goal. Utsugi made her debut as a sub and scored in injury time. Those are some soccerish things that happened. But to even talk about this match as a match is to lend it legitimacy it didn't deserve.
The old saw is that you dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And by the same principle you conduct yourself for the respect you deserve, not the respect you get. These women deserve respect for giving up their time and their bodies and the opportunity to actually earn a living wage for the sport they love and for the supporters that love the teams they represent.
And today the Western New York Flash and the NWSL did not treat their players with respect. They should be ashamed.