On Saturday, the Riverhounds SC couldn’t overcome Mother Nature, even as they carried a 1-0 lead into the half against Memphis 901 FC at Auto Zone Park.
They would never return to the field. After a two-and-a-half hour weather-related delay due to initial lightning strikes, then constant rain that followed, the game was abandoned officially at 11:02 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Per USL Championship Rules, the match will now have to be played in its entirety at a later date. This means that the Riverhounds SC will have to make the same trek, one of the longest in its schedule, back to Western Tennessee, for a second time later this season.
— Memphis 901 FC (@Memphis901FC) May 19, 2019
While there was some initial confusion, even on my part, as the USL rules had changed in the off season. All matches that are abandoned now must be played as another full-90 minute match at a later date. This rule has already been used once this season. Birmingham Legion FC and the New York Red Bulls II match on April 6 was suspended in the first half after the Red Bulls II had taken a 1-0 lead. They’re going to replay that one from the start on Oct. 16.
Other soccer leagues and governing bodies have different rules for what they do when a match is abandoned.
Here’s a look at some of the lack of consistency across the pro soccer landscape for match postponement rules:
- USL – a match is not official until after 70 minutes of play. Also, if a match that has begun cannot resume, the match will have to be replayed in its entirety, as we learned on Saturday.
- US Soccer rules (mostly applies to US Open Cup play) remain steadfast that if a match is abandoned anytime after 45 minutes (one half) have been played, the game will be official.
- According to Major League Soccer (MLS.com), if a match is abandoned at any point prior to its conclusion, it will be postponed, rather than cancelled and/or final. In the event the match is postponed at any point, any remaining time will be completed the following day or as soon as practical. This was the rule in USL Championship (previously USL) through last season.
Prior to the 2018 season, Saturday’s match would have been declared a Riverhounds SC victory, then in January 2018, the USL changed its rules to make each match official after the 70th minute mark, and then this off season, in a relatively quiet rules change, the added part about all abandoned matches having to be played in its entirety again came in November after the USL Technical Committee voted on a new proposal.
How did this come about?
Well, we can look no further than Louisville Slugger Field, another baseball field doing its best impression to be a soccer playing surface.
When FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC played one of the more bizarre soccer matches a season ago, when a Saturday night, September 8, 2018 match was halted due to the effects of a tropical storm, the teams reconvened at Louisville Slugger Field the following Tuesday night. What resulted was a concluded match with approximately the remaining 52 minutes of the game played out three days later, with FCC winning 1-0, after a Corben Bone goal scored in the 23rd minute held up.
After that match, and a few others that ended up playing out the same way last season in USL, there were a lot of unhappy coaches pushing for changes.
FCC’s then head coach, Alan Koch, spoke out. Louisville City FC’s head coach John Hackworth‘s also voiced his concerns about the USL’s policy of abandoning matches and resuming them at the point they were stopped.
“It’s just an impossible situation – playing that short of a game,” Hackworth said after that matched completed after four days. “Credit to them. You know, they did what they had to do… It’s my first time trying to even coach in this situation and I’m going to absolutely go to the league meetings in November and say this is ridiculous. This is ridiculous. This has to change.”
These concerns were indeed brought to the attention of the USL’s Technical Committee, and sure enough, the protocols for how USL Championship would go about an abandoned game were changed — and if abandoned — matches would now have to be rescheduled entirely.
One coach that voted against the rule change in the off season ironically was Pittsburgh’s Bob Lilley.
“It’s tough,” Lilley said on Monday. “The way the rule is written, they try to make every attempt to play the game. I know after 20 years of doing this, sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, it didn’t for us, and now we have to travel back to Memphis later in the season.”
To compound matters, even with most of the heavy rain and lightning out of the area by 9:30 p.m. (CST), the removal of the tarp over the baseball infield was also part of the time-consuming process of having to get the field ready to resume play, even if it was just a light rain falling in Downtown Memphis.
One of the common threads with this match, and the LouCity-Cincy fiasco was that these games were played on baseball fields with tarps brought out to cover the field.
Slugger Field in Louisville has been known to be difficult, especially in dealing with already poor field conditions. In Memphis, the same ownership group that owns the baseball team, also owns the new soccer franchise, so it could have been in their best interests to want to get the game played.
Or maybe not? After all, they were trailing in the match.
Typically it can take nearly 45 minutes for the process of removing the tarp, and preparing the field to be played on to take place. This was likely one of the barriers that just proved too difficult for game officials to justify completing the game, even as the league was open to letting them get started as late as 12 a.m. (CST) to complete the second half.
“The ref made the decision, and we have to move forward,” Lilley added. “It was not our decision to make. Maybe eventually it will all even out.”
No make-up dates have officially been set for the rescheduled match, but the Hounds and Memphis both have openings on their respective schedules during the week after the Hounds visit Nashville SC on Saturday, September 21. A Tuesday or Wednesday match in Memphis that week would also be after Auto Zone Field’s primary tenant, Memphis Red Birds AAA baseball schedule ends. The Hounds opponent the following Saturday, Indy Eleven, also have a mid-week match that week.
The Hounds will likely prefer the potential September match date, as they only have four matches scheduled that month, while they have five in July, six in August. Either way, if they do have to play an extra match in late September, it could provide some combination of mid-week/weekend/mid-week/weekend game scenarios which Lilley said are ‘not ideal.”
For Lilley’s Hounds, they walk away from Memphis with no result, despite playing some pretty good soccer for 45 minutes.
“Thought we played well in the first half,” Lilley said. “It was one of the better halves we’ve played this season. We knew the weather might be a factor, so we came out strong, and played well.”
Riverhounds SC (2-1-5) returns home to clash with the Charlotte Independence (1-6-4) at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
The Hounds are two wins away from their 200th all-time win in franchise history, including league, postseason and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action.
PUDDLES FROM THE PAST
Since we were on the topic of weather delays, Lilley opened up a bit about the Hounds infamous match in Rochester on June 27, 2015, against Lilley’s juggernaut Rhinos team that would eventually win the USL Regular Season and Cup title.
In that match, a 1-0 Rochester win, Lilley said conditions at Sahlen Stadium were pretty much unplayable.
As that game entered the second half, with the match scoreless, Lilley was fine with the match continuing even though the conditions were essentially that of a field with many standing puddles and monsoon like rain conditions.
“We were fine with letting the game go on, especially because we didn’t want the match to end in a draw,” Lilley said. “We scored a goal on a penalty, but I do remember late in the match, there was a dangerous ball that made its way into the box for a wide open Kevin Kerr, but the ball stopped in a puddle.”
There are some Hounds fans who remember that moment, especially because about 50 members of the Steel Army (and a few reporters) made that soggy trip to Rochester that day. It was also the only match USL Hall of Famer who was coaching the Hounds, Mark Steffens, was ever ejected.
“I know they (Riverhounds) protested the result of the match,” Lilley quipped. “Sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t.”