Friday, May 27, 2011

The match that never happened

By now, if you pay even cursory attention to Canadian soccer (and if you don't, what the hell are you doing reading this blog?) you know that Wednesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship second leg match between Vancouver and TFC at BMO Field in Toronto was first delayed due to lightning in the area, then abandoned due to an unplayable pitch.

There is no other reasonable way of looking at it other than to say that this sort of thing happens, but it sucks.

There is also no disputing the fact that Vancouver was hurt most by this unfortunate set of circumstances, while TFC stands to gain from it. At the time the match was called off, Vancouver was up 1-0 (2-1 on aggregate) with each team having scored an away goal. With 30 minutes left to the trophy being awarded, it would not be overstating things to say the Whitecaps were in the driver's seat.

However, as evidenced by the picture accompanying this post, the right call was made and the match was abandoned. The competition rules set out what to do in the case of abandonment:
12. If the match is abandoned before the completion of normal playing time because of extreme weather or for reasons outside the control of the host team, the match shall be replayed in its entirety the following day, thus avoiding the considerable extra expense for the visiting team. If it is still impossible to play the match the next day for the same reasons, the match may be postponed by another day, provided both teams agree. If the match can still not be played on the third day, the expenses thus incurred by the visiting team shall be split between the two teams. A decision will be taken within two hours of the referee’s decision to abandon the match, in consultation with the two clubs concerned. In case of dispute, the CSA Organising Committee fixes the date and kick-off time of the match. Its decision is final.
In accordance with this rule, the match was originally to be replayed in its entirety Thursday morning, but when the pitch was deemed still to be unplayable, it was rescheduled for Saturday, July 2nd, three days following a Toronto-Vancouver MLS match at BMO.

Is this a good rule? The problem I see is if the rule decrees that the match must be replayed in its entirety, there is no way on earth it should be allowed to be scheduled for the next morning.

Consider this scenario, which could very well have happened:
  1. Suppose the match was abandoned at 80 minutes instead of 63 (a likely possibility if it had started a more normal start time instead of the late 8 pm kickoff). The rules make no allowance for declaring a match official before 90 minutes.
  2. Suppose additionally that the match, kicking off at 11 am the next day, was level at 1-1 after 90 minutes, thus necessitating 30 minutes of extra time and possibly penalties
Under this scenario, there is a strong possibility you would see several players playing 200 minutes in 17 hours on a pitch in far less than ideal condition. There is no better way I can think of to put the players' health in serious jeopardy.

If you are going to create rules that make it likely the match will be replayed on a weekday morning immediately following the abandoned match, in an empty stadium, I see no reason to play the full 90 minutes again. Just resume the match at the point at which it was abandoned, since you won't have a large ticket-buying crowd to please, and save up to 90 (or even up to 120) minutes of additional wear and tear. This sort of rule is in place in all kinds of leagues and competitions around the world.

As it stands, having the second leg played on Canada Day weekend is making the best of a bad situation. Vancouver players and fans will rightly feel hard done by, but ultimately the CSA's hands were tied. Toronto FC fans and players should be grateful for the second chance.

Some of the readers of this blog will also be grateful for the second chance, as the result that looked most likely was not what they had picked in my Voyageurs Cup contest. Like with the real competition, for my contest this match never happened, and Eric Hassli is stuck on one goal since the goal he scored against TFC didn't really happen either.

Non-related: Umbro Canada and the CSA have finally opened up their online store for Canada merchandise. I must say I'm rather tempted by the long sleeve white, and this fine jacket.

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