November 7, 2012
WAIT UNTIL THURSDAY
Nor'easter postpones Red Bulls-United playoff game 24 hours
By Michael Lewis
|Red Bull Arena looks so serene as the snow falls and the ground crew pulls up the tarp to ready the field for tonight's playoff game.
Photo by Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. -- There was no soccer playoff game played at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday due to a surprising snowstorm produced by a nor'easter, yet the Red Bulls scored an important victory anyway.
Major League Soccer decided to postpone the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Red Bulls and D.C. United until Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe did not want the game to be played, while United coach Ben Olsen did.
The coaches had differing views on whether the game should have been played.
"It wasn't a surprise," Backe said. "In my opinion, it was a very easy decision to postpone the game. You can't see the lines. It's not football playing in these conditions."
He said there was a "risk for the health of the players, picking up injuries. It’s a different sport. You can't do it."
Had the game been played, "then it's just a joke," Backe said. "Then it's all about luck, some individual mistakes that will decide the game. It's a conference semifinal. It has to be more serious."
United coach Ben Olsen wanted the show to go on. "I'm baffled [because] have you seen the field?"
He said that it "looks fine to me."
Olsen added: “I’m upset. I’m upset because I have some guys that I knew by the look in their eyes that they were ready to go today. It’s time to get this thing going, and I thought we had a good chance today and now we got to go back. But that won’t be an excuse – we’re pros, we’ll get some sleep and we’ll go back and do it again tomorrow.”
But ultimately, MLS executive vice president of competition Nelson Rodriguez, who had the final decision and declared the match to be postponed at 9 p.m., 39 minutes after the scheduled kickoff.
"We took the most prudent decision," he said.
"We were very mindful of what the impact of what this nor'easter could be and we were also very mindful of the trauma that has been experienced by the region by Hurricane Sandy."
For more than an hour before the scheduled 8:21 p.m. ET kickoff, several dozen people, including the Red Bulls ground crew, team fitness trains and even MLS president Mark Abbott, shoveled snow off the field. But as quickly as they removed the snow, more fell. After he consulting with both teams, Rodriguez postponed the game until Thursday.
"Unfortunately, nature has a funny way of playing tricks on people," he said. "We just couldn't keep up with it."
Roridrugez said the league did not postpone the match earlier because it relied on weather forecasts.
"At no time was it clear there would be so much snow and having come so quickly," he said. "When we decided to make an effort to play, we felt we owed it to everybody to see that effort through. . . . We did not feel the field was in safe or playable enough condition."
Thursday's weather forecast calls for 45 temperatures, which would allow the snow to melt.
"That will also provide the staff here 12 to 14 hours to get the field in as good as condition," Rodriguez said. "For certain it will be better than it is now that tonight at any point."
An estimated 2,000 fans managed to get to the stadium, including 700 United fans who were bussed in from the nation's capital.
Asked if he can understand the anger of the fans, Rodriguez replied, “Those who made an effort to come to this arena today in these conditions are your greatest fans. It is with them in mind that we made every attempt to play the match tonight. Had it not been for them it would have been a far easier and far earlier call to make."
It should not be at all surprising that another controversy occurred between the teams. The Red Bulls and United have experienced a heated rivalry since the league's first year in 1996.
"It's been crazy, hasn't it," United president and CEO Kevin Payne said. "I guess it's just New York and D.C. We always seem to have wild stuff happening. So this is just another chapter."
Fans will have to wait for the next chapter on Thursday night.