By Michael Lewis
If he had his way, Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames would rather play Sunday’s scheduled National Women’s Soccer League semifinal against the North Carolina Courage in Portland, Ore. and not in Cary, N.C.
With Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas and ready to make landfall Friday and the forecasts slightly changing Dames would rather have the teams meet in Providence Park, which will host the league final next week, for the safety of players and staff, especially his own team.
The teams are scheduled to kick off the single-game elimination at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park Sunday at 3 p.m.
“If it was up to me, I would play the game in Portland,” Dames said during a Wednesday media conference call. “Whoever wins stays, you lose, you come home. Everything’s already set up out there.
“But I’m also not North Carolina. I didn’t have the season they had. I didn’t deserve the right to get a home game like they did, the 13th game. So whatever gate would have come in to that, although I don’t know what the gate would be with what’s coming, I think from a standpoint from everybody, moving the game up to Portland makes the most sense. It adds little bit of cost to whoever wins. But then you’re already out there, you’re settled in, you could train, you get into the flow, as opposed to still not knowing what’s going to happen, having the game pushed another day later.”
Dames said he wasn’t trying to take the home-field advantage against the Courage, which was runaway Supporters Shield winners with a 17-1-6 record and 57 points. North Carolina finished 15 points ahead of runner-up Portland Thorns (12-6-6, 42).
A Wednesday afternoon forecast had Florence projected moving slightly south, apparently making the impact of the storm in the Triangle area less. But with Mother Nature, you never know how she will move at a moment’s notice.
As of Wednesday night, NWSL officials were still weighing their options. The game still could be played on the same day or perhaps a day or two later after the storm abated. The safer option would move the game north to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia or New York, although Courage supporters would be hard-pressed to attend the game, in the wake of a powerful hurricane heading their way.
Courage head coach Paul Riley was ready to have the game postponed a day or two and have North Carolina host it as planned.
“We’ve all had Sunday, Wednesday games and mid-week games and other stuff this year,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll affect anybody.”
During a Wednesday news conference, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper implored coastal residents to move inland as time was running out.
“The time to prepare is almost over,” he said. “Disaster is at the doorstep.”
When asked about the governor’s remarks, Dames replied, “I think the governor of North Carolina is probably telling people that this is not a good place to come to right now. But, he’s not a meteorologist, I’m not a meteorologist and he doesn’t have any skin in this game. So, I think he feels a lot more comfortable saying that than the people who have to make the decisions.”
If the NWSL decides to have the game played in North Carolina and the Red Stars have to travel toward the severe weather, Dames said he wasn’t going to force any players or staff to make the trip.
“If we’re told the game in North Carolina is on such and such date, the league obviously has the authority to do that,” he said. “It will be up to each individual player and staff member if they go or not. I’m not going to mandate somebody step onto a plane and fly into something that they’re not comfortable with or they fear for their safety.
“Everybody’s end-all, be-all isn’t the soccer game on Sunday. So, we had that conversation this morning. We kind of set the players at ease. At the end of the day it will be their individual decisions, if they’re there or not there, if they go or not go, along with the staff. All we can do is prepare and get ready for the game. Once that decision is made, we’ll have another talk amongst the group and people can make decisions on what’s best for them.”
Dames had some concern about the decision-making process.
“I’m glad I’m not the one making the decision because I am sure there’s a ton going into it we don’t know about,” he said. “One of the things that’s frustrating because when the decision is made, who is accountable for it? Who is it that is making this decision? Whoever is going to make this decision, are they going to travel with us? Are they going to be on our flight? Are they going to be on our bus? Are they going to stay in the hotel with us? I think that makes it hard for our group because we don’t know who is making the decision. We don’t know who is going to make the final say so, but we know we’re the ones who will be impacted by it the most, so it’s uncomfortable.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation organizes the league, which is based in Chicago.
Asked how the storm was affecting his team, Riley responded, “I don’t think it matters, to be honest with you. We spoke about it very little, to be honest with you. We are just getting on with it. If we get more time to prepare, we get more time to prepare. We’d play could play in the local parking lot if we could, in a supermarket parking lot. We could play anywhere. Obviously, at this point, for us it’s just preparing. If we get an extra day or two, fine. If we don’t fine. We’re going ahead with plans. The heart of the storm will be off Friday and we’ll take it from there.”