So, the playoff soccer game I went to last night turned out to be the most bizarre sporting event I may have ever attended. To set the scene, it was a NPSL (4th tier of the American soccer pyramid, officially semi-pro league) Midwest Regional quarterfinal matchup between a team from Rochester, New York and the home team AFC Ann Arbor.
First bit of weirdness, the game started at 630, rather than 6 PM, as evening home games for Ann Arbor usually do, because Rochester insisted on that. Granted, games usually take 2 hours to complete, so under normal conditions, the lack of lights at the Concordia College stadium wouldn't be a problem, a game would finish before sunset. But...this was a playoff game, where a game that was tied at the end of regulation might go into extra time, and maybe to penalty kicks after that. So that half hour delay might have mattered.
And besides, conditions weren't normal yesterday, there was an, on average, 60% chance of rain in the forecast for the 6-10 pm window. But at 630, there was no rain, and the game kicked off. The Rochester squad, which could have had a home game if they had only beaten Erie last Saturday, started diving all over the place right away, drawing an unwarranted yellow card from the ref against an Ann Arbor player 5 minutes into the game. 5 minutes later, the skies opened up, and at the 11 minute mark, the game was halted for lightning.
Weather regulations dictate waiting a minimum of a half hour after lightning is detected in the area, with the clock resetting every time more lightning is seen. So that half hour delay Rochester insisted on in starting the game was compounded by this half hour weather delay...can you see where this is going? Anyway, 20 minutes after the lightning, while it was still pouring at the stadium, I took this pic of the scene to the west:
Sadly, after the game restarted (at ~715), those blue skies and the sunshine just skirted the stadium, and the rains returned with a vengeance. That interlude was just the calm between storms, and the last 25 minutes of the first half were played in a steady and at times intense rain. Up in the stands, my feet were getting wet, but between the pullover jacket I had, my umbrella, and the poncho the team provided for the crowd, I was mostly dry. Except for the back of my shorts, where the poncho ended and all the rain on my back just soaked them.
So, halftime came at approximately 745, with sunset supposed to happen at 908 PM. Still time to get the second half in...unless of course, there was more lightning in the area. Just after we all trooped under the stands to get out of the weather, there was a flash, and the 30 minute clock started running. Another 20 minutes later, another flash, and the usually 15 minute halftime was now 50 minutes, at least. It's 830 now, and I'm passing the time chatting with a friend I don't see nearly often enough. So far, this is pretty standard stuff, as far as rain delays, and wondering when the game might resume. But this was where the bizarreness started happening. At 830, if the game had restarted right then, they might have been able to sneak in the second half, before daylight failed. But there was mass confusion as to what was going on. At one point, we heard that the game was canceled. Later, a rumor that Rochester had players who just had to be at work the next day, so they were unable to stay the night and finish the game on Wednesday. As mentioned above, this is a semi-pro league, with squads made up of college players on their summer vacations, or others trying to work their way up into professional soccer opportunities, and others who actually have regular jobs, and are playing a decent level of soccer on the side. I don't know what the Rochester players' situation was, but apparently, people simply had to be at work on Wednesday.
Finally, at 845ish, word came out that the game was going to restart, with a truncated second half and going to penalty kicks if the game remain tied. As play resumed, another ten or 15 minutes later, because a warm up was required after an hour break, we in the crowd had absolutely no idea how long the second half was going to be. Because of the ongoing storm, the light on the field got dimmer and dimmer far before it would have on a clear day, and 23 minutes and 35 seconds into the second half, the referee blew the whistle to end the game. 0-0 tie, no penalty kicks to resolve the tie. And moreover, no idea who would be moving on to play against Cleveland in the Midwest regional semifinal on Friday.
Here's where it gets even crazier. I stuck around another half hour, to see if any resolution was reached. Seems like if one team runs away, rather than staying to contest the rest of the game, they should forfeit, right? Especially when the orders from the home office, and the head of officiating were telling the teams to do exactly that? But Rochester, who'd insisted on a delay, who refused an offer of moving the game to an indoor facility, who, rather than complying with the orders from the league office to complete the game the next day, simply got on the bus and ran away, still managed to get the league to decide to settle the issue by, get this, a COIN FLIP.
Yeah, I get it, the contest wasn't settled on the field. But AFC Ann Arbor, as per www.afcannarbor.
, went out of their way to have a backup plan, offered overnight accommodations to the guests, and were rebuffed at every turn. And the Rochester team, who simply ran away, after a contest in which they were clearly outclassed every where but on the scoreboard, a team that directly refused to comply with the order from the league office to complete the game on Wednesday, were rewarded by getting a 50/50 chance to advance to the next round of the playoffs, based on which way a coin falls.
At some point today, somebody in the league office, perhaps the toothless head of officiating, will flip a coin, and we'll find out if Ann Arbor gets to play again this year, or if cowardice, and a bratty child-like defiance of orders from the league pays off for Rochester. Either way, it's certainly the most bizarre sporting event I've ever attended.