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Vancouver Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber talks about cancelled MLS match against RSL and my response

So as you all know by now the Major League Soccer match scheduled for Saturday between Real Salt Lake and the Vancouver Whitecaps was canceled today (to be rescheduled) because of what MLS deemed:

The Vancouver Whitecaps FC versus Real Salt Lake match scheduled for today has been postponed after Major League Soccer and local club officials ruled the pitch at Empire Field unplayable.

MLS press release

Here is a video message from Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber:

I thought it would be interesting to send Mr. Barber an email with some follow up questions about the match and the decision to cancel the match, you can check that out after the jump:

Here is my email exchange with Whitecaps FC CEO Paul Barber:

Mr. Barber,
I am hoping you will be kind enough to answer a couple questions about the match that was cancelled on Saturday between Real Salt Lake and the Vancouver Whitecaps. I write a blog dedicated to Real Salt Lake and I know that my readers would appreciate any additional information that you would be able to provide.

1) In watching the video of the install of the grass surface at Empire Field, it looks as if no additional drainage was put in with the grass surface rather it was was simply rolled out on top of plastic that was placed over the normal field turf surface, was this the original plan or an oversight considering the normal weather conditions in Vancouver?

2) Was installing the new grass surface so close to the scheduled match day a mistake, could this situation been avoided if the grass had been installed a few days earlier?

3) A number of Real Salt Lake fans made the trip up to Vancouver for this match, will the Whitecaps organization reach out to those fans and offer some type of compensation to them?

4) Since this match wasn't able to be played because of the decision to install a grass surface for a friendly match, shouldn't the Whitecaps have forfeited the match? Or if it really is a weather issue, why not play the league match on Sunday and reschedule the friendly match until Wednesday?

thank you for taking time to read this email, and I really hope you will take a few moments to respond to my questions, as I would love to be able to offer your side of the story to my readers.

Denzel Eslinger

Here is his response:

Thank you Denzel. Answers as follows:

- the pitch was installed as planned. We are not permitted to install additional drainage at Empire Field. Normal levels of rain for July would hand been very manageable - this week's rainfall has been very unusual for this month leading to today's postponement.

- the grass was installed as early as schedules allowed. An earlier installation would have made no difference given the rainfall of the past 24 hours particularly. It is quite normal to successfully lay natural grass pitches in these timeframes. The pitch was down and ready before the rain started to fall heavily.

- unfortunately, we are not able to offer compensation to traveling supporters.

- adverse weather conditions are not within our control. There is no guarantee the match could have gone ahead today even on turf given today's exceptionally high levels of rainfall. Schedules for teams, TV, supporters. Officials, facilities etc do not allow schedules be moved in the way you suggest.

Hope this helps. You can always direct future requests for help to our comms team. I've copied Carly for your reference and hers.


Now I am going to give Mr. Barber huge credit for responding to my questions, but I do question the version of truth in his answers a little bit.

The surface in Seattle was put down several days earlier and while it was rough for their match today against Colorado it was still ruled playable. It is my understanding that the grass at Empire Field was put down on top of the turf just 2 days before today's match, now I understand some time restraints due to this facility being shared with the Vancouver CFL team but I question the fact that this match wasn't rescheduled in advance saving RSL and their fans a lot of travel and expense?

Unusual rainfall? According to Vancouver normally gets about 49mm of rain in July, now I looked online to see if I could find out exactly how much rain has fallen this week in Vancouver and according to and there actually hasn't been much rain at all, in fact they report that for the last 4 days that rain totals have been so small they are measured as "trace" now I believe more rain than that has fallen as even RSL head coach Jason Kreis said that the grass was to waterlogged to play on.

However I say that the reality is that had the Whitecaps not tried to install grass that the match would have no doubt been played, despite the attempt to steer people to believe otherwise by Mr. Barber's answers. I asked a local reporter, Russell Berrisford, who writes for the Vancouver Sun (click here to read his article on this debacle) who via Twitter told me that he had "no doubt" that had it not been for the grass surface that the match would have been played.

Now let me be clear had it not been for Major League Soccer pimping Man City to various MLS teams for a friendly that their SUM group could promote as part of the World Football Challenge, this situation would never have happened. Both the Whitecaps and the league made a choice of when to schedule this match and they clearly should have known the risks involved in what they were attempting, it was a poor choice. It was a choice to pander to EPL sides, it was a choice to pander to ESPN (who will cover almost as many WFC matches(11) as they have MLS matches so far this year (14)), it was a clear attempt to pander to the "Eurosnob" soccer fans who bad mouth MLS all year and then show up to watch them play the teams from Europe but never come back to a MLS match.

The result of this was a decision to install a grass surface over the normal turf at Empire Field, and as a result of that decision the surface was unplayable (as determined by MLS). Now to me that is simply grounds for a forfeit, plain and simple. The result of that decision left dozens of RSL fans who spent thousands of dollars to travel and see the match, empty handed, which is unacceptable.

The claim that:

There is no guarantee the match could have gone ahead today even on turf given today's exceptionally high levels of rainfall.
Paul Barber

is simply not true, on June 18th the Whitecaps hosted the Philadelphia Union, and on that day there was 11.2 mm of rain, not a "trace" like the reports for the last couple days. So it is funny that they believe it is no problem to force RSL to reschedule their match, but are unwilling to have rescheduled it for Sunday and to move their friendly. It is clear that to the Whitecaps and Major League Soccer that the choice is to favor the friendly match over a regular scheduled league match.

It is clear that the Whitecaps and Major League Soccer have no respect for the fans of either the Whitecaps or Real Salt Lake, and to me that is the greatest shame of this entire situation. The utter disrespect shown to the fans of both teams, and despite the answer of Mr. Barber, his club and the league do have a financial responsibility to fans who traveled for this match.

The match wasn't cancelled by an act of god, it was cancelled because of greed, poor planning, and a choice to not risk the pitch so that Monday's friendly match can go ahead as scheduled.

Major League Soccer should force the Whitecaps to forfeit the match since they couldn't provide an acceptable place to play. MLS and the Whitecaps should be reaching out to the fans of both teams, but especially those from Utah who traveled over 800 miles to see the match and spent thousands of dollars to support their team only to have you pull the rug out from under them.