Thorns FC coach displeased with venue
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Paul Riley had no hesitation in acknowledging the better team won Saturday's National Women's Soccer League semifinal between his Portland Thorns FC and FC Kansas City at Durwood Stadium on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The fair result was Kansas City's 2-0 win.
It was the site of the game that Portland's coach couldn't stomach.
"Who wants to play in this stadium in the semifinal of a championship?" Riley asked after the game. "It's terrible conditions for the players. To bring in, I think, 14 national team players and have them play in conditions like this for a semifinal doesn't make sense. I think at some point the league's got to step in and say 'You need requirements, and these are the requirements if you want to host a game.' If you can't meet the requirements, then you can't host the game because you can't play football at this place. It's impossible."
Durwood Stadium is the second home in as many seasons for FC Kansas City, which last season hosted Portland (without Riley at the helm) in a semifinal played at Shawnee Mission District Stadium, a multi-purpose facility in the area.
The team moved this season to Durwood and sacrificed a significant amount of capacity in the process. The team drew as many as 6,784 fans to a game a season ago but can only seat around 3,000 in its current home (Saturday's attendance was 2,997, which included both the permanent grandstand, temporary bleachers and standing-room-only space). But unlike its former home, which was marked for football as well as soccer, Durwood is a soccer-specific facility that is home to UMKC men's and women's teams that compete in NCAA Division I.
Part of the same organization as Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers (FC Kansas City does not share a similar relationship with Sporting Kansas City), the Thorns play in Portland's Providence Park and routinely draw more than 10,000 fans for home games. They drew a league record 19,123 fans to an August game against Houston Dash.
Asked specifically what requirements he believes should be in place, Riley didn't hold back.
"The requirements should be an attendance level, whether it be 8,000, whether it be 10,000," Riley said. "It should be proper seating. It should be proper stadium facilities. What else do you need? It's a semifinal, and it looks like nobody is here, I'm sure, from the TV perspective. How are you selling the league when it looks like nobody is at the game? How do you sell a league when it doesn't look like there's any sponsors? How do you sell a league when, you know, people look at it and say 'Oh, it's not that good.' When you see Portland is 18,000, you want to get involved in this league. The fans are behind us.
"To me, at the beginning of the season, whatever the criteria it is that the league decides, that should be the criteria. And if you can't -- you can play in a facility like this, but you can't host a game. I would have no problem with that. I think everyone should realize that because otherwise, how are we going to improve the stadiums and the league? Who's going to improve it if we don't put the requirements in each year, say 'All right, this is where we need to go this year; this is where we need to go this year.' And I think that's what we need to do as a league if we're going to improve the league. Because at the end of the day, it's our product that's on the field. You've got [approximately] 15 national team players or such out there today. I mean, wouldn't you want to see that in front of 20,000 in a beautiful stadium where you can buy a hot dog and have a nice Thai curry at halftime, you know what I'm saying?
"I think it's just something we have to do as a league. The minimum standards are OK being minimum, but let's put some standards in -- some minimum standards that mean something that people have to abide by and people have to improve their stadium and facilities, because I think it's good for everybody."
In a statement at the time of the team's move to Durwood Stadium, FC Kansas City president Brian Budzinski said the move to a soccer-specific facility "was important for our fans' game day experience and for the players on the field."