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Weather causes controversy between teams, officials in Columbus

Mar 30, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (5) slides across the grass in the second half against the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rain pounded the capital city for the majority of the day, causing the field conditions at MAPFRE stadium to deteriorate throughout Saturday’s 2-0 Columbus win over Atlanta. A poor but playable first 30 minutes changed greatly after an hour delay for lightning. After that, the pitch became visibly waterlogged, with standing water in multiple areas of the field.

As the conditions worsened, the center official, Joseph Dickerson, paused the game in the 65th minute. He went over to the sideline with the rest of his crew, and players appeared to be clearing the field. The conversation that followed outraged Atlanta United.

”It was dangerous for our players and for the other team. It wasn’t football anymore,” United head coach Frank de Boer said. “We don’t help [any]body. We don’t help our players, we don’t help the opponent’s players. It’s dangerous. We certainly don’t help the public.”

Current MLS league rules dictate that all minutes of the game must be played. The league site says, “In the event a match is abandoned at any point prior to its conclusion, it will be postponed, rather than cancelled and/or final. In the event the match is postponed at any point, any remaining time will be completed the following day or as soon as practical.”

This is an update to the old rule, which was changed in 2017. Prior to that, games were complete if they reached the 75th minute.

According to players on both teams, Dickerson was unaware of this rule change. Dickerson informed the clubs that if the game reached the 70th minute, it would be final. Some players on Atlanta wanted to stop and continue the game at another point. Columbus did not. Conversations were had about attempting to squeegee the field further to try to improve playing conditions. Ultimately, due to disputes about how to proceed, the game was simply resumed.

A league spokesperson said that before a game begins, postponement decisions are made by the league based on national and local weather forecasting, as well as stadium infrastructure. Once the whistle blows, it is solely up to the referee to halt play. The league declined to provide a direct comment on the situation while it continues to gather information.

It’s not hard to see why some players wanted to stop playing. The amount of rainfall in Columbus on Saturday night was a record 1.97 inches, shattering the old record of 1.47 inches, which was set in 1987.

“We don’t want to play tomorrow. We’re playing now. We’re winning. Let’s just keep this thing going,” Crew captain Wil Trapp said. “The ref asked us if the integrity of the game was being jeopardized by the field and the weather. In a lot of ways, it was, but at the same time, neither team really wanted to stop playing and come back tomorrow, . . .It’s just a choice for the players and the referees.”

Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan was one of the players who did not want to keep playing.

“We probably shouldn’t have come back out after the break,” Guzan said. “Conditions in the second half — it was a disgrace to be out there. [Dickerson] didn’t know what was going on. We needed a ref to be strong about a stance. He didn’t have that strength.”

Dickerson was asked postmatch about the conversation in the 65th minute and said only, “We had a discussion about the condition of the field among the match officials.”

PRO is expected to make a statement clarifying the situation. This story will be updated as it develops.

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