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Orlando Pride players, coach weigh in on ‘difficult’ pitch conditions at Cheney Stadium

Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had to deal with an uneven pitch during a road match against Reign FC. (Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos)

Reign FC played its first home match of the season against the Orlando Pride at on Sunday at Cheney Stadium and the pitch conditions at the minor league baseball stadium weren’t ideal, according to Pride players and coach Marc Skinner.

“What was really crazy is that if you look at it from the camera angle, you’d probably think, ‘Ah, looks like quite a nice pitch,'” Skinner said. “But the one half … probably just the assessment would be like a jigsaw puzzle. It kind of had connecting pieces where the if the ball would roll over, it would bounce.”

Cheney Stadium is also the home of the Pacific Coast League Tacoma Rainiers (the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate), as well as USL Championship side Tacoma Defiance (formerly Seattle Sounders 2).

Centerback Alanna Kennedy, who scored the Pride’s only goal against the Reign on Sunday, said the was a stark difference in the quality of the pitch in the outfield versus the infield. 

“One half of the field was actually pretty nice,” Kennedy said. “The field, altogether, it was a small pitch, a small stadium. But yeah, another half of the field was, in my opinion, shocking. I think they did a good job. From what I heard, they didn’t have much time to lay it, or whatever. But I don’t think that’s an issue that you should be dealing with in the league. It’s unfortunate for them that they have to deal with it every week. I think, for the time that they had or whatever, they did a good job with what they could do, but it’s just one of those things that it’s really not an issue we need in the league. That’s my opinion.” 

Skinner said getting used to the pitch was an adjustment both teams had to make. As an example of an in-game adjustment Skinner said goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had to play higher up the pitch for fear that a back pass would skip up on the pitch and into the goal. 

“But again, it was the same for both teams,” he said. “There’s no thing towards [Reign FC] on that, but it was a difficult situation to play in. I found that the girls adapted well to that. It didn’t really have a bearing on the game, I don’t think. It was quite an even game, but it was definitely something that you’d have to adapt to if you can’t… because you’re not going to train on something like that every day. I think the [Reign FC] girls had to do the same, to be fair.” 

The two sides played to a 1-1 draw Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 5,323 fans. The match was Reign FC’s first at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., after the franchise — formerly Seattle Reign FC — moved its home games to Tacoma from Memorial Field in Seattle. The move was part of an offseason rebrand for the Reign. 

It’s not uncommon for professional soccer teams in U.S. to host home matches in baseball stadiums. Plus, MLS side NYCFC plays its matches in Yankee Stadium — a consistent hot topic around the league. Last month, Reign FC released a feature detailing the work it takes to transform Cheney Stadium into a soccer venue and said, “Cheney Stadium will host 99 baseball and soccer games between now and October 19, roughly one event every two days.” 

In an email to Pro Soccer USA, Reign FC declined to comment. 

Harris also said half of the field was good. 

“The outfield was in mint condition, it was beautiful,” Harris said. “But when it’s laid over the clay, it was just seams everywhere, It was very bumpy. Just things would drop off and there would be a seam. I know that there was a baseball game the night before and they worked all night to lay that. It didn’t have time to settle. 

“I mean, you can see where the grass has been laid. I know in the six-yard box, it, like, dove down, it was clay and then it ramped back up right where the line was. It sucks. I think both teams walked out and were like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It wasn’t just us. I think that was the first time [Reign FC] had seen it.”

She added she was confident Reign FC will take the steps needed to ensure a high-quality playing surface. 

“But I do think it’s better than turf,” Harris said. “I think that, moving forward, they probably will fix that. I don’t think… I can’t imagine them continuing to put players at risk with an uneven surface like that and seams exposed. I’m sure now that they’ve learned their lesson, they probably should fill that a few days in advance and make sure that it’s covered, you know the seams are covered with sand or whatever it is they use.

“Just to make sure that no one steps wrong or the surface moves underneath you. I’m hoping that they’ll continue to get better at laying that and not putting the players so much in jeopardy of an uneven surface.”

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