Garber: Circumstances "much bigger than the sport of soccer" guided NY-DC venue switch
Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary action.
That's how MLS Commissioner Don Garber and officials from both D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls explained the playoff scheduling switch that was announced on Wednesday. The move means Saturday night's Eastern Conference semifinal first leg will be hosted by D.C. United at RFK Stadium instead of by New York at Red Bull Arena, where power is not yet fully restored after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast earlier this week.
"This is a tough decision, but one that we think is much bigger than the sport of soccer," Garber said on a media conference call. "So I'd like to impress up on everybody that when we made the decision, we took into consideration all the issues that will impact all involved and made the best decision we believe is in the best interest of all parties."
As the No. 2 seed in the East, D.C. United had earned the right to host the second leg and those competitive considerations were tackled head-on by the league and club officials.
"This will have a competitive impact on D.C.," Garber said. "We understand that and deeply appreciate their support. And also understand that it will impact their fans and we will try to do things to minimize that impact."
Garber confirmed that the league looked at hosting the first leg at PPL Park and shifting the playoff schedule to preserve the second leg in D.C., but the latter was not an option due to "the tight schedule."
"Our club worked very hard to try to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and we're proud that we've achieved that," D.C. United president Kevin Payne said. "But there are times in which circumstances override competitive concerns, and this is clearly one of those times.
"This is not something that any of us would have liked to have foreseen, but it's something we have to be able to accommodate. I'm absolutely certain our fans will respond as they always do and we will see a great crowd at RFK Stadium on short notice on Saturday."
With financial support from the league office, D.C. United will launch an extensive marketing campaign over the coming days to make sure word of the venue switch gets around. Payne confirmed that there had been 10,000 tickets sold for Wednesday's second leg and any fans seeking a refund would be granted it.
In return for the club's openness to make the switch, D.C. United fans will enjoy a larger allocation of tickets to Wednesday's return leg at RBA (an increase on the 500 tickets generally made available) and their seating location in the Red Bulls stadium will be different than usual.
New York Red Bulls general manager Jerome de Bontin confirmed that Red Bull Arena emerged unscathed from the wrath of Hurricane Sandy except for a couple of damaged lights outside the building. However, since losing power on Monday night, the facility still hasn't seen it restored and the stadium's generators would not suffice to support a full-fledged event day.
De Bontin, who said he moved from his hotel in nearby Hoboken, N.J., to RBA for the last four days, indicated that he expected power to return by Monday, Nov. 5. Until that happens, he admitted, the venue's ability to host Wednesday's second leg remains in doubt.
The other question mark surrounds the status of the PATH train, which is among the most popular transportation methods to Red Bull Arena. The PATH system was seriously damaged in the storm, and de Bontin said that Red Bull New York is working on alternatives with local authorities.
"Our goal and intention is to play the game at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, but obviously that's a decision that needs to be made once we've got more information from Jerome and the City of Harrison and Hudson County," Garber said. "So we're going to be monitoring that very closely. It's fair to say that in the meantime we'll be looking throughout the NY-NJ area to see if there are alternative sites should Red Bull Arena not be available.
"But our intention is to play at Red Bull Arena and we hope to be able to do so."