Today, the Vancouver Whitecaps U-18s pulled off a miracle.
After allowing two goals in the last ten minutes to Pateadores of southern California to turn a 2-1 win into a 3-2 loss, the U-18s looked like they'd sunk their chances of advancing out of their USSDA playoff first round group. But the young Whitecaps, playing their last games together after years spent coming up the Residency ranks, refused to be demoralized. Led by a veteran midfield and prolific play by U-16 strikers Carlos Patino and Sadi Jalali, the young 'Caps beat Weston FC 4-0 yesterday and finished the comeback with a 2-0 win over Texans SC Houston this morning, while that same lowly Weston FC hammered Pateadores 4-0 when all the defending champs had to do was draw.
So the Whitecaps Residency U-18s are through to the final eight. Congratulations are due all around, as the team not only overcame adversity but the conditions. The tournament is being held in Frisco, Texas, where today's high temperature is 41 degrees Celcius and, at game time early this morning, it was already in the mid-thirties. The Whitecaps played both their previous games in around 40-degree heat. It's inhuman, or at least it should be.
You'd never play a major soccer tournament in Edmonton in January. Shovel snow off the field all you want; it would still be bloody cold and everybody would be bloody uncomfortable and it wouldn't be safe. It's obvious and everybody in Edmonton knew it so we didn't feel bad when the big winter events were all in Vancouver or the United States. If you wanted to hold the foremost youth competition in Canada and the United States when it was, say, -20 out, you'd be laughed off the face of the earth.
So if it can be too cold to play a major soccer tournament, why can't it be too hot? I'm not making excuses, for thanks to the U-18's sterling victory I have no excuses to make. I'm just saying: this is stupid and unsafe and stop it.
How is it a good idea for a bunch of 18-year-olds to play three games in four days under a 40-degree sun? It's bad for anybody, even those born in the area. There's a reason air conditioning is almost obligatory in Texan homes, you know. For those from, say, I don't know, Vancouver, it's an awful shock to the system. No matter how much good work the team staff does in hydrating their players and watching their fitness levels carefully, these are still guys being asked to play 270 minutes of full-tilt soccer in four days in temperatures hotter than they've probably ever experienced in their lives.
"They'll have to play in that anyway when they turn pro"? No they fucking won't. When has MLS scheduled three games in four days in Dallas or Houston? Plus training, plus (in the case of the Whitecaps) additional games in the knockout stages. And when the senior Whitecaps are visiting Texas they'll have the benefit of a professional staff and resources devoted to ensuring their health and comfort instead of, um, a U-18 team.
Most USSDA teams aren't run nearly as professionally as the Whitecaps. U-18 teams regularly come to Vancouver without physiotherapists and one or two coaches total drawn from local amateur ranks. You can literally forget about a team doctor, or anybody qualified to judge these young men put through a terrific athletic ordeal in Texan summer heat.
History is replete with stories of players in this age group dying because of dehydration or overexertion in such conditions; players who grew up in that climate and ought to be as used to it as anybody. I'm not sure why you'd voluntarily expose hundreds of young men to this risk, with the added perk that most of those hundreds have never played in anything like this sort of heat and the safety provisions for each team are distinctly haphazard.
To an extent, these conditions are unusual, but hardly record-breaking. Average highs this time of year in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are in the mid-thirties, which would be plenty problematic on their own.
Now, if they had no choice that would be one thing. You can't complain when it's hot for the finals of the Ethiopian U-18 league. But the United States, you've probably noticed, is a big place. There are plenty of soccer fields in accessible towns with far more reasonable conditions that would love to host a tournament like this. Even in Tampa, Florida, high temperatures are ten degrees lower this week than in Frisco.
Is this a massive scandal, an enormous catastrophe that will shake US Soccer to its core? Is the placement of a U-18/U-16 playoff tournament the worst thing ever to happen in North American sports? No. It's just stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. So self-evidently, undeniably stupid that I sat in awe that anybody would be that much of a moron until I remembered that we were talking about American soccer.
Perhaps next year US Soccer will put the USSDA final tournament on the surface of Mercury. Hopefully, though, they'll instead look after their young charges and place it somewhere safe.