The notion of a level playing field has come under fire in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup soccer tournament.
Actually, it's the width of the field that has prompted the Ocean City Nor'easters to file a protest with Chicago-based U.S. Soccer in hopes of getting its third-round game next Tuesday against Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union moved from PPL Park in Chester, Pa. - the Union's home field - to Ocean City's Carey Stadium.
U.S. Soccer officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. As of late Wednesday afternoon, the Nor'easters also had not heard from the organization.
The Nor'easters retained London-based attorney Jim Sturman to handle the complaint. Sturman, who also has a home in Ocean City, suggested in a letter to U.S. Soccer that the Nor'easters earned the right to host the Union by virtue of their 1-0, second-round victory over the Pittsburgh Rounders at Carey Stadium on Tuesday.
A coin flip was held at U.S. Open headquarters in Chicago before the tournament began to determine who would be the home team for the third-round contests. The Union chose tails and the coin came up heads, meaning they would be playing at either Ocean City or Pittsburgh. However, U.S. Open officials erroneously determined that Ocean City's field did not have the proper dimensions.
"When I submitted the forms on March 16, I wrote that our field was 65 yards wide and 110 yards long because those were the dimensions last season," Nor'easters general manager Neil Holloway said Wednesday in a phone interview. "Once U.S. Soccer announced that the minimum width was 68 yards, we immediately made changes to our field and it's now 71 yards wide.
"U.S. Soccer thought the field was good enough to host the first two rounds of the Open Cup, but now that we're in the third round, suddenly it's not. We were told that every team in this tournament, whether you're an amateur team, a pro team or an MLS team, was going to be treated the same. Evidently, that's not the case."
In the meantime, the Union announced that tickets to the game at PPL Park went on sale Wednesday. The game is part of Union season-ticket holders' package. Individual tickets range from $25 to $50. Groups of 15 or more will get a discount of up to $15 per ticket.
Union officials said they weren't sure what would happen if the game is switched to Ocean City.
"Seeing as how we've already put tickets on sale, it makes things complicated," Union spokesperson Chris Glidden said Wednesday in a phone interview. "As of now, we're playing the game at PPL Park. If something happens, we'll have to deal with it."
The financial ramifications are a significant part of Ocean City's protest.
Under the rules of the U.S. Open Cup, the home team gets to keep 100 percent of the profits. Holloway indicated that Carey Stadium would be able to hold approximately 5,000 fans and tickets would be $20.
"You're talking about $100,000 that we would make from this game," Holloway said. "That's enough to set us up for the next three or four years."
Contact David Weinberg:
U.S. Open Cup:
Nor'easters vs. Union
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 28
Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
Tickets: Range from $25 to $50. Go to PhiladelphiaUnion.com