U.S. Soccer's Victory Tour, intended to celebrate the 2015 Women's World Cup championship, blew up in its face when Sunday's game against Trinidad & Tobago at Honolulu's Aloha Stadium was
canceled. Millions of Americans will remember soccer in 2015 for the U.S. women's thrilling run to the world title in Canada, but for thousands of Hawaiians waiting for the first international match
on the islands, soccer in 2015 will be remembered for Alohagate.
They woke up on Sunday morning to discover that U.S. Soccer had overnight pulled the plug on the game. Ticket refunds
would be issued, but fans who had traveled from other islands to Oahu for the game were stuck. "They've been saving for this and all of the parents agreed this was their Christmas present," Big Island
fan Jesse Kerr said of the group of seven fans
who were out thousands
of dollars in air fare and hotel expenses. A local Soccer Locker store ordered $6,000 in official jerseys for fans to wear to the match. Some supporters wanted refunds. "We're going to get stuck with
probably half of that," said store owner Bob Picerno
The U.S. women refused to play on Aloha Stadium's artificial turf. The same turf that was acceptable sight unseen when U.S.
Soccer contracted with the Aloha Stadium and that was deemed playable when it was inspected on Thursday was abandoned after a 30-minute training session on Saturday, “unfit, unsafe and
unplayable,” U.S. Soccer counsel Lisa Levine said in a letter being reviewed by the Hawaii Attorney's General
"There were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field," the players explained in a post at the
. "They were everywhere. The artificial turf was actually pulling up out of the ground, and the turf itself was both low-grade and aging. This was a playing surface that looked
like it hadn’t been replaced in years."
“Absolutely a black eye for this organization" is the way U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati described the debacle
to the New York Times' Sam Borden
Soccer has previously organized other victory tours for the women -- winners of three World Cup titles and three Olympic gold medals in only a quarter century of international women's soccer -- but
nothing as ambitious as the 2015 Victory Tour -- 10 games in 10 cities over five months -- and it messed up badly in Honolulu, failing to send someone to properly access field conditions before it
signed a stadium contract.
What was the purpose of the Victory Tour? In their post at the Players' Tribune, USWNT players opened: "The Victory Tour was set up to celebrate winning a
tournament -- but it was also set up to celebrate being the best in the world. And when we say 'being the best in the world,' we don’t mean our team. We mean our fans." A celebration of a team
and its fans, yes, but also a farewell for its retiring stars, Abby Wambach
, Lauren Holiday
, Shannon Boxx
and Lori Chalupny
One could question the sporting
purpose of the Victory Tour -- Haiti sent a team of teenagers, T&T is a national team in disarray -- but at least Coach Jill Ellis
could start the U.S. buildup to the 2016 Olympic title
defense by introducing players like Crystal Dunn
back into the team and other younger players like collegians Emily Sonnett
and Rose Lavelle
into the group.
Victory Tour was also a money maker, a big money maker for the U.S. Soccer and the players. In addition to their salaries and bonuses, the Chicago Tribune reported
that the players share $1.20 per ticket sold on the tour.
Attendance for the first six games totaled 191,304 fans, so that's almost $230,000 for the players. Advance ticket sales for Sunday's game were reported to be about half of the average for the first
six games, but U.S. Soccer was going to come out of the deal in fine shape. The stadium contract
U.S. Soccer to keep all ticket revenues and pay no rent. The Aloha Stadium authority could keep parking and concessions.
Alohagate again raised the question of why U.S.
Soccer uses stadiums with artificial turf -- since the tour opener in Pittsburgh, every game has been played on turf -- but also why until Saturday did the players, so vocal in their criticism of the
artificial turf at the Women's World Cup in Canada, not raise a bigger stink about artificial turf on home soil during the current tour.
But the Victory Tour also raises the question of
what is the mission of U.S. Soccer. Is it to develop winning national teams? To promote soccer? To manage events? To make money? If U.S. Soccer is in the event business, it failed its players and fans
“We had a series of mistakes involving this game,” Gulati told the New York Times. “We screwed up. It won’t happen again.”
better not. U.S. Soccer has three women's games scheduled in December and more women's matches before and after next year's Olympics.
U.S. Soccer is getting into the event business in a
big way with the organization of the 2016 Copa Centenario. Its condition for remaining as host federation, following the FIFA arrests of last May, was that scandal-ridden Concacaf and Conmebol get out
of the way and let it run the show. That means putting on more than 30 games over three weeks at 10 NFL-sized stadiums, four with artificial turf that will have to be covered over.
bosses at Concacaf and Conmebol conceived the Copa Centenario as a way to line their pockets to the tune of $35 million in bribes. For U.S. Soccer, the tournament was viewed as a showcase of its
ability to host a major event ahead of the bidding for the 2026 World Cup host rights.
After Alohagate, the Copa Centenario will be a chance to erase the black eye U.S. Soccer has.