Neither team responded to requests for comments, but a copy of Motown’s protest request letter was acquired by Hudson River Blue. In the letter, the Motown alleges the field used by hosts Manhattan SC on the campus of the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx was smaller than the dimensions specified in the US Open Cup handbook.
In addition, Motown claims the actions of the match commissioner and officials on site did not follow not proper procedure.
The issue will now be reviewed by the US Open Cup Adjudication & Discipline Panel. Manhattan, which competes in USL League Two, is currently scheduled to face Flower City Union of the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) in the Second Round on Tuesday, April 4.
One yard short
According to Section 3 of the US Open Cup handbook (titled “Match Operations”), hosting teams are required to provide a field that meets minimum specifications of “a playing surface of at least 68 yds by 110 yds Smooth, flat, and level playing surface with natural grass.”
Manhattan SC registered the field dimensions of Marillac Field at the College of Mt Saint Vincent in the Bronx as larger than the minimum when they are in fact 112 yards by 67 yards, which was confirmed by the officiating crew on Wednesday. (For reference, New York City FC’s field at Yankee Stadium, which has never hosted a US Open Cup match, is 70 yards by 110 yards.)
The recently-renovated Marillac Field is the product of a partnership between the college and Manhattan SC. Last year, the school announced that new turf, lights, and a press box (the latter of which is still under construction), would be installed with the financial support of Manhattan SC.
The protest letter goes on to claim that Manhattan SC made other false statements to the US Open Cup regarding the requirements of a hosting facility. This included the distance of the locker room from the field, the minimum amount of bleacher space fans, proper ticketing infrastructure to comply with tournament standards, proper bathrooms, and a functioning scoreboard for the entire match.
HRB can confirm the circumstances in regards to the last point. During the second half of extra time the scoreboard stopped working, with the clock turning off with under five minutes to play. It seems that a worker at the college unplugged the control device in the middle of the match.
The referee and media (using an iPhone stopwatch) had to provide both teams with the amount of time left in the game from then on.
Did the match commissioner follow proper procedure?
The second and more pressing issue is how the match officials handled the situation.
According to Section 308 of the tournament handbook (“Canceled and Terminated Matches”), “only the commissioner may declare a match cancellation.” Motown stated in their protest that the decision should have been made by the match commissioner, who is supposed to wait for word from US Soccer on how to move forward when an issue like this one arises, and not pushed on the owners and administrators of Motown, who were forced to debate the issue in public on the sidelines shortly before the start of the game.
After an official measurement of the field by the officiating crew determined the playing surface was indeed narrower than US Soccer’s minimum requirements, the match commissioner approached the Motown sideline and told the team they needed to decide whether the game was played or not.
“We felt that this was not a position we should have been in and the final decision should have come from the match commissioner based on the regulations and laws in the handbook,” Motown asserts in their protest letter.
One option was to declare a forfeit in Motown’s favor, and have the two sides then play an exhibition match to entertain the crowd. But the match commissioner stated that his officiating crew would leave if Motown took the forfeit, and wouldn’t stay for an exhibition match.
In last year’s US Open Cup tournament, the officiating crew in a First Round match between SC United Bantams and NC Fusion U23 determined that the home side did not have enough players registered to compete, but with a large crowd already assembled the two teams and officials agreed to play an exhibition game without telling the crowd that the Fusion were awarded a 1-0 forfeit win.
That course of action wasn’t made available to Motown. Instead, the management of Motown held an ad-hoc meeting on the sideline just 30 minutes before kickoff that was witnessed by both teams and by the assembled spectators, including HRB. The debate was between both of Motown’s owners, the general manager, the head coach, and the assistant coach. Two of those, including one of the owners, wanted to play the game out, while two others, including the other owner, wanted to take the forfeit win.
The fifth party, head coach Gideon Baah, abstained from the discussion. In his own words he believed the players would want to play and this was up to management.
The staff of Manhattan SC, including head coach Ray Selvadurai, were seen on their sideline debating the situation as well.
Motown now contends the demands of the match commissioner, combined with the hostile environment and persistence of match officials to for a decision before the scheduled kickoff, did not allow for a proper discussion of options. In the end, the owner of Motown who wanted the forfeit felt that having an escalating argument in public wasn’t the proper path forward. He conceded, and the game went ahead with Motown losing in extra time.
Ruling expected before end of the weekend
A source close to the situation expects a ruling to come out as early as today, but it could be made public before the end of this weekend. The outcomes could include:
- Manhattan SC disqualification, and Motown advances
- Replay of the match before the Second Round on April 4
- Result stands, and Manhattan advances
This is the second consecutive year in which Motown have been involved in a First Round Open Cup protest. In 2022, the team’s match against West Chester United SC originally ended in a 3-2 extra time loss for the Morristown side. However, a protest was filed after it was determined United unintentionally used an illegal substitution following a player going into the concussion protocol. The protest was successful and Motown won the replay, 1-0.