Despite beating the Dearborn (Mich.) Stars 1-0 in a “win-and-you’re-in” Region II qualifier for soccer’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the KC Athletics won’t get to play in the national club championship after all.
Player/coach Kyle Perkins scored a 90th-minute goal April 21 at Olathe North High School, but the Stars protested the match on the grounds the field was too narrow to meet the United States Adult Soccer Association’s minimum 65-yard width.
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That protest was upheld last Wednesday and a replay of the game was ordered Sunday in Chicago.
Unable to pull together enough players on such short notice, the Athletics — reluctantly and angrily — withdrew from the tourney.
“We have so many guys who are coaching on weekends or that’s their only family time, we were only going to have seven or eight guys,” Perkins said. “Three days’ notice, it was just never going to happen for us and it became kind of a nightmare.”
Instead, Dearborn was awarded one of two Region II entries in the Open Cup’s centennial field. The Stars also advanced to the Region II final in the USASA’s national tourney, while the Athletics’ season is finished.
“This is what we play for every year, trying to qualify for the Open Cup, so it was heartbreaking,” Perkins said. “All the guys put in a lot of work and a lot of training hours even though we’re all just 9-to-5ers who have day jobs or are coaches.”
Prior to the April 21 game, match officials walked off the field’s width and decided it was roughly 62 yards, leading Dearborn to play the match under protest.
At The Star’s request, officials at Olathe North measured the school’s turf field and determined it was actually 174 feet, 4 inches — or a shade over 58 yards wide, which is nearly 7 yards below the mandated minimum.
Still, the Athletics contend it was an honest mistake.
“Obviously, we didn’t go into the game knowing it was short,” Perkins said. “We thought it was 65 yards wide, because we’d been told it was a full-sized field.”
Besides that, the Athletics had agreed to move the game from Saturday to Sunday in the first place. The extra day allowed Dearborn to get its full complement of players to Kansas City and avoid its own forfeit.
“We moved the game in the spirit of fairness and it kind of all backfired on us,” Perkins said. “We did everything as fairly and as rightly as possible, but it seems not to have worked out for us. It’s just frustrating.”
The Athletics appealed the protest on the grounds that it wasn’t lodged in the presence of Perkins prior to the match — the same basis upon which Costa Rica’s protest of a FIFA World Cup qualifier against the U.S. men last month during a blizzard in Denver was denied.
“There’s no provision within the national cup rules that says a protest shall be lodged in front of the opposing captain,” USASA Region II director Bruno Trapikas said. “They say it shall be forwarded to the opposing team within three days of the competition.”
Trapikas’ wife, Debra, is the Region II Cup Commissioner and sits on the USASA National Cup Committee, which ordered a replay after vacating the Athletics’ win.
However, USASA rules do explicitly require seven days’ notice before any game, a rule that was waived at Debra Trapikas’ discretion.
“Unfortunately, we’re also bound by U.S. Soccer’s requirement to have a champion by (April 28),” Bruno said. “There’s no going around that, because if you don’t meet that guideline then nobody qualifies.”
He sympathized with the Athletics’ plight but wasn’t apologetic about the committee’s decision.
“Of course I sympathize with that,” Bruno Trapikas said. “A game should be played on the field, and that’s why the chance for a replay was offered. The national cup committee could have disqualified KC Athletics completely based on the original violation, but they did not do so.”
That was little comfort to the Athletics.
“Qualifying for the Open Cup is what we look forward to every year,” Perkins said. “It’s the only thing that really matters to the guys who are playing and we feel like we got robbed.”