Posted on July 10, 2012
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — When he saw the Major League Soccer schedule earlier this year, former all-star and U.S. international defender Jimmy Conrad was taken aback and surprised.
A mid-summer’s early afternoon game again in New Jersey? Really?
That’s right. The New York Red Bulls have scheduled a game at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, July 18 at 1 p.m. against the Chicago Fire.
Conrad had every right to be stunned, especially since he suffered heat exhaustion and a major scare toward the end of a scoreless tie between the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and the Kansas City Wizards almost a decade ago. He thought the league and team had learned a lesson on that oppressive day at old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“It was an isolated situation, but one that I felt would at least bring awareness to those mid-day games,” Conrad said when he was in the city for the Steve Nash Foundation Showcase last month.
He later added: “I saw the schedule, heard about it and I was just as shocked as you because I thought [they] would have learned a lesson. Why even chance or risk something like that? It happens all the country, where we read stories about people collapsing. Why even throw your players, who you want to protect and obviously put the best product on the field to do that. So, it’s a bit frustrating and disappointing.”
(MetroFanatic’s Dan Ryazansky noted there was a 2 p.m. matinee against the Colorado Rapids at Giants Stadium on July 14, 2006, a game that the Red Bulls won, 1-0).
The conditions at the stadium on Aug. 13, 2003 were unbearable. The match kicked off at noon as the FieldTurf temperature hit 118 degrees thanks to an overall temperature of 83 degrees and high humidity.
Conrad needed to be taken off the field on a stretcher after sitting down and lying down on the artificial turf.
The noon start was a test one of the MetroStars sponsors at the time — Kearny Federal Savings — to see if the team could attract children — day campers — for mid-afternoon matches. The crowd of 10,737 was the MetroStars’ third highest Wednesday attendance in four years.
“We thought in terms of the premise, it was fine,” Conrad said. “School kids come out. They get a little bit of special treatment. But it just didn’t didn’t make sense on a Giants Stadium turf in August in the middle of the day to have a game.”
But the show went on.
“I remember it being super hot,” said Conrad, who was in town recently for the Steve Nash Foundation Showdown. “We wore these royal, blue, thin light jerseys that our equipment manager had to run out and get because the other ones were too heavy because it was going to be too hot.”
The teams battled to a scoreless draw in extratime (10 minutes for a total of 100). MetroStars defender Edgar Bartholomeu needed to be stretchered off as he suffered from cramps in both legs. He was replaced by Joey DiGiamarino in the 63rd minute.
“Then it catching up to me at the end, playing overtime,” Conrad said. “Eddie Pope almost scored on a corner while I was marking him. Then I remember standing next to Clint Mathis. I was friends with Clint for a long time. I said, ‘Hey Clint, I’m not feeing great.’ And I feel my heart, and it felt like I was sprinting, my heart was racing so much I was standing still.
“He’s like, “Whoa!” He started to freak out. ‘You need to sit down.’ He urged me to sit down. So I sat down and lied down. But that wasn’t really the best idea because the ground was super hot. He got people out there immediately and I got two IV bags. After that I felt better.”
Conrad walked out of the locker room under his own power.
Afterwards, current Philadelphia Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, then the MetroStars president and general manager, said that the club would “probably not do this again in the future. . . . It wasn’t healthy to play.”
His players were in agreement.
“Nothing good came from this game,” defender Steve Jolley said at the time. “There’s a reason why Univision got rid of games on Sundays at one o’clock. it was worthless. Bad soccer.”
Added midfielder Mark Lisi that day: “You always felt you were gasping for air to do the work you’re used to doing,. Hopefully they’ll take a look at this and not have another 12 o’clock game in August.”
There hasn’t been one for the club since, but the Red Bulls have scheduled another matinee at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, at 1 p.m. next Wednesday.
Due to the recent heat wave in the country and in the New York metropolitan area, the specter of the 2003 game has come to the forefront again. According to the 10-day forecast on weather.com, the high for the day will be 93 degrees with the humidity at 51 percent.
Even without knowing the forecast, Conrad did not want to take a chance, even if RBA has grass and Giants Stadium had artificial turf (which retains heat a lot more) over RBA’s natural grass.
“I’m actually part of MLS now, so I have a little bit of a voice in that. but their mind has been made up,” Conrad said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Photo: Jimmy Conrad, helped off the field after an injury at the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup: “I saw the schedule, heard about it and I was just as shocked as you because I thought [they] would have learned a lesson. Why even chance or risk something like that?” Photo by Joy Rubenstein
Categories: North America, U.S.A.
Tags: Chicago Fire, Clint Mathis, Giants Stadium, Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City Wizards, Kearny Federal Savings, Mark Lisi, New York Red Bulls, Nick Sakiewicz, Red Bull Arena, Steve Nash Foundation