Equal Footing

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.

We have the best fans in the world, and we wouldn’t have won the World Cup without their support. To us, that’s just a fact. They made the trek to Canada. They made us feel like we were playing at home in every match. And most of all, they made us feel like, by winning the World Cup, we were a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

By continuing to support us after the World Cup — at the L.A. rally, at the New York City parade, at the previous six Victory Tour matches — they showed just how big this “thing” we’re all a part of really is. To be able to spend so much quality time with our fans on this tour has been an unforgettable experience. They’re why we’re so proud to do what we do and to have this one-of-a-kind career.

And that’s why it was such a difficult decision for us to cancel our match vs. Trinidad and Tobago — and one that we did not take lightly at all.

Here is what happened.

On Friday at practice, we lost a teammate, Megan Rapinoe, to an ACL injury. Megan’s injury took place while playing on a subpar training field. The grass on the training pitch itself was in bad shape. All along the pitch, sewer plates and plastic coverings were laying on the sidelines.

It wasn’t until we got to Aloha Stadium the next day — the day before the match against Trinidad and Tobago — that we finally saw, for the first time, how bad the stadium’s field truly was. The conditions were such that our coach shortened practice to a brief 30-minute training session so we wouldn’t risk injury before the game. There were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field. 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.

There is a larger, more vital conversation about turf — as it concerns women’s soccer — that continues to make progress. But turf is our reality right now; we play on it all the time. This decision wasn’t about “turf vs. grass.” This was about field conditions and player safety.

It’s as simple as that. Soccer is our job. Our bodies are our jobs. And nothing should ever be put in competition with our protection and safety as players.

With all of that in view, we made our decision: These simply weren’t acceptable conditions for an international match.

Our coaches agreed. We went to the U.S. Soccer Federation and informed them of our decision, after which, they went out to see if the field could be improved. It was deemed unplayable. (Usually, for what it’s worth, the Federation will go out to the venue to check out the field months in advance. To our knowledge, this was not done, and the field had only been inspected days prior.)

When the Federation saw the field, they agreed with us about the field’s conditions. After a long discussion, they decided to call the game. This was a situation where the players, the coaches and the Federation all agreed. There was no uncertainty.

Again: This is not a decision we took lightly. This was going to be the first game that we had ever played in Hawaii. There were around 15,000 fans locally that were planning on coming to the game, and the majority of them were going to be seeing the USWNT live for the first time. Cancellation was something that we never anticipated doing, and the decision to cancel was a heartbreaking one.

We want our fans to know how much we appreciate them. We understand their frustrations. But at the same time, we hope they understand our frustrations. There is no one who wanted that game played more than we did.

We also want to thank our opponents, Trinidad and Tobago. Obviously, for them to come all the way to Hawaii to play us is an incredibly long trip. We thank them for understanding our decision and for understanding that it comes from a place of wanting to protect players. This was not just about protecting our team, but about protecting their team as well.

And this was about wanting to protect women’s soccer players in general. We have become so accustomed to playing on whatever surface is put in front of us. But we need to realize that our protection — our safety — is priority No. 1. At the end of the day, we expect to be treated equally as our male counterparts. And we hope that, in the future, our fields and our venues will be chosen and inspected at the standard of an international match — whether it’s men or women playing on the field.

We have three games left on this Victory Tour, and we look forward to getting back on the field. We are already excited for our next match in San Antonio and for the opportunity to thank our fans again, in person. After all, they’re the best in the world.

We hope that something like this never has to happen again.