Before Wednesday night's game, the Washington Spirit organization decided to play the national anthem with the players from both teams in the locker room, effectively silencing Megan Rapinoe's planned protest. But instead of silencing Rapinoe, the Spirit's attempt to avoid a distraction was hugely distracting and overshadowed the game. So between protests, weather delays, post-game comments, and an actual soccer game, here is what went down on Wednesday:
1. Lightning delays
Just over an hour before kickoff, a thunderstorm started around the Maryland Soccerplex. The storms stopped and started repeatedly, forcing the 7pm kickoff to be pushed back to 8pm. In the 67th minute, there was another lightning delay due to a storm within the area but play resumed after half an hour. Adding to the strangeness, that second storm never really hit the Soccerplex itself save for a very brief sprinkle.
2. Megan Rapinoe, Bill Lynch and the anthem controversy
The Spirit tried to prevent Rapinoe's silent protest from "hijacking" the night but the decision ultimately became the storyline. According to NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush and Seattle Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey, the Spirit failed to inform the league, the Reign, or Rapinoe herself of the Spirit's plans to play the anthem while the teams were in the locker rooms.
"We were told just as we were about to leave the locker room that the anthem had already been played and I let Megan know that and we had a very brief reaction to that," Harvey said after the game."I think we were trying to be very focused on what we had to try and do I just felt that there was a strange atmosphere at the start of the game because obviously, people on the ground knew it had already been played, and we're walking out not really knowing why."
"We've tried to do everything we can to prepare for every eventuality leading up to today and leading up to training and everything else and to not be notified prior is disappointing," Harvey said. "With everything else going on throughout the game, disappointing that nobody from our club was notified by anything that was going to go out in public about as to a statement about why that happened."
Megan Rapinoe called the decision "fucking unbelievable" and said "I think it was incredibly distasteful to say that I, four days before one of the worst tragedies we've had in our countries, to say that I 'hijacked' this event."
"It's just really disappointing and disrespectful. If you want to talk about me being disrespecting the flag, he didn't even give people a chance, give both teams a chance to even stand in front of it and show their respect."
During the game, Plush disapproved of the Spirit's word choice.
Spirit use of the word hijacking— Caitlin Buckley (@caitlinbuckley2) September 8, 2016
"It’s not a word I would have chosen."
Plush also said he hadn't thought about whether or not the Spirit would face a fine for breaking league protocol.
"I haven’t even thought about that yet," he said. "I’m just trying to digest it all at this point. I understand it’s an emotional subject. I’ll take a breath and we’ll evaluate it."
When asked by a reporter about the Spirit's perceived lack of solidarity with the LGBT community, mainly stemming from the club's lack of Pride nights, and whether Rapinoe believed that had anything to do with tonight's decision, Rapinoe expressed her displeasure with Spirit owner Bill Lynch.
"I've had conversations with Spirit players both current and past. The fact that they don't have a Pride night and they have gay players on their team as well as everything else, they've made it pretty clear at least internally that that's not something they're interested in, which is homophobic to me. I don't know if that was directed at me because I'm gay, and that's a protest I'm making as a gay woman, that's a bit of a stretch. But yeah, I do think Bill Lynch is homophobic," Rapinoe said.
3. Spirit clinch home playoff berth
Crystal Dunn scored her first goal of the season tonight and despite a missed penalty kick from Christine Nairn, the Spirit clinched home field advantage for a semifinal. It will be the first-ever home playoff game for the Spirit, with the game set to take place either September 30th or October 1st. After earning a two-goal lead via a rebound goal by Cheyna Williams, the Spirit conceded a penalty kick right after the second delay ended which Kim Little converted.
Cali Farquharson exited the game in the second minute after colliding with a Reign defender and being carried off on a stretcher. Farquharson had ice on her left knee as she exited but Gabarra said after the game that the Spirit wouldn't know the extent of her injury until getting MRI results. The Spirit also heavily rotated their squad and neither Dunn nor Ali Krieger started (though Dunn ended up playing 85 minutes after coming in for Farquharson). The Spirit play the Reign again this Sunday, this time on the road.