San Diego boss Stoney rips NWSL for 'unacceptable' schedule

San Diego Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney once again criticized the National Women's Soccer League's schedule making on Saturday, calling her team's three-game road stretch this week "unacceptable" after a 0-0 draw in Houston, where the temperature at kickoff was 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

San Diego played away to the Washington Spirit on June 15 in Washington, D.C., then traveled to face NJ/NY Gotham FC on Wednesday before finishing the road trip in Houston on Saturday.

"I think it's extremely unfair on players," Stoney said after Saturday's match. "I think for player welfare, to ask us to go to Washington away, [Gotham] away, and then come to Houston in June two days after we've played the previous game, it's unacceptable. Scheduling-wise, it shouldn't happen."

The NWSL has made significant efforts to reduce midweek games over the past two years, but every team has at least one midweek game sandwiched between weekend fixtures this season.

This three-game week for San Diego and Gotham was a product of the teams' successes last season. The Wave won the 2023 NWSL Shield and faced Gotham, the 2023 NWSL Championship winners, in this year's Challenge Cup. The NWSL created the new format to mimic other season-opening fixtures from overseas, like England's Community Shield.

Stoney said she feels the Wave were "punished" for their success because Gotham hosted the Challenge Cup match in March (which San Diego won). Because the game was played on the opening weekend of the regular season, San Diego and Gotham needed to make up their regular season fixture last Wednesday night in New Jersey.

Stoney pointed out on Saturday that every other league plays that kind of cup competition the week before the regular season starts.

"There is no reason," she said. "Because in this league, we don't work with foresight, if I'm honest."

Stoney, who was named the 2022 NWSL Coach of the Year in San Diego's expansion season, has previously been critical of the league's operations and schedule-making.

She is not alone; Seattle Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey pointed to flaws in her team's travel and schedule load earlier in the season ahead of a clash with the Portland Thorns. Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós has been critical throughout this season of the placement of the Concacaf W Gold Cup during the NWSL's preseason.

The NWSL has historically struggled with scheduling issues. Up until recently, the league played through international breaks and, until this year, major international tournaments.

The NWSL will take a six-week break from the season for the Olympics this summer but will still play a new friendly tournament with Liga MX Femenil clubs during that time.

The league's calendar footprint is a larger, ongoing issue. Playing through the summer in certain climates, like Houston, can be unbearable, especially on short rest.

On Saturday, the NWSL announced that Gotham's home game against the Spirit on Sunday had been pushed back to an evening kickoff to account for an ongoing heat wave in the Northeast. Flipping the NWSL calendar to play through the winter presents other challenges in several northern NWSL markets.

Stoney's frustrations stem from the three-game week, something all teams have endured this season with varying levels of travel.

"What we've got to consider in all of this, is the players, their health, their body, their mind and what we put them through," Stoney said.

"Travel is brutal in this league. The conditions are brutal in this league. This could have been better. There was no need for this. Just foresight and planning, scheduling. I don't think it's rocket science to be honest."

With Saturday's draw, San Diego is now winless in seven games, with its last win coming against Utah Royals on May 8.

"I'm extremely proud of my players tonight," Stoney added. "They put an absolute shift in. It was so hot out there.

"They controlled the game until the last 10 minutes when we gave away a few set pieces ... Huge credit to my players tonight. Absolute shift tonight in these conditions with 48 hours [rest], travel. If we win it at the end, it's an incredible performance.

"We're disappointed that we haven't got three points, we're disappointed we've only taken two points out of these games, but it's a massive ask for us and it shouldn't happen."