Thursday update: The Town of Cary will not re-sod the fields after the rugby championships, allowing the RailHawks to host rounds of the U.S. Open Cup in the main WakeMed Soccer Stadium and ensuring no conflict with the team’s regular-season July 4 match. Story to come.
Cary will soon host some of the world’s best rugby players, but their visit may come at a cost to the hometown soccer team.
The Cary Town Council at its Jan. 28 meeting approved a request by the Triangle Sports Commission to use WakeMed Soccer Park for the 2015 North American and the Caribbean Rugby Association Men’s and Women’s Sevens Championships.
The tournament is scheduled for June 11-14. Winners of the tournaments earn a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics – the first Olympics that will feature rugby.
The council agreed to spend $115,000 on tournament preparations, which the Triangle Sports Commission will later reimburse.
But with the rugby tournament ending on June 14, the field of the 10,000-seat stadium may be not be resodded in time for the Carolina RailHawks to host at least one round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in July. Resodding the field typically takes about three weeks, meaning the field wouldn’t be ready for play until July 4, said Curt Johnson, president of the RailHawks.
The RailHawks host a July 4 regular-season NASL match, one of the team’s most-attended home games of the year with more than 7,000 spectators. A delay in the resodding process would threaten to relocate the game from the main stadium as well.
The schedule and locations for the Open Cup have yet to be released, but the RailHawks usually host their first game in the tournament around that time and host other games in the ensuing weeks if they advance.
In the meantime, Cary Council members and economic boosters were enthused about hosting the rugby tournaments. USA Rugby expects 4,000 to 5,000 spectators will attend the competitions each day, according to a Cary staff report.
“I think this is a really cool idea,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “I hope it draws a big crowd. I know I’ll be there. I think it’ll be fantastic.”
The Triangle Sports Commission has been trying to bring a rugby event to the area for years, said Hill Carrow, the commission’s CEO.
“It’s the newest Olympic sport,” Carrow said. “We want to be on the ground floor of that.”
It’s unclear how much the tournament will benefit the local economy because the Triangle has never hosted such an event, and it’s too early to tell how many hotel stays it will generate, said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.
Carrow said he thinks the championships will be a hit because they’ll be played under Olympic standards, meaning the games are shorter and feature fewer players on the field.
Seven players, rather than the traditional 15, will play two 10-minute halves in each game, Carrow said.
“There’s a lot more passing and fewer scrums, so the games will be a lot more fast-paced,” he said.
The commission plans to install anchors for the field-goal posts so the stadium can host more rugby events in the future, Carrow said.
The commission also plans to plant new sod upon completion of the rugby tournament.
If the field is unavailable, it will be the second consecutive year the RailHawks would be displaced during the Open Cup, where all divisions of American soccer participate in the same knockout tournament.
Last year, the RailHawks played their third- and fourth-round matches of the Open Cup in the main stadium. But they had to resod the field shortly after the fourth-round match against Chivas USA on June 15, and the field wasn’t ready in time for their fifth-round match against the L.A. Galaxy on June 24. That forced the RailHawks to play the Galaxy and U.S. national team star Landon Donovan on the practice field in front of about 3,000 people instead of inside the larger stadium.
Johnson was philosophical about his team’s plight in an interview last week.
“This is out of our control,” he said. “So I’m not gonna spend a lot of time worrying about it.”