The first sign of trouble came when Zack Murshedi’s cellphone pinged with a text message. The Tuesday afternoon Southwest flight the Galaxy were taking from LAX to Kansas City, Kan., for Wednesday’s game was scheduled to land in less than 30 minutes. But when he got a Twitter alert, followed by a series of progressively dire texts warning of tornado activity in the area, he knew before the flight attendants did that the schedule had changed.
What was supposed to be a simple 2-hour 45-minute flight, one the Galaxy had made annually without major incident, was turning into a nightmare for Murshedi, the soccer team’s administrator in charge of travel.
By the time the pilot announced he was diverting the flight to St. Louis, Murshedi, the team administrator responsible for handling the Galaxy’s travel arrangements, was working on a backup plan. From the plane he found a couple of dozen empty rooms at the Renaissance near the St. Louis airport.
Southwest said to wait; the delay would be short. But Murshedi, noticing the airport’s few restaurants were closing, feared the players wouldn’t get a good meal or a good night’s sleep. So with the game less than 24 hours away, he convinced general manager Dennis te Kloese and the coaching staff that everyone should pile into taxis and go to the hotel instead.
That was his first good call.
“We found out the next morning that the flight got canceled,” he said.
Major League Soccer is the only major pro sports league in the country whose teams fly commercial, limiting clubs by rule to four charter flights a season. That can have a major impact on travel schedules. Earlier this season the Montreal Impact spent a long day at the airport waiting for a 75-minute commercial flight to Boston that was eventually canceled.
The league allowed the Impact to charter a flight on game day and the team got to Boston just hours before kickoff. Murshedi asked the league for permission to do the same thing.
“Trying to wait for Southwest didn’t even cross my mind. I figured we should leave as soon as we could,” said Murshedi, who made alternate arrangements and told the players when to meet in the lobby before he went to bed early Wednesday morning.
That was his second good call.
But the only plane that could make it from the charter company’s base in Wisconsin to St. Louis, then on to Kansas City in time for Wednesday’s game had only 30 seats. The Galaxy’s traveling party had 39 people.
So Murshedi ordered two planes — at $36,000 each. The first plane, carrying the players, left St. Louis at 11 a.m. and landed in Kansas City at 12:15, about four hours before the first bus was scheduled to leave the hotel for the stadium ahead of a 7:30 kickoff.
“At the hotel we kind of had it business as usual with the meals and everything,” he said.
By the time the Galaxy returned to their downtown hotel that night, they had ended an 11-year winless streak on to road against Sporting Kansas City with a 2-0 victory. The last time the Galaxy won there the team was called the Wizards and it played in Missouri, not Kansas.
Murshedi figures the charter flights, the extra hotel rooms, meals and taxis cost the team — and MLS — more than $80,000, some of which he had to put on his corporate credit cards. But it paid off with a win that lifted the Galaxy to second in the league standings.
“We did what we should have done. And everything worked out,” he said. “We won the game, so that’s the ultimate goal.