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The Fake Field Farce

Dec 27, 2012, 8:45 AM EDT

turf Getty Images

The field conditions have always been a stumbling point with World Cup qualifiers. The use of FieldTurf is frowned on, as is the laying of temporary sod that hasn’t had time to settle in.

CONCACAF might have slightly more lenient views when awarding Gold Cup matches, but as far as U.S. Soccer’s concerned, there are enough good, natural turf venues to avoid compromising its field standards. If you have fake turf, you won’t get a real World Cup qualifier.

That view may be changing slightly. As Grant Wahl’s reported, U.S. Soccer is now willing to consider fields like Portland and Seattle’s — the two highest profile FieldTurf venues — provided they carpet their fake stuff with real sod. If U.S. Soccer is confident the natural grass has time to bed in, World Cup qualifying could come to the northwest.

Unfortunately, as this debate regarding Portland and Seattle has evolved, nobody has ever paused to note this is not an actual issue. The complaints of “fake grass”or “artificial turf” are farcical when you walk Jeld-Wen Field and see how games are played. Seattle’s turf used to be a source of player complaints, but this year’s version was much improved. There’s nothing wrong with Portland or Seattle’s fields.

The issue becomes even more ludicrous when you spend a few minutes dribbling a ball on a hastily laid grass field. Seams in the surface are inevitable. Over the course of a few square yards, you’ll get uneven patches. Passes bobble. The surfaces almost never hold up under game conditions, and players are left with more complaints than if they had played on a mediocre synthetic pitch.

This is the alternative to FieldTurf?

To U.S. Soccer’s credit, they don’t seem willing to accept fields that haven’t settled, but at some point, we need to get beyond this whole real versus fake issue. As anybody who has played on good FieldTurf knows, the game may be slightly different, but the quality is the same.

And of course, slight differences in quality exist between natural grass fields. Some play like carpets thanks to the efforts of their groundkeepers. Some play too soft and are torn up within 30 minutes. Others feel rock hard and produce strange bounces. And that doesn’t even take into account the more general fast versus slow differences.

There was a time when an aversion to fake fields was natural, but we’ve evolved beyond that. Thankfully, we’re past the days when players’ career were sacrificed to save money with artificial turf. Nobody in Major League Soccer’s playing on rugs over concrete.

FieldTurf isn’t perfect, but most natural pitches have problems, too. The fake stuff has become good enough to take it fields’ quality on a case-by-case basis. While Jeld-Wen’s field may be perfectly playable, another’s synthetic instance may not.

The whole debate is a farce. We talk about real and fake fields as if they fit into two distinct groups, but when it comes to quality of play and health of the players, that’s no longer the case. Excluding venues become of FieldTurf is an antiquated notion.

While the whole U.S. Soccer vs. Portland and Seattle case is intriguing, at some point somebody should step up and note it’s all based on a fallacy. Synthetic fields aren’t inherently bad.

This isn’t the 80s.

  1. mmancini99 - Dec 27, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    Given the s@%! that the majority of CONCACAF nations play on, FieldTurf’s negatives are only relative.

    • mennodaddy - Dec 27, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      Seriously. Estadio Ricardo Saprissa’s pitch is a freakin’ pool table.

  2. corgster - Dec 27, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Installing temp turf is regressive, ill suited for major competitions, and clearly not on par with the current quality of the pitches being installed.

    Secondly, this conversation is not a problem in many countries today. Russia has consciously used artificial turfs for Euro qualifiers and their opponents have not made a stink about it. Why does the USSF work to thwart the optimal turf for the stadium? Their reasoning is not persuasive.

  3. charliej11 - Dec 27, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    Hmm, I should be on the side of turf and I am…..but to say the quality is as good ? I can only assume you mean quality of the field ( kids today would rather play on the turf, they complain when they don’t get a turf game in Seattle ).

    The quality of play definitely suffers. I don’t think that is the worse thing in the world. Play Mexico in Seattle.

  4. donjuego - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    Every pro player, (lets say this again, EVERY PRO PLAYER), that speaks on the subject says field turf makes their bodies hurt more, requires longer recovery, and produces unpredictable bounces and plays different than a good grass field. They all prefer grass. Some veterans take games off when their teams goes to a turf venue. Thierry Henry for example.

    But what would these professional soccer players know? I’m sure Richard Farley is right and all these players are wrong.

    Turf is better than a bad grass field. No argument there.

    • Richard Farley - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      There are a lot of things I don’t know, but one of the few things I do know is your first sentence is wrong. You actually don’t have to look hard or long to find players for whom playing in some of the aforementioned venues is not an issue.

      • jfroslid - Dec 29, 2012 at 10:36 AM

        Richard, I’ve worked for FieldTurf for the past 8 years as Director of Soccer Development, and this is one of the most logical, informed and refreshing arguments on the topic that I’ve read. I commend you, not just because my employer is FieldTurf, but because synthetic is the future in many situations. While there is certainly some truth to donjuego’s point above I’m finding the number of complaints from pro players is decreasing. I attribute this to the fact that the new, younger players coming into the league have played most of their carees on artificial turf. The other point not considered here is FIFA. The international governing body is immensely supportive of artificial turf. It is no coincidence that portions of the U20 men’s and women’s world cups have been played on artificial turf over the past 5+ years, including the championship matches. I also believe clubs like Seattle and Portland will play a large role in how soon US Soccer makes this adjustment. I believe it’s not a matter of “if” but rather “when” our national team will play on artificial, especially as the product, particularly FieldTurd’s fibers, gets better for soccer each year.

  5. creek0512 - Dec 27, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Sure, Field Turf is better than a crappy, hard grass field like I played on in high school. But there is no comparison between Field Turf and a high quality field like any grass field USSF chose would be.

    • arbeck - Dec 27, 2012 at 3:00 PM

      Depends on the conditions at the time. I’m pretty sure Field Turf would have been better than grass during the Honduras game the USMNT played in the downpour in Miami last year.

      A high quality grass field under ideal conditions will always be preferable to turf. However, there are times when conditions are less than ideal.

  6. scottp11 - Dec 27, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    I just think if fake turf were actually, truly fine then many more would be playing on it Simple. It’s not about conspiracies or whiny, Luddite players.

    The fake stuff getting better, but is still so varied. Sand-based, rubber-based. Pacific NW moles can cry all they want, but I prefer to play on real grass (decent) over the Turf any day.

    I also think turf-toe is a real problem.

  7. d12e - Dec 28, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    Anyone who plays on field turf daily will tell you they prefer grass. It takes a toll on the body and will ware you down. Do you think Messi could have played 60 games in a calender year if he was playing on a field like seattle or New England? If he didnt get hurt he would have needed more rest. I just dont get it, if you loose one player from a turf injury the team will loose a significant amount of money from that loss, especially in football where it could be a high priced franchise player.

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