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Reader Generated Content: Fake Field Farces

Dec 28, 2012, 8:30 AM EDT

CenturyLink Field

This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time, but for whatever reason — be it subject matter, lack of dialogue, or insufficient time — there’s never been a chance to circle back on a post and redress the discussion.

Yesterday, however, I jumped head first into an unpopular position – defending the quality of FieldTurf. Between the site and one prominent reader on Twitter, we had a number of people furthering the conversation.

And that’s really what this blogging business is all about. While we do our fair share of reporting and analysis on the site, the backbone of ProSoccerTalk is people like Steve, Noah, and myself adding what little views we can to discussions that started elsewhere. Be it on long standing debates, the significance of transfers, or giving a story an extra layer of context, the mandate underlying our work is to bring the soccer world to you.

Yesterday, I built on Grant Wahl’s reporting on Pacific Northwest qualifiers by making the case for FieldTurf. The basic thesis: FieldTurf should not be exclusionary criteria for hosting important matches. Synthetic surfaces may never be as ideal as pristine sod (perhaps a debate for another time), but a good instance of the turf will beat a lot of grass fields.

You guys had your say. Here’s a selection of the comments along with my latest attempts to kick the can:

… 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.

— “corgster”

This might be the part of the debate I find most disturbing. No, just because other countries use fake turf doesn’t mean we have to do the same, especially when (in most places) we have the economic capability of maintaining a sod fields. But the only other place in the world where you find such disproportionate, unjustified (and frankly, paranoid) opinion on fake fields is England. And I’m always wary of instances where U.S. soccer culture blindly inherits from England (see style of play limitations).

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 …

— “donjuego”

The first sentence is an exaggeration. Based on my first hand experience covering the league, it’s nowhere close to true. Many players harbor apprehensions about playing on synthetic fields, but it’s nowhere close to “Every.”

Or “EVERY.”

But we can’t ignore the fact that a lot of player opinions may be products of the same biases that have led the new, perfectly playable synthetics to be stigmatize. It’s an attitude that’s carried over from the time of artificial turf – the thin green carpet, usually used with only a thin pad separating it from concrete, that sacrificed more than one player’s career for economic considerations.

While those lingering healthy concerns are understable, they’re also antiquated. Nobody plays on artificial turf anymore (even Olympic Stadium in Montreal replaced their AstroTurf last decade).

It’s true that players always prefer grass, but it’s an exaggeration to say every player “speaks” out on the subject. For some, FieldTurf is a non-issue, if suboptimal.

On a good FieldTurf pitch, none of the qualities the reader lists are necessarily true.

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.

— “creek0512:

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

— “arbeck”

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.

— “scottp11”

This range of comments underscores what should be the guiding principle as it concerns any pitch. Fields don’t exist in a real versus fake, good versus bad duality. They fall on a spectrum from completely unplayable to perfect conditions. And if we’re judging purely on playability and discard our clichéd maxims derived from the days of artificial turf, the best fake pitches are going to fall closer to the right end of that spectrum that some perfectly good grass fields.

But I suspect we’re still a generation away from the bias dissipating. It’s going to take a new generation of players growing up exposed to FieldTurf for the most vehement opposition to be drowned out. By then, some different viewpoints will have crept into decision making seats at U.S. Soccer.

Last but not least, an interaction I had on Twitter yesterday with a Major League Soccer player. As with all things Twitter, it took a while for us to establish our places in the conversation, but as you can see, new San Jose Earthquakes defender Dan Gargan and I ended up with similar (if obviously differentiated) positions:

source:

source:

To be certain, almost every player favors natural grass. But that’s not really the point. As Gargan says, ideally Jeld-Wen and all fields would be grass, but when they’re not, they can still be acceptable. And while being merely acceptable might not be enough to win a World Cup qualifier over other venues, it shouldn’t preclude a site from consideration.

There may be other factors taken into consideration. And that’s why this whole Pacific Northwest-thing keeps coming up. Seattle can move 70,000 tickets for an important qualifier. And Portland can produce an unmatchable atmosphere. If it weren’t for the perceived value of those qualities, this discussion would be pointless. Instead, coming to grips with the benign reality of FieldTurf could actually benefit U.S. Soccer.

Attitudes toward artificial surfaces aren’t going to change any time soon. But the debate we’re having right now (beyond this site)? Where people seem to be juxtaposing the visage of an idyllic grass field against the old turf at Veterans Stadium? It’s farcical.

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