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Temporary surface in Seattle? It was always a bad choice

Jun 10, 2013, 11:30 AM EDT

CenturyLink Field 2

Tuesday night may come and go with marginal impact from a sketchy choice made by U.S. Soccer, without any dent to the U.S. national team’s drive for Brazil 2014.

If so, the United States soccer establishment will have luckily escaped its own poor choice regarding Tuesday’s big match against Panama.

In order to finally bring a World Cup qualifier to Seattle, certainly a deserving market, U.S. Soccer and the Sounders arranged to install a temporary grass surface inside Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

It was a bad decision, one that poses unnecessary risk. These temporary fields tend to be consistently unruly, highly imperfect at very best, potentially injurious and difficult to navigate at their worst.

(MORE: One player has already called out the CenturyLink surface)

Some tend to behave better than others, but we are generally talking about degrees of imperfection when it comes to the troubling seams, the tendency to be slippery and the listless bounce of the installed sod. Does anybody remember how bad it was at Ford Field three years ago as the United States topped Canada to open that year’s Gold Cup? It would have been comical how awful that thing was, except that it was actually dangerous.

What then-U.S. manager Bob Bradley told Reuters: “For the players it is very, very hard. Recovery is hard, it is tough on the legs during the game, you see guys slipping. Hopefully we can find a better way because we love coming to amazing stadiums like this.”

U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey was even more to the point about that highly flawed surface at Ford Field: “It’s tough. I don’t know why they would schedule [games] in venues where you have to lay the grass over the turf.”

Indeed.

Again, it’s great that Seattle and the Pacific Northwest get the match. The crowd will be great and the atmosphere will bubble with brilliance. But it’s this simple: If the United States soccer federation wanted to stage a match in Seattle they should have just accepted the artificial surface, one that is FIFA approved for World Cup qualifiers.

(MORE: U.S. national team morning news roundup)

I know that might generate some player push back. A bit of outdated thinking still infects some of the athletes (and their agents, and their clubs, two elements that have financial interests in their players’ health) regarding artificial surface. But players will generally acquiesce and perform on plastic when the big occasions call for it.

If Tuesday’s surface is tricky or slow or lacks bounce – anything that would muck up or slow the match or otherwise mitigate the U.S. edge in skill – then luck and fortune become a larger element. And that is not what’s best for the home team here, not what is best for a United States team looking for safe arrival into seventh consecutive World Cup.

Artificial turf is certainly not ideal for soccer, but it plays predictably, at least. This is why Costa Rica has long staged its home matches on the new breed of plastic grass; better that than risking a muddy quagmire in the rainy land.

U.S. Soccer’s stance on this through the years, as relayed numerous times through several staffers and coaches, was always consistent: these matches are too important, so nothing can be left to chance. That was always enough for me.

So what changed here?

  1. perrinbar - Jun 10, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    Agreed. Every time the Sounders lay down grass it’s a nightmare. Just freaking play on the turf. One game, it’s not going to kill you.

    • Michael - Jun 11, 2013 at 2:03 AM

      Meh. It played just fine on Saturday. But yeah, USSoccer should be more open to playing on quality turf fields.

      • perrinbar - Jun 11, 2013 at 11:17 AM

        True enough, Saturday was the best I’ve seen it. But it’s still dicey and the turf is more than adequate.

  2. dfstell - Jun 10, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    I dunno how bad the turf or the artificial surfaces are. The players do seem to uniformly hate both of them, so lets just say that they are suboptimal.

    I think you just put it on the Seattle fans and tell them that we’re playing on a suboptimal surface at a time slot that is inconvenient for ~60% of the US population to watch……and that they better bring the home field advantage to make up for all that other crap.

    • charliej11 - Jun 10, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      Well home field advantage is what Seattle does best.

      I ( and 55k other fans ) where at the game on Saturday night, I saw nothing to indicate the field wasn’t great….maybe on TV you are closer to the action at times ?

      ps. I would just play it on turf. These are young guys, they grew up playing games on turf, it is NOT new to them.

    • bellinghamfitz - Jun 10, 2013 at 8:50 PM

      More East-Coast whining about having to stay up past mommy’s bedtime. One national game against freaking Panama starts at 10 PM. How about all the NBA/NHL/World Series games that start before West-Coasters even have a chance to leave their office?

      Obviously, the commenter here has not seen any MLS game from Seattle. Seattle is the HOME of “home-field advantage” for soccer in the US.

      BIG mistake not playing this match on the native Field Turf, though. Inexcusable, really. Why spend that money if it wasn’t necessary? Was it USA Soccer’s conditions that forced this? If so, blame USA Soccer for asking for conditions over and above what is required.

  3. rodmacneil - Jun 10, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    What a garbage article this is. You’re using quotes from THREE YEARS ago about a different temporary surface in a different stadium. The quote from Dempsey is especially deceptive, because it gives the appearance that he’s commenting negatively about choosing Seattle.

    Why not write an article that does some actual journalism and talks about the actual playing surface that is currently on the field in Seattle? You know, the one that was played on Saturday night and can be directly assessed by those who played on it?

    According to Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times: “Sounders FC’s Andy Rose said this temp. grass is way better than last year’s installation for Chelsea — cut short and well taken care of.”

    Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, commenting on the surface: “I thought it was good. This was the third time we’ve had grass put down and I think it was the best that it’s been.”

    But you’ve got your narrative decided ahead of time, so nevermind how this particular grass installation actually plays, and nevermind annoying facts that get in the way of it.

    • rodmacneil - Jun 10, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      Or how about more quotes from today, also reported by Mayers, with Jurgen Klinsmann and Clint Dempsey commenting on the *actual* temporary surface that is being used in Seattle:

      Jurgen Klinsmann on the temporary grass field: “To me, it seemed pretty good yesterday.” Clint Dempsey: “I would say the field is good.”

  4. yoyojimbog - Jun 10, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Years before you could see whole clumps getting torn up. I did not notice that on Saturday. Plus the whole stadium did not smell like crap like the previous years so maybe they used something different.

  5. sandmike - Jun 11, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    It seems like bad weather or poor field conditions usually favor the home team. I’m not sure if it gets in the head of the visiting teams or just gives them a built in excuse. I think an early US goal might be very difficult to overcome.

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