I don’t know what it is about North American soccer, but for the most part, we seem to really struggle with the field of play. The most common complaint levied against American/Canadian pitches is our over-reliance on synthetic, “turf” surfaces that are tough on players muscles and joints. They’re often lined for other sports, reinforcing the stereo type that the teams playing there are second class citizens. They can be tough to play on too, from inconsistent bouncing to increasing the speed of play. And some of the biggest names in MLS — particularly those of the elder, European star persuasion — have opted to just bypass games played on the fake playing surfaces altogether. The turf monster also caused a fuss ahead of this summers Women’s World Cup, where all six host stadiums will feature artificial fields, prompting a lawsuit from players led by American Abby Wambach.
But over the last year or so, ingenious groundsmen around the country have turned to an alternative solution to hosting matches in stadiums that feature turf — laying actual grass on top of the fake stuff, kind of like a turf toupée.
We saw it last summer with friendlies and international fixtures played in stadiums like Dallas gargantuan Cowboy Stadium and Indianapolis Lucas Oil Stadium, and even during World Cup qualifying when the national team took to Seattle’s Century Link Field. We saw it once again last week when the US hosted Mexico in San Antonio’s Alamodome. And in theory, it allows high-capacity NFL and collegiate football stadiums the chance to capitalize on the increasingly recognized cash cows that are international soccer fixtures.
Problem is, these fields are great in theory alone. The turf itself never looks as good as promised, and is often far worse than it’s appearance. Last week, Mexico threatened to pull out of the friendly (itself nothing more than a cash grab) because the conditions were so unsafe. And really, every time US soccer sanctions this solution, they’re not doing anything more than playing a giant game of Russian Roulette. And they lost that gamble when Kyle Beckerman went down injured against El Trí — how it took this long for a US injury to finally occur on one of these pathetic excuses for a field is a little mind-blowing.
Fact of the matter is, there are probably a hundred stadiums in this country that have natural grass surfaces suitable for high level soccer. And if a city with a large stadium wants in on the action, they should be required to provide a field fit for playing before they’re even be considered. I’m not saying another temporary solution can’t be used either, but this one certainly isn’t working.
US Soccer, for whatever reason can’t look beyond the safety of its own players, just to make a buck. It’s embarrassing, and the heroes we root on deserve far more than what we’re giving them.