Reader Generated Content: Fake Field Farces

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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.

Watford 2-0 West Ham: No dream start for Moyes

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  • Unhappy debut for Moyes
  • Hart, Gomes make wild saves
  • Hughes scores early
  • Richarlison adds insurance

Will Hughes and Richarlison scored on either side of half time to lift Watford to a 2-0 win over visiting West Ham on Sunday at Vicarage Road.

It’s a debut loss for new Irons boss David Moyes, whose club remains in the Premier League’s 18th position.

Watford rises to eighth, with 18 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Ham looked bright and industrious in the first 10 minutes, yet Watford had a lead in the 11th.

Andre Gray whiffed on a shot, and the ball bobbled to Hughes for an advantageous finish.

Watford was on the back foot for much of the latter stages in the first half. A slick one-touch endeavor ended with Heurelho Gomes getting a piece of Cheikhou Kouyate‘s low shot.

Gomes then twice denied Marko Arnautovic, the first an incredible leg save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kouyate and Abdoulaye Doucoure traded chances early in the second half, with neither on frame.

Andre Gray and Doucoure worked a fine 58th minute chance, with Winston Reid‘s slight deflection stopping Gray from curling inside the far post. Joe Hart made a terrific save as Watford then pressed off the ensuing corner kick.

Richarlison put it away, essentially, with a 64th minute goal. Hughes handled the ball in the run-up, but the Brazilian’s finish was electrifying.

It’s Richarlison’s fifth PL goal of the season, matching his half-season total with Fluminese.

Christian Kabasele blocked a Lanzini rip off the line in the 74th minute as the Irons kept battling for an unlikely comeback.

Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.

McKennie impresses again as Schalke goes second

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Schalke will enter the Revierderby in the Bundesliga’s second place after a 2-0 win over Hamburg on Sunday.

Franco Di Santo and Guido Burgstaller scored for Schalke, but those getting their eyes on USMNT teen Weston McKennie following his debut international goal got another promising feast for the eyes.

[ MORE: PST’s McKennie profile ]

Consider:

— McKennie, 19, covered 12.51 kilometers in the match, more than any other player by nearly a half km (Aaron Hunt of Hamburg ran 12.07).

— Only Burgstaller (94) recorded more individual runs than McKennie’s 91.

— His three attempts on goal were also a match-high. One was a flub, but another was barely redirected out for a corner.

— He’s now started five-straight matches when fit.

A win over Christian Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund on Nov. 25 would put Schalke’s rivals six points in the rear view. And McKennie’s played a far bigger role than even we suspected during our preseason chat.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 12 9 2 1 30 8 22 5-1-0 4-1-1 29
 FC Schalke 04 12 7 2 3 16 10 6 4-2-1 3-0-2 23
 RB Leipzig 12 7 2 3 20 15 5 4-1-0 3-1-3 23
 Mönchengladbach 12 6 3 3 21 21 0 3-1-2 3-2-1 21
 Borussia Dortmund 12 6 2 4 29 16 13 3-0-2 3-2-2 20

Rashford’s childhood hero played for USMNT (Take one guess)

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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But can he grow a beard?

Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford is known for his darting runs and clever finishes, but he grew up begging to get between the sticks with a lot of love for an American.

“Howard was my idol. I used to have a little Tim Howard shirt.”

[ MORE: Dempsey still wants USMNT role ]

Rashford said he’d ask his youth coach to allow him to play goal so he could mimic his hero, who at the time was the Manchester United backstop and now USMNT legend.

The 20-year-old was nine when Howard left Old Trafford, but it hasn’t changed his enjoyment for tending goal. Rashford joked that he’s got to be the choice to replace David De Gea in case of a post-sub emergency.