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.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —