CenturyLink Field

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.

Allardyce after Black Cats’ big win over Man United: “We got what we deserved”

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13:  Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland thumbs up on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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In some ways, Sunderland took a page from Leicester City’s book in keeping their Premier League safety hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Manchester United on Saturday.

The Black Cats allowed visiting United two-thirds possession — 66 to 34 — but were very good when they had the ball in out-attempting the visitors 21-12.

[ MORE: Stream 10 a.m. ET matches or watch full PL match replays ]

Manager Sam Allardyce saw a win like this coming, and the normally bombastic Englishman says the three points were both deserved and overdue.

“Today was very similar to the way the Manchester City game went (which Sunderland lost 1-0) but this time we got what we deserved from the chances we created.

“I thought we might be punished for not taking them and wondered whether it was going to go our way, but it ended up being an unbelievable win for us.”

The real story for Big Sam is that Sunderland’s transfer window buys are looking fantastic. Ex-Bordeaux man Wahbi Khazri, at least to start, has looked like an absolute game-changer, while Lamine Kone bolted in the winner (even if it’s being credited as an own goal).

Sunderland is now a point back of derby rivals Newcastle United for 17th place, and four points back of Swansea. The Magpies face Chelsea at 12:30 p.m. ET, while Swans hosts Saints at 10 a.m. ET.

Sunderland 2-1 Man United: Huge win for Black Cats; dark day for Van Gaal

during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13, 2016 in Sunderland, England.
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  • Black Cats 1 point from safety
  • Wahzri scores 1st for Sunderland
  • United six points off top four

Sunderland beat Manchester United 2-1 at the Stadium of Light as two January signings made the difference in a huge win for the Black Cats.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

Wahbi Khazri gave Sunderland the lead early on but Anthony Martial equalized before half time with a superb finish. In a second half which Sunderland edged, Lamine Kone headed home late on (the goal later went down as a David De Gea own goal) to send the home fans wild.

With the three points Sunderland move to within one point of safety on 23 points following Sam Allardyce‘s first-ever home win against United, while the Red Devils stay six points off the top four and Louis Van Gaal‘s tenure is becoming increasingly untenable.

A frantic start saw Sunderland take the lead with Khazri scoring less than 10 minutes into his home debut to put the Black Cats 1-0 up.

The Tunisian playmaker whipped in a harmless looking free kick from the left which went towards Defoe and as he attempted to flick the ball goalwards but missed, the skip off the service deceived De Gea and nestled into the far corner.

Less than 15 minutes in Sunderland had to make a change as defender Jan Kirchhoff was forced off with a hamstring injury and Jack Rodwell replaced him. Anthony Martial continued to be United’s brightest attacking talent as Rooney couldn’t quite get on the end of his teasing cross.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

As half time approached Sunderland looked dangerous on the break with Khazri curling a shot over and then having a penalty appeal turned down after his shot struck Morgan Schneiderlin‘s arm in the box. At the other end Juan Mata sent a harmless shot towards goal which Vito Mannone saved easily.

Before the break United also had to make a change with Donald Love coming on for his debut and replacing the injured Matteo Darmian. Moments later USMNT international DeAndre Yedlin — who had been dealing with the threat of Martial well — was first booked for blatantly diving and trying to win a free kick, then United were level. Mata’s shot was saved by Mannone by Martial lost Yedlin and delicately dinked the ball home. 1-1. Game on.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

In the second half United looked to take control but Sunderland had a great chance to go ahead when Patrick Van Aanholt got behind Love and his cross almost found Jermain Defoe but Daley Blind‘s last-ditch tackle denied him.

A big chance arrived for Sunderland just after the hour mark when Dame N'Doye was set free but De Gea’s outstretched leg denied him to keep the scores level.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

United regrouped and increased the pressure late on as Mata’s shot was blocked well by Rodwell, Chris Smalling had a header deflected wide and then Memphis sent a shot right at Mannone after good work from the impressive Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Kone then rose highest in the 83rd minute and headed home Khazri’s corner from the right which a combination of De Gea and Martial couldn’t clear. 2-1 to the home side.

Memphis then forced Mannone into a fine stop and had another effort blocked by John O'Shea late on but United couldn’t grab an equalizer and the “Van Gaal out” brigade is growing stronger by the day.

Watch Live, Stream links: Everton-West Brom, Palace-Watford; every 10am ET game

Everton's Tom Cleverley, left, celebrates his goal with his teammates during the English Premier League soccer match between Newcastle United and Everton at St James' Park, Newcastle, England, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Everton vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

After two wins on the spin, the Toffees’ top six hopes are alive. Can the Baggies give themselves some breathing space from bottom three?

Norwich City vs. West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

After five-straight defeats the Canaries have dropped into the bottom three. The injury-hit Hammers will be hoping to stay in the top six with a win.

Crystal Palace vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Just one point from six games for the Eagles in January. Alan Pardew needs Emmanuel Adebayor to deliver some goals. As for Watford, they only have one win in eight. Expect a nervy encounter.

Bournemouth vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Stoke are sliding after three defeats on the spin. Can they get back on track at Bournemouth? The Cherries are 2-1-1 in their last four but are still in danger of getting sucked into the relegation battle.

Swansea vs. Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Swans are four unbeaten but still in touch with the bottom three, while Saints have kept five clean sheets in a row and have won four of their last five to keep their top six hopes alive.

Van Gaal would be “disappointed” if Mourinho talks held

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League
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Louis Van Gaal has admitted he’d be “disappointed” if he found out Manchester United’s directors have held talks with out of work Jose Mourinho behind his back.

The current United boss, 64, is contracted to be in charge at Old Trafford until the end of next season.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

However, amid mounting speculation that Mourinho is being lined up to replace him and with United currently sitting six points off the top four with 13 games to go, many expect LVG to be let go this summer.

Asked by the media if he’d be upset if he found out executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and other United directors had been holding talks with Mourinho behind his back, LVG had this to say.

“Then I’d be disappointed,” Van Gaal said. “In a football world that is possible, I know, but I do not think that. I have a relationship with Ed and the Glazers, they tell me, I think.”

Following United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea last Sunday LVG snapped at a journalist for asking about his future and the fact that the club hasn’t made any comment about the Mourinho rumors or publicly backed their current boss with any statements. Van Gaal insists he’s fine with the club policy of not commenting on speculation but you do sense a growing realization from the Dutchman that Mourinho’s shadow is lurking ominously over Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Rumors persist about Mourinho arriving at United

A top four finish for United and winning either the FA Cup or the UEFA Europa League this season seems like the only thing that can save Van Gaal beyond the summer.

He will be given until the end of this season to prove his worth to United but after 18 months of erratic results, an early UEFA Champions League exit this season and spending over $375 million on new players, time is running out. He knows it, but he is also correct to be “disappointed” if Mourinho is holding talks with United right now.

Doing things the right way has always been paramount to United and even though it would be smart to already have a successor lined up for Van Gaal should they fire him, it would also be incredibly disrespectful for one of the most successful coaches in Europe.