CenturyLink Field 2

Temporary surface in Seattle? It was always a bad choice

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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 A bit of outdated thinking still infects some of the athletes (and their agents, and their clubs, two elements that have financial interests in their players’ health) regarding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?

WATCH: 2 red cards for fight… between Preston teammates

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:  Gaston Ramirez of Middlesbrough (C) is challenged by Dan Johnson (L) and Eoin Doyle of Preston North End during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Preston North End at the Riverside Stadium on April 9, 2016 in Middlesbrough, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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Preston North End attacker Eoin Doyle scored a goal and saw a ridiculous red card within an eight-minute span in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Sheffield Wednesday.

It wasn’t ridiculous that he was given the card, rather how he earned the sending off.

[ MORE: El Clasico ends in late draw ]

Doyle and teammate Jermaine Beckford had to broken up by teammates and opponents after the pair failed to team up for a scoring chance.

Beckford thought he was open for a pass that never came from Doyle, and shoves were exchanged before referee Scott Duncan sent both players to the stands in the 90th minute.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Ranieri: Champs Leicester must stay calm in relegation battle

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Claudio Ranieri manager of Leicester City reacts as David Moyes manager of Sunderland looks on during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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Leicester City in the Champions League? Pretty darn good.

Leicester City in the Premier League? Pretty darn poor.

Claudio Ranieri is scratching his head after Leicester remains winless in PL matches leading up to a Champions League week, falling 2-1 to relegation-battling Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

[ MATCH RECAP: Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City ]

Whereas last year the Foxes seemed to catch plenty of breaks, Ranieri saw an own goal and countless bad passes drop his team to within two points of the bottom three.

From the BBC:

“This moment is not the right moment for us. We wanted to get points here but of course it was a relegation battle, they won, well done to them. They started stronger than us in the first ten minutes. Both teams wanted to win. They scored with our own goal.

“I said two, three weeks ago, always I look behind me. We are in the battle of relegation. For this reason we must stay calm, together and continue to work hard.”

Right now, the chances of the champs going down seem possible. Week after week we’ve been waiting for the Foxes to snap out of their season-long PL funk, but Leicester keeps giving away points to traditionally bottom-half sides.

In its last four, Leicester now has losses to Sunderland, West Brom, and Watford, plus a draw with Middlesbrough. Woof!

In the UCL, Leicester are through to the knockout rounds before Wednesday’s visit to Porto. Next up in the PL: Man City, Bournemouth, Stoke City.

Follow @NicholasMendola

STREAM: Premier League Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 2

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Premier League outfit Watford have had the “Premier League Behind the Badge” treatment in the past few months and last week we saw episode one open up the series.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

This Sunday at 2 p.m. ET the second episode (see the promo video above for a taster) is coming your way on NBCSN which features the players’ recovery after their hard-fought win against Leicester City, discusses the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program, and looks back on one of the most memorable moments in the team’s history. The episode will also include a tour of the club’s training facilities, given by defender Adrian Mariappa.

[ STREAM: Behind the Badge ]

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Sunday, Dec. 4, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Bradley reacts to Swans’ blowout loss: “Today is a big concern”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur is tackled by Jordi Amat of Swansea City during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City at White Hart Lane on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
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A penalty decision isn’t the reason that Tottenham waxed Swansea City on Saturday, but that’s what Bob Bradley was asked about after Swans sank to the Premier League basement.

The 5-0 loss actually could’ve been worse, as Swansea’s out-of-depth defensive players looked oarless — forget the rudder.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Alas there was some controversy in the penalty won by Dele Alli and converted by Harry Kane, and Bradley was not pleased with the decision (although he obviously knows the issues run deeper than a whistle and a point to the spot).

It was one of those days where all progress feels undone.

From the BBC:

“I didn’t think the referee was in a good position and that certainly changed the game.

“Today is a big concern. I think the starting point was Tottenham, physically, got to every ball faster. On a day like today it feels like we have a long, long way to go.”

Swans are still just a win from safety, though their nine points now trail both Sunderland and Hull City (11 each, with the latter playing Monday at Middlesbrough).

Follow @NicholasMendola