Turf Files, Week No. 2: Ryan Nelsen’s gibe brings CenturyLink’s field into focus

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Last week, Vancouver’s field was in focus as New York withheld Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave from their visit to BC Place. That didn’t work out so well.

This week, with Toronto FC visiting Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, a different version of the turf debate is in focus, with TFC boss Ryan Nelsen opining the Sounders not only have “artificial field, it’s a bad artificial field.” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid responded, taking umbrage with what he saw as Nelsen “making it seem like Seattle’s is worse than the others.”

It’s all a bit droll and predictable, but at the same time, it’s indicative of the state of debate around MLS’s artificial surfaces. Visiting coach launches barb, one that reflects a combination of folklore and unsubstantiated conventional wisdom. Home coach defends his team’s circumstances, sounding slightly too defensive in the process. To his credit, Schmid acknowledged the preference is natural grass, but in a debate where the other side won’t recognize the injury issue is a mostly unsettled one, it’s difficult to have a meaningful discussion.

To their credit, the Sounders are starting to get ahead of what’s an unfair conversation. With today’s comments from General Manager/Owner Adrian Hanauer, the organization is explaining their challenges. Partnered with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, their CenturyLink Field co-tenants, the Sounders’ surface is part of a larger, more complicated discussion.

From Seattle’s News Tribune, Hanauer speaking to Seattle’s assembled media on Thursday:

But the reality is that we are partners with the Seahawks and we follow their lead in terms of surface. The reality is that the football guys prefer a field that is a little harder; the soccer guys prefer a field that’s a little softer. For us in this stadium with our partners the Seahawks, it’s going to be a continual partnership and area of compromise to optimize for both teams.

That compromise meant the turf at CenturyLink wasn’t replaced this offseason. Hanauer called it a “combined decision,” explaining the Sounders would err on the side of more frequent changes, if they had their way. That they don’t means detractors will have another reason to criticize Seattle’s field.

As one Seattle fan told me this week, the frustrating part of the debate is the two sides talking past each other. On one had, old school options influenced by truly poor experiences on AstroTurf continue to dominate the debate. But nobody uses AstroTurf anymore. Even Vancouver and New England’s fields — two problematic surfaces — are better than the hard, thin surfaces the previous generation of players came to abhor.

Those players are in management now, though. They’re on coaching staff, and they’re in the press. Disdain informed by creaking knees and back pain have them justifiably cautious about more modern versions of turf. It’s going to be a while before those voices fade and a real debate can start.

Before briefly writing about turf last year, I informally (and, unscientifically) asked players about the Pacific Northwest’s three surfaces. The results were consistent with the current narrative. Portland pretty good, for turf (“it’s fine”). Seattle’s is a step down. Vancouver’s is kind of weird (it’s LigaTurf, not FieldTurf). None have won hearts or minds. None have swayed the debate.

We still get situation’s like last week’s in Vancouver, where two of New York’s most influential players were scratched. We still get situations like this week’s in Seattle, where paranoia about CenturyLink Field casts Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe as greater doubts than they actually are. And we get conversations like last week’s, were we only touched on the tension between protecting veteran players and sacrificing points.

Given the lack of conclusive evidence saying artificial surfaces, particularly modern FieldTurf, leads to injuries, coaches’ caution seems presumptive. Or, as Seattle-based podcaster and blogger Aaron Campeau recently said on a Seattle fan site:

source:

Right now, that data isn’t even part of the discussion.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”