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.

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

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Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.