The Fake Field Farce

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The field conditions have always been a stumbling point with World Cup qualifiers. The use of FieldTurf is frowned on, as is the laying of temporary sod that hasn’t had time to settle in.

CONCACAF might have slightly more lenient views when awarding Gold Cup matches, but as far as U.S. Soccer’s concerned, there are enough good, natural turf venues to avoid compromising its field standards. If you have fake turf, you won’t get a real World Cup qualifier.

That view may be changing slightly. As Grant Wahl’s reported, U.S. Soccer is now willing to consider fields like Portland and Seattle’s — the two highest profile FieldTurf venues — provided they carpet their fake stuff with real sod. If U.S. Soccer is confident the natural grass has time to bed in, World Cup qualifying could come to the northwest.

Unfortunately, as this debate regarding Portland and Seattle has evolved, nobody has ever paused to note this is not an actual issue. The complaints of “fake grass”or “artificial turf” are farcical when you walk Jeld-Wen Field and see how games are played. Seattle’s turf used to be a source of player complaints, but this year’s version was much improved. There’s nothing wrong with Portland or Seattle’s fields.

The issue becomes even more ludicrous when you spend a few minutes dribbling a ball on a hastily laid grass field. Seams in the surface are inevitable. Over the course of a few square yards, you’ll get uneven patches. Passes bobble. The surfaces almost never hold up under game conditions, and players are left with more complaints than if they had played on a mediocre synthetic pitch.

This is the alternative to FieldTurf?

To U.S. Soccer’s credit, they don’t seem willing to accept fields that haven’t settled, but at some point, we need to get beyond this whole real versus fake issue. As anybody who has played on good FieldTurf knows, the game may be slightly different, but the quality is the same.

And of course, slight differences in quality exist between natural grass fields. Some play like carpets thanks to the efforts of their groundkeepers. Some play too soft and are torn up within 30 minutes. Others feel rock hard and produce strange bounces. And that doesn’t even take into account the more general fast versus slow differences.

There was a time when an aversion to fake fields was natural, but we’ve evolved beyond that. Thankfully, we’re past the days when players’ career were sacrificed to save money with artificial turf. Nobody in Major League Soccer’s playing on rugs over concrete.

FieldTurf isn’t perfect, but most natural pitches have problems, too. The fake stuff has become good enough to take it fields’ quality on a case-by-case basis. While Jeld-Wen’s field may be perfectly playable, another’s synthetic instance may not.

The whole debate is a farce. We talk about real and fake fields as if they fit into two distinct groups, but when it comes to quality of play and health of the players, that’s no longer the case. Excluding venues become of FieldTurf is an antiquated notion.

While the whole U.S. Soccer vs. Portland and Seattle case is intriguing, at some point somebody should step up and note it’s all based on a fallacy. Synthetic fields aren’t inherently bad.

This isn’t the 80s.