Pacific Northwest

One last look at the tifo from United States vs. Panama

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A 13-story towers stands at the north end of Seattle’s CenturyLink field. Looking away from the stadium, a large clock rests at the tower’s top, greeting fans as they walk toward the Sounders and Seahawks’ home. Back toward the field, a large scoreboard and a 3,000-seat bleacher section (the Hawks’ Nest), from which we get this image.

Twitter user @LikkitP posted these images this morning, the length of stadium giving you a great sense of scope surrounding Tuesday’s prematch tifo. A five-panelled timeline of U.S. Soccer’s crests, the display highlights distinct moments in each emblem’s history: U.S.S.F.’s creation; defeating England in the World Cup; hosting the 1994 World Cup; Landon Donovan’s goal in South Africa; up to the present day.

It’s another example of what the Pacific Northwest teams have contributed to the nation’s broader soccer culture. Fan displays certainly existed before Seattle and Portland came into the league (and they definitely existed in other leagues before MLS was even born), but the U.S.’s two northwest clubs have taken it to a new level, annually engaging in a battle beyond the battle that accompanies their Cascadia Cup matches.

On Tuesday, Seattle channeled that energy into the men’s national team. Has there every been a display that rivals this in U.S. qualifying history?

In the wake of Seattle, is it too soon to rekindle The FieldTurf Conversation?

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SEATTLE — At some point, we’re going to have this debate. Why not now? Because if we don’t talk it out now, we’ll just put it off. Again. And then next time a Pacific Northwest match is suggested, everybody will forget the lessons of Seattle, fall back on the old arguments, and we’ll either have another game on an unacceptable surface or another 36-year gap between Seattle qualifiers.

The main lesson from this process: Temporary grass is terrible. If this was 1994 and groundskeepers had months to cultivate the grass and were able to lay it weeks ahead of time, this would be a different discussion. That’s the process that can’t happen in the middle of a qualifying cycle, nor it is worth it. If you want to play on grass in Seattle, you’re going to have to sacrifice field quality.

I know, last night everybody was saying the right things, giving the Seattle ground crew the respect they deserved. Whomever worked on that field over the last week took if from “oh my God, why” to “well, this could work.” It was the grounds keeping equivalent to reconstructive surgery, and the operation was successful.

But you saw the players slipping around, whether it was Geoff Cameron flopping onto his hip in the middle of the field or Carlos Rodriguez falling face-first near the byline after sprinting past Brad Evans. And if you saw Saturday’s Sounders-Whitecaps game, a match where neither team had a chance to train on the newly laid surface, you witnessed two teams who couldn’t come into the match for 10 to 15 minutes, after which both sides compensated for the uneven surface.

In both games, not only did the quality suffer, but the players had to adjust to the self-inflicted circumstances. For a team that complained mightily about the cricket ground conditions in Antigua and Barbuda, it was surprising to see such deleterious compromises were deemed acceptable.

Late last night, the same doctors who performed the field’s reconstructive surgery wasted no time ruining their work. As stadium staff were restoring the CenturyLink stands, the groundskeepers doing the same to field, with the process of bringing the normal surface forward hitting its stride today. As you can see in the image above (via Twitter user @bartwiley), Seattle was more than ready to trade that TempSod for their FieldTurf.

It all seems so useless. Seattle paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring in a maligned field when they had a perfectly good surface underneath, all at the behest of U.S. Soccer. They didn’t want to do it, but as a tradeoff to get a World Cup Qualifier, they were willing to bring in the sod, reduce the quality of play, all because of some dated idea of what turf is or is not.

When most people think turf, they still think of the early MLS, rug over concrete, career-breaking carpets that were too prevalent back in the day. Even now, at BC Place and when Toronto and Montreal play in their alternate homes, poor fields see time in Major League Soccer, instances that muddy the discussions surrounding Seattle and Portland. The first step in having a real discussion about the tradeoffs of turf is recognizing not all turf is created equal.

Seattle and Portland are perfectly fine. For those who have played there, covered games there, or even watched games on television, you can see the difference in play between the roll forever rug in Vancouver and the games further south.

Does CenturyLink, JELD-WEN have perfect conditions? Are they well-maintained grass surfaces? Of course not. But players — from Major League Soccer professionals down to youth players throughout the country — constantly play on those surfaces. They’re different, but they’re fine. Even David Beckham and Thierry Henry have played games in Portland, and while the common refrain ‘players don’t like turf’ still gets thrown out, a more constructive statement is ‘players prefer grass.’ No player in Seattle or Portland speaks ill of their surfaces. Nobody’s going to turn their back on those clubs because of field issues.

And with young players all over the country playing on these new, improved surfaces, it’s possible this is just a generational issue. The new players coming up won’t have the same biases. They won’t have the scars of knee operations brought on by artificial turf. They won’t have that innate reticence to go stay up for fear of bring on turf burn. They’ll have a completely different concept of turf, ideas that should will likely permeate through the soccer masses, making games on good turf surfaces more acceptable.

The real question, acknowledging that well-kept grass surfaces are the ideal, is whether the trade-off of Seattle’s atmosphere, undoubtedly replicated (if in a different way) in Portland, is worth the compromise. But how can everybody that’s been so effusive about Tuesday’s display say it’s not worth the small sacrifice – playing on Seattle, Portland’s turf in exchange for that kind of support?

Garber comments show league, PNW fans heading for Cascadia Cup impasse

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Major League Soccer may be trying to diffuse the “Cascadia Cup” controversy, but after Thursday comments from Don Garber affirmed the league’s intention to trademark the term, supporters groups in the Pacific Northwest are digging in. While MLS may see trademarking as necessary to protect what’s becoming a league microbrand, fans of the Sounders, Timbers, and Whitecaps see it as MLS’s attempt to usurp a fan-created entity.

The resulting face-off is consuming fans in the Pacific Northwest, with Major League Soccer often being portrayed as a greedy, money-grubbing overlord. It’s an unfair depiction, but it’s also understandable given the passion fans have for something they’ve created. One Portland fan site author summoned Orwellian cynicism in depicting an over-marketed Cup future (while ironically tagging the post “Cascadian Exceptionalism”). A Seattle fan blog’s more even-handed coverage acknowledged MLS’s latest comments are “far short of what supporters were hoping to hear.” One Vancouver blog described fan reaction as “vitriolic”. (Those SBNation blogs are seriously great fan sites.)

Clearly, passions are high. Commissioner Garber addressed the situation yesterday in Indianapolis, admitting the league has “not done a good enough job communicating with the fans in the Pacific Northwest”:

“The goal is to have a trademark that’s managed, so that we – the league that has its teams playing in the Cascadia Cup – can ensure that that trademark is managed properly. That it’s not exploited by people that shouldn’t be exploiting it. That it’s not offered to those that might not have the right to be associated with Major League Soccer.”

Garber went on to explain why he feels Major League Soccer, not the fan groups, should dot he managing:

“[MLS can] ensure that it’s controlled. Prospective fan groups, in theory, could offer that trademark to a competitive sponsor … They can take that trademark and sell it to a promoter. They can produce merchandise that’s not merchandise that we would want associated with our teams or with our league. There are so many things that go into intellectual property management.”

It’s a compelling point, but the fact remains: The supporters in the northwest created the trophy. Major League Soccer may be better equipped to manage the brand, but it’s not theirs. With the recent creation of the Cascadia Cup Council — an umbrella organization that’s also seeking the U.S. and Canadian trademarks — fans finally have a singular entity that can make their ownership claim.

But as Garber implied, that’s not going to work. At least, not for Major League Soccer. The Cascadia Cup may have been created by supporters, but in the league’s view, the Cup has transcended its first life as a fan trophy. Major League Soccer is marketing it, it’s becoming a part of league initiatives like Rivalry Week, and whether the supporters admit it or not, much of the Cascadia Cup’s current (and future) prestige is tied to the league’s promotion of the trophy.

Fans may not want to hear it, and they certainly don’t want this Salazar-esque MLS monster they’ve concocted telling them what to do with their hardware, but without Major League Soccer signing off on it, the Cascadia Cup won’t mean much. If they don’t get the rights, Major League Soccer could create a replacement trophy, start promoting it, and slowly ween its three franchises away from any implicit promotion of something the league can’t control.

You would think there has to be a middle ground, but where it is? For fans, it’s untenable for the league to own something supporters created. But for Major League Soccer, it’s unacceptable for another entity to make money off their success of their franchises (or control the right to do so).

In a way, both sides are right, but with Major League Soccer scheduled to have a conference call next week with Council representatives, there doesn’t seem any room for compromise. If MLS doesn’t win the battle for the trademarks, we might see the quick diminution of the Cascadia Cup in Major League Soccer.