61013_isi_turf_usmnt0910132683 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Century Link Field Update

Field Conditions Could Detract from WC Qualifier

Seattle fans earned the right to host a World Cup qualifier, but the pitch could add a layer of intrigue. ASN Contributing Editor Jon Arnold spoke to players about Century Link Field conditions.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
June 10, 2013
10:04 PM
SEATTLE—Defending your own turf is part of a successful formula to qualify for the World Cup.

In Seattle, the literal defense of turf has become a constant conversation. The debate hasn’t relented with the installation of temporary grass atop the turf at Century Link Field ahead of the United States’ World Cup Qualifier against Panama on Tuesday.

The pitch is “far from ideal” says midfielder Michael Bradley. “I think when you talk about playing home games in World Cup Qualifying, especially for us, you’d like to be playing on a field where it’s cut real short and you’re able to get some water on the field before the game."

“That creates a fast, wet surface that really is conducive to how we want to play. I don’t think…look, clearly there’s a lot of things that goes into making these decisions. Clearly, Seattle, certainly, deserves a game, but I think the field unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.”

Bradley and other American players say they won’t do anything differently in terms of changing footwear, but it will necessitate adjustments. The ball is still expected to move around on the moistened surface, but there’s a distinct change in its behavior.

“It doesn’t bounce,” said Edgar Castillo, the left back/winger who has become master of playing on poor surfaces during his time with Tijuana. “It feels a little weird, but we’ll be good. We trained yesterday, and we know it doesn’t bounce. It’s going to be wet, so it’s going to be a little difficult, but we’ll be good.”

As Bradley implied, the moisture on the pitch could have its benefits. Fabian Johnson, who should be in the United States starting XI but could play a variety of different positions, agreed that a wet pitch would play into the Americans’ hands.

“It’s different,” he said. “I think when it’s wet I think it’s going to be a great pitch. When it’s fast, it can make the ball fast. I believe some time when the ball bounces, it’s just going to lay down so we have to prepare for that.”

But there are potential pitfalls to the moisture as well. Andy O’Brien, the Vancouver Whitecaps defender, told ASN’s Liviu Bird that the wet surface was responsible for a hamstring injury he sustained in a 3-2 loss to the Sounders on the same pitch this weekend.

While U.S. Soccer has until now avoided putting matches in Seattle because of the field situation, the pull of a strong home crowd was too enticing to avoid. Plus, “it’s not the first time we’ve played on a field playing on grass laid over turf,” says Clint Dempsey. “We’ve played quite a few games, especially in the Gold Cup competition, on that type of surface. I’d rather play on real grass over turf than playing on turf.” Both teams should be able to play good soccer, Dempsey added.

Sacha Kjlestan echoed Dempsey’s assessment. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” he said of his preparation. ”I’ve played on a surface like this many times. We did it quite a few times in Giants Stadium when we played against Argentina and Brazil. I don’t mind it.

“At the end of the day it’s us and Panama on the same field, everyone’s got to deal with it," Kljestan continued. "Nothing changes with footwear or anything like that. It’s just taking your time in training and getting used to the way the ball bounces. That’s the only difference, I think.”

Ultimately, how the Americans defend that turf—natural, artificial, or one over the other—is the real concern for the supporters, the same group U.S. Soccer hopes creates enough of an advantage to make everyone forget the surface was even a question.

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a writer based in Arizona and is ASN's CONCACAF correspondent.

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