Good news! Vancouver is coming to join Major League Soccer with plans to put in a grass field.
Hallelujah - it's always nice when someone gets it. When I wrote my latest tirade against turf to coincide with the news of Vancouver entering the league in 2011, I was going off reports that the team would play games at BC Place, which has an artificial surface. Renovations had been announced for the stadium, but the primary ones mentioned all centered on a new retractable roof.
Well, it apparently seems that retracting the roof back to let the sun shine in has a practical, not just aesthetic purpose. The new grass field could use sunshine.
According to Soccer America, "a grass field will replace the current synthetic surface."
The Whitecaps' own release on changes to BC Place seems to confirm this, albeit obliquely.
"The renovations to BC Place include new seating, concessions, washrooms, hospitality areas, field surface, improved access for persons with disabilities, the redevelopment of all common spaces, and a significant reduction in the building’s energy consumption (italics mine)."
This development hasn't quite produced the shock and awe I felt upon seeing Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time, but I'd rank it as a pretty pleasant surprise. It's so nice to add a positive tally to the score of grass versus turf fields in Major League Soccer, even if Vancouver isn't quite there yet.
Who is next, then?
Kansas City Wizards player Jimmy Conrad, one of the true ambassadors of MLS soccer, didn't hesitate to go after Toronto's turf in his latest espn.com column, which predicted events in the upcoming season.
"Similar to the situation when New England Patriots QB Tom Brady tripped and fumbled a ball in a big NFL game and blamed the grass -- which prompted the owners of the team to put brand-new sports turf in Gillette Stadium one week later -- new Toronto FC forward/midfielder Dwayne De Rosario will miss a huge penalty kick and blame the sports turf, leading to the installation of a new grass field for the first time in Toronto FC history.
"Players from across the continent of North America, together with their knees and ankles, will rejoice in the news."
And the congregation of the soccer faithful said, "Amen". Please let it be so.
While I'm far less fussed about promotion/relegation than I am about
artificial turf, I'd like to point out to fans of that system that a primitive
sort of pro/reg seems to be already taking place. The two new teams
coming into the league, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders (debut tonight!) are recent United Soccer League First Division champions.
Now, Seattle and Vancouver's accomplishments on the field weren't the only reason their bids to join MLS were successful, but I'm sure that was part of what made the ownership groups believe that they were ready to make the leap to the big time.
The USL meanwhile, is revamping with new teams, including one with a heritage based in the North American Soccer League that may someday become the Florida soccer team that really works.
USL Vice-President Tim Holt issued a statement on behalf of the league.
"In several weeks, the Austin Aztex will make their USL-1 debut followed in the 2010 season by the Tampa Bay Rowdies and at least one other franchise to be announced within the next 30 days. We are grateful for the role played by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the development of USL-1 the past several years and look forward to building upon this in the coming seasons."
Call me a dreamer, but I see the Vancouver move as working out fine
for both leagues. The USL is increasingly being seen as a step to MLS,
and MLS is getting teams with built-in fanbases and infrastructure who
are playing good soccer and are more likely to be successful right off
It's amazing the optimism that the green glimmer of a future grass
field can engender. Now that Vancouver has seen the light, I forsee a
future when all MLS players, from Toronto to New York, to Foxboro and
Seattle, can chase a ball across a vibrant lawn shouting, "Grass at
last! We have grass at last."
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America