SEATTLE – The U.S. national team is accustomed to playing on subpar surfaces. It just isn't used to dealing with them in home games.
Like a toupe tossed on a head, the artificial turf in CenturyLink Field will have an expensive layer of temporary grass on top for the Hexagonal match between the USA and Panama on Tuesday.
The Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps played on the new surface on Saturday. 'Caps goalkeeper Brad Knighton had some especially negative comments about the quality of the field.
Both U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann and captain Clint Dempsey shrugged aside qualms about the grass in a press conference on Monday.
“I'd rather play on real grass over turf than to play on turf,” Dempsey said. “The ball rolls good. We felt fine yesterday playing on it; we'll get another chance to play on it today. They'll water the field and the ball will be moving quickly – which is important – and rolling true. The only thing you might notice is that when it bounces it doesn't bounce as much on this surface. But both teams will be able to play good soccer.”
The United States will play on turf in Portland in the upcoming Gold Cup. However, for the World Cup qualifier versus Panama, the team demanded at least a temporary grass surface.
Besides the bounce, the field features visible seams between patches of sod.
“It's far from ideal,” Michael Bradley said. “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.
“Clearly there's a lot of things that goes into making these decisions. Seattle obviously deserves a game. The field, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired.”
Of course, different players on the U.S. team come from different field backgrounds. Many in MLS consistently play on turf. Those based in Europe are more accustomed to lush grass pitches.
Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo turn out on perhaps the worst field in North America, Club Tijuana's Estadio Caliente.
“I think it's a nice field,” Corona said with a shrug when asked about CenturyLink's temporary digs. He mentioned that he might wear studs.
Hoffenheim fullback Fabian Johnson, meanwhile, seemed fairly bemused that the field was a topic of discussion.
“In Germany, there's nobody talking about the pitch, because I think no one in Germany would [have to] play on this grass here,” Johnson said. “I've never seen something like this before. I think it's just here that we are talking about pitches like this.”
The field will decrease in importance as a storyline once the game happens. The United States, and Panama for that matter, have slogged through far worse in CONCACAF qualifying.
“At the end of the day it's us and Panama on the same field,” Sacha Kljestan said. “Everyone's got to deal with it. Nothing changes with footwear or anything like that. It's just taking your time in training and getting really used to the way the ball bounces. That's the only difference I think.”
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