By Andrea Canales
Rejoice, Seattle! I'm mad at turf again, but I ain't mad at ya.
And though I've blasted Toronto FC for their stadium turf previously, I've no anti-Canadian bias - I was set to deliver this rant back when it looked like Miami was going to win out on their bid to enter Major League Soccer.
Instead, it's Vancouver. Yay, Vancouver - one of the nicest, most beautiful cities I've ever visited. The ferry ride to the city was magical. Granted, I was quite young, and excited about the ferry, but I still remember my first view of the city on the water.
We stayed for over a week, and each day brought a new surprise. People would practice tai chi in the local parks. Several places served excellent high tea. The weather was gorgeous, and the sea breeze wafted refreshingly over the city.
Wait, this doesn't seem much like a screed, does it? I apologize for getting sidetracked. Back to the business of bashing turf.
"It was the worst field I've ever played on," Pete Vagenas told me about the surface at BC Place, where Vancouver is scheduled to begin play in 2011.
Vagenas made his remarks back in 2007, when the Whitecaps hosted a friendly at the domed stadium against the Galaxy.
It's possible that the turf at BC Place was especially hard because of the cold temperatures the day of the match. Rubber reacts to chilling temperatures by hardening - it loses the pliability that makes it, well, rubbery. That means the little bit of cushioning provided by scattering rubber crumbs over plastic blades of grass is essentially lost.
It's not that I don't think artificial surfaces have a place in the beautiful game. I see the practicality of easy-to-maintain synthetic turf every day at my local playground.
One has to realize, however, that the game is truly played at a different level among professionals. Not only are they much heavier, and running at a full tilt over the rubber granules, but their bodies are more sensitive to conditions.
Professionals drive themselves to achieve, often playing through the pain of chronic injuries to joints and ligaments. A harder-than-usual surface can wreck havoc on recovering players.
It's interesting that so many interested in emulating soccer abroad will easily make an exception for the most classic of conditions - a grass field.
Even when his team won a youth World Championship played partly on the synthetic surface, U20 Argentine coach Hugo Tocalli derided it. "Real soccer is played on grass."
Your Djorkaef, David Beckham, Darren Huckerby, Martin O'Neill, and even Steve Nicol have said similar things in the past to media about preferring real fields to play on. Nicol's team, obviously, doesn't currently play on a grass field.
I've talked to numerous current players in the league about the issue and not a single one has ever expressed a preference for artificial turf over real grass. The most they muster in terms of any enthusiasm for turf is to point out when they believe one field is worse than another. This generally runs along the lines of "Yeah, our turf is bad, but when we played on [blank]'s turf, theirs is even worse."
I suppose the light at the end of the turf tunnel is that the Whitecaps have set up their lease at BC Place for a limited amount of time. They have a proposal pending to build a beautiful stadium on the waterfront, one with real grass.
As Nicol put it, "Grass is still the best surface."
Andrea Canales is chief editor of Goal.com North America