By Andrea Canales
The recent friendly games in the U.S. with visiting foreign teams present
something of a sham to fans who come out for matches, and that's the
shame that Major League Soccer has decided to ignore.
It's not just that fans will see, even though the touring squads are in preseason, a higher level of soccer.
It's also that the game will be presented on the proper stage - on grass.
Yes, for these meaningless exhibition matches, MLS has ponied up the
money to replace the artificial fields at Qwest Stadium in Seattle and
BMO Field in Toronto.
However, did the league bother to make such an effort for MLS in last year's All-Star Game in Toronto? Oh, no.
This year, is the league going to replace Seattle's turf for what
ostensibly should be the biggest game of the year for MLS - the
The silence so far on the matter from the league is deafening. Qwest
was announced as the location for the MLS final months ago, and the
time for planning a grass replacement is growing short, but still no
word has arrived of any move in that direction.
In contrast, Barcelona and Real Madrid used their clout early on to
assure that the favored feet of their stars would never touch a
synthetic surface, getting assurances from MLS management that sod
would be placed especially for their matches on tour.
After all, with Cristiano Ronaldo's legs insured for $80 million each,
Real Madrid isn't going to take chances on them suffering the pounding
that all professional players who perform on turf complain about.
As for Barcelona and their own superstar Leo Messi - well, they're not
about to make their little Messiah inhale crumb rubber if he takes a
tumble during a match.
MLS, as accommodating hosts, fulfilled the demands of these
organizations for their players to perform on the classic surface of
the game - authentic grass.
What's undeniable, though, is that everyone in the tour of European
teams involved is going through this trouble for matches in which it is
simply not crucial for the ball to roll and bounce as true as it would
on normal grass, and where players are disinclined to tackle with any
risk involved. The reason is simple - it's not a competitive match.
The Los Angeles Galaxy's Eddie Lewis shrugged his shoulders when asked
about the worth of the touring games.
"They're exhibition games.
They're a chance to get certain guys a few more minutes than they've
had in the past, to play against different opposition and a different
style. In any league around the world, the friendlies are fun for the
fans because they're different."
Ideally, however, there should be no game more competitive and
hard-fought than the one in which the last two teams left standing
throw down for the MLS title. Players will be going all out, and that's
part of what makes it disheartening to think that MLS is going to cheap
out on them and refrain from spending to install grass at Qwest.
It's not coincidence that no major soccer final has ever been played on
artificial turf. No, not even in MLS has that travesty taken place for
Even for the recent Open Cup final, which was awarded to D.C.
United's aging RFK Stadium, the word was that trying to avoid the turf
was a factor in the successful bid over Seattle as host.
If one puts on the conspiracy theory hat, however, the turf could play
into Seattle's own willingness to let MLS save money by shortchanging
the players at the final. Statistically, it's proven that MLS squads
who play on home stadiums with turf have better records on the surface,
both at home and away, than non-turf squads.
It simply makes logical sense, that if Seattle's players are used to
the way the ball runs on their turf, to how best to weigh a pass or
measure a bounce, that it gives them an edge over players without that
knowledge and experience. That advantage, however slight, would be
eliminated if grass was brought in for the MLS final. It would be an
even playing field.
Now, Seattle hasn't made the final yet, but they're one of the top
contenders to do so, so why wouldn't they want every factor in their
Yet it's time for the league to take a hard look at the situation and
realize that if Seattle (or any other turf-home-stadium playing team)
makes the final, the game shouldn't come down to who is more familiar
with a tricky surface. Seattle will get plenty of advantageous support
from their local fans, and they shouldn't fear playing any team on
grass. After all, that's how they're facing Barcelona.
Ultimately, it's about the message the league is sending to both its
players and fans. Actions speak louder than words, and right now, MLS
is clearly saying that Barcelona and Real Madrid are good enough for
The MLS final? So far, the lack of action to insure it will be played
on grass indicates that MLS believes it's not worthy of the honor.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the game in the Goal.com blog