U.S. Team Looks To Mitigate Costa Rican Turf Troubles

Goal.com's Luis Bueno is down in Costa Rica, getting the take from the players on how they will deal with the artificial turf field of Saprissa Stadium.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Down on the list of the factors that are stacked against the Americans at Estadio Saprissa here for the World Cup qualifying game is something that stands to play a great role in the match. 

While the fans’ hostility seems the preeminent factor standing in the Americans’ way, San Jose’s national stadium is one of the few venues to feature an artificial surface. Such an issue could be yet another plus for the hosts and a strike against the U.S. national team in their quest to leave Costa Rica with a victory for the first time ever.

 “At the end of the day, I think (the surface) favors them just because of the level of comfort come game time,” midfielder Pablo Mastroeni said. 

The turf here, though, is not exactly like the turf back home, players said. 

“It was strange. Most of the turf fields we play on in MLS are longer, the grass is longer, the turf is longer and it’s a more even, flat surface,” midfielder Pablo Mastroeni said. “Here you have a short stubble, almost AstroTurf-type grass and there are a lot of rolls and bumps and it’s really uneven. It’s almost like a bad grass field covered with turf.”

Toronto FC defender Marvell Wynne practiced on the field Monday night with the rest of the team, and while he said the ball did not do anything funny even by turf standards, there is a difference between the Saprissa turf and BMO Field’s surface. 

“It’s a little bit more padded-down,” Wynne said. “The Toronto FC field is a little bit more lengthy so it has kind of a grass look and feel.”

Saprissa’s status as unbeatable monster might be boosted by the surface. Already, the U.S. has the atmosphere, stadium and fans going against them; refereeing has proven unreliable in the past here as well. The surface might just be another reason for Costa Rica to feel confident about themselves.

At a telephone press conference, coach Bob Bradley weighed in on the issue. “The players will tell you that the game is not the same on artificial turf. We’ve been very fortunate in the United States to have good options when it comes to places to play our games, and I think we always feel that the game is best on a very good natural surface.

"The game on artificial turf depends on a few things, one is the quality of that turf. Is it old? Is it new? How hard is it? The second factor is, is the turf dry? Has it been wet down? Is it raining? These are all things that affect the speed of the game, the bounces, it affects how much give there is in terms of players, when they’re cutting or going to the ground.”

Since both teams must play on the same surface, it might be something that plays little role in the match. 

“Being on turf is so much different than being on grass,” Wynne said. “It’s always good to go out there and get a little feel of what you’re going to be playing on in the game. I suppose the more we play on it the better, the more we get used to it, the more comfortable we’re going to feel on the ball, the more comfortable we feel on the ball the more passes we complete, and so on and so forth.” 

Then, of course, there are those other factors Bradley mentioned. The weather, for instance, could play a role in the game. Although the rain has not come down here late Monday or through midday Tuesday, June is the early part of Costa Rica’s rainy season – the Green Season as Costa Rican tourism officials refer to it. 

“If the pitch is wet it’s going to be a very fast ground,” Wynne cautioned. Ultimately, though, the U.S. will try and minimize the effects of the turf on the players. 

“At some point, in the first 10-15 minutes – and hopefully these two training sessions that we (will) have had here – will be enable us to feel more comfortable on the field,” Mastroeni said, “and we’ll realize that there are certain passes, certain plays that happen on grass that won’t be able to happen on turf.”

Luis Bueno, Goal.com

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