Playing soccer on temporary grass is always a terrible choice

Artificial turf is bad. It is evil. It causes injuries, makes for bad soccer and you have no idea what it’s going to do.

So if turf is terrible, then what does that make temporary grass?

Once again, people’s phobia of turf has led them to lay down temporary grass. And once again, that temporary grass is causing more problems than turf would.

This time, temporary grass is creating concerns for the United States men’s national team’s friendly against Mexico on Wednesday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tex. You know, just a renewal of one of the world’s best rivalries three months before the Gold Cup, set to be broadcast on national television in two countries and with a sellout crowd of over 60,000 on tap. Nothing major.

And according to Medio Tiempo, Mexico couldn’t practice on the temporary grass field on Tuesday because the playing surface was in such terrible condition. And worse, Mexico is considering not playing Wednesday’s match at all. The team needs assurances the grass will be safe, and right now, it doesn’t have them.

Realistically, the match isn’t going to be canceled. There’s that whole rivalry thing, and national TV, and 60,000 tickets sold. With so much on the line — millions and millions of dollars, that is — the match will go on, but it’s absurd that this is even a consideration or a discussion.

At its best, temporary grass is uneven and bumpy. It’s filled with seams that are dangerous, and it looks horrific. The only thing it has going for it is the word “grass.”

Meanwhile, artificial turf is entirely predictable. It plays the same all across the pitch, flat, and is ultimately playable. They play tons of Major League Soccer matches, World Cup qualifiers and Champions League games on it every year, and they’re going to play the Women’s World Cup on it. It’s hardly ideal — you won’t find a single person who would rather play on turf than a good grass field — but we’re not talking about good grass here.

We’re talking about horrific grass. We’re talking about temporary grass that was installed two days before the match. Who would have guessed that could go wrong? Just like two years ago, when the U.S. played a World Cup qualifier against Panama in Seattle on temporary grass and there were concerns about the field after heavy rains. Who would have guessed that it might rain a lot in Seattle?

An even when the problem isn’t a predictable thing like a calendar or rain in the Pacific Northwest, it’s dying grass. Or it’s visible seams. Or it’s difficulty watering the surface.

When the U.S. hosted the 1994 World Cup in Detroit, it used temporary grass. But it grew that grass next to the stadium for nearly a year. They produced extra grass. They shut down the venue for weeks ahead of time to prepare. Realistically, that isn’t happening for a friendly. That’s not happening for a qualifier. That may not happen ever again. And yet we proceed with temporary grass; safety, aesthetics and quality of play be damned.

Temporary grass made sense when artificial turf was a layer of thin green carpet on top of concrete. It was as good as playing soccer in the street, with balls bouncing high as can be and every player’s safety in danger. But that time was more than a decade ago.

Modern artificial turf has a rubber base and blades made to mimic grass. It is installed with consideration for the sport being played on it. It is a perfectly playable surface when properly installed, well-tended and replaced when necessary.

Every single stadium doesn’t have great turf. Much in the same way that every single stadium doesn’t have great grass. Nobody wants to see a match at BC Place in Vancouver or CenturyLink Field in Seattle right now because the turf surfaces at both are abysmal. But places like Providence Park in Portland, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and many others across the country have perfectly good turf. They have turf that far outstrips the mess that is temporary grass.

It’s time that U.S. Soccer, and generally every other soccer entity, ends the temporary grass farce. Play the matches in stadiums with grass and, if not that, in stadiums with suitable turf. Don’t lay down temporary grass and turn what should be an exciting match for millions of fans into a joke.

Grass is great and artificial turf can be fine. Temporary grass is always a joke, no matter what the word “grass” tells you.


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