2015 Women’s World Cup, after day 5: Now we’ll see the impact of artificial turf

This is where turf really starts to have an impact. Before the tournament, the 2015 Women’s World Cup’s controversial choice of surface was the event’s calling card. Though the first four days of the competition, however, turf’s been a relative non-issue. Some people complained about higher bounces. Others said the fields were hot. Overall, the games were fine. Fake fields haven’t impacted the tournament thus far.

But turf’s biggest impact usually happens away from the field, in the hours and days after the final whistle, when the players’ bodies have to recover. Whereas a natural field will have the forgiveness of more soil beneath its sod, artificial surfaces typically sit on top of a layer of a sponge-like foam, which then supports padding pellets (usually black) that help the green, bladed surface simulate grass. From Duke University Soccer Politics blog:

The result of 90 minutes of high-intensity activity on these surfaces? Reportedly, increased fatigue, arching, and soreness, something that affects players’ ability to get back on the field.

“The body is by far more fatigued, there’s a longer recovery rate, there’s certainly more of a feeling of being worn down after practicing and playing on turf,” Dr. Bojan Žorić of Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts recently told SI.com, a view echoed by the players.

“The achiness, taking longer to recover than on natural grass, the tendons and ligaments are, for me at least, I feel more sore after turf,” Alex Morgan said in an Oct. 2014 interview with USA Today. “It takes longer to recover from a turf field than natural grass.” In the same piece, the team doctor for the Western New York Flash of the National Women’s Soccer League, Michael Freitas, said artificial surfaces can be “harder, (have) less cushioning, and they may get more aches and pains.”

When you have a week between games, that recovery is usually not an issue. Players who’d otherwise play on turf don’t usually miss back-to-back games with that much time to recover. With shorter turnarounds, though – when teams are also practicing on artificial surfaces – the grind might take its toll.

That’s the challenge for the 24 teams that will continue their World Cups over the next three days. Starting with Groups A and B today, the Women’s World Cup moves into its second set of group stage games, where the difference in some matchups could be swayed by how quickly some stars recover:

  • Germany and Norway face off in Ottawa in a rematch of the Euro 2013 final – a game that will determine which team finishes first in Group B. But while the Germans will get star 23-year-old midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán back in their lineup, Norway has two key veterans who may struggle to return on short rest at 100 percent. Midfielder Solveig Gulbrandsson (180 career caps, 34 years old) and defender and captain Trine Rönning (154 caps, 32 years old) combined for 172 minutes in the team’s opener against Thailand. Head coach Even Pellerud brought them off shortly after the hour mark, but how much will that aid their recoveries?
  • On Friday in Group D, neither the United States nor Sweden have the same problems, even if U.S. forward Abby Wambach (35) and Swedish midfielder Therese Sjögran (39) are still starters for their teams. But the quick turnaround could favor a U.S. side that has superior depth. Whereas the U.S. can sacrifice Wambach and bring a player like Tobin Heath off the bench, pushing Christen Press into attack, Pia Sundhage’s new team does not have the same luxuries. And if the U.S. can get the hampered Alex Morgan back onto the field, it will have two sets of fresh legs, as well as a loaded bench, to attack a Swedish defense that struggled against Nigeria.
  • The other game that could be swayed by recovery issues is Brazil and Spain. On Tuesday, Brazil showed itself to be the best team in Group E, something that one idiot couldn’t see at the outset of the tournament. But a key to the team’s 2-0 win over South Korea was 37-year-old midfielder Formiga, whose runs out of midfield often snapped the Korean defense. At that age, with little recovery time and facing another game on turf, Formiga is less likely to turn in a game-changing performance. Even the legs of star attackers Marta (29) and Cristiane (30) could prove a little rubbery, leaving Brazil with less ammunition in a game that might turn into a shootout.

It’s possible none of these fatigue issues will surface. Predicting how a player will recover is difficult, and that’s even before determining whether that particular person has the capacity to overcome the physical challenge. But in a tournament that’s taken the unprecedented step to move off grass, wear-and-tear is another issue to consider. Turf might not be the abomination detractors make it out to be, but it might prove a factor as the tournament goes on.

Today

Back in action after an off day, the World Cup resumes with Groups A and B, with the days big match also its first.

  • Norway vs. Germany, Group B, 4:00 p.m. Eastern, Ottawa, FOX Sports 1 – In one of the biggest games of the tournament’s group stage, Norway will look to reverse the 1-0 loss it suffered in the European championship final two years ago. Today’s winner likely claims first in Group B, but take heart, fans of the losers. The lower half of the knockout round bracket, where this group’s second place team goes, will have a much easier route to the final four. A Germany loss would likely improve its chances to win this competition.
  • China vs. Netherlands, Group A, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Edmonton, FOX Sports 2 – If the Netherlands plan on stealing this group from the host nation, a win today is a must, though a decent China defense that nearly kept Canada off the scoresheet on Sunday will harbor its own hopes of a result. A Chinese win here would only be a minor upset, though most are picking the Netherlands to stay perfect through two matches.
  • Cote d’ Ivoire vs. Thailand, Group B, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Ottawa, FOX Sports 1 – The worst thing that can happen here is a draw. A win for either team will put it on three points with a strong case for the second round. Though that team looked more likely to be Cote d’Ivoire four days ago, a 10-0 drubbing at the hands of the Germans is reason to pause. Regardless, if neither team is on three points by the end of the day, likely losses in their group stage finales mean only two teams should advance from this group.
  • Canada vs. New Zealand, Group A, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Edmonton, FOX Sports 1 – The Football Ferns will prove tougher than a China team that’s playing without its best scorer, but if Canada’s hopes of a deep tournament run are to be justified, John Herdman’s players have to step against better competition. Whether New Zealand is that remains to be seen.

Where We Stand

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