June 11, 2013
By Michael Lewis
Will playing on grass in Seattle back fire on U.S. Soccer?
Let me tell you about a game that happened almost 28 years ago about this country, let's call it the United States, which hosted a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.
The U.S. Soccer Federation was in horrendous financial shape in 1985 and needed money, like yesterday. So when it came time to market the game, it was not to American soccer fans, but rather to Costa Ricans.
The U.S. needed to post at least a draw to advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. What made it even more mouth watering is that Mexico did not stand in the way of the U.S. reaching its first World Cup since 1950. The Mexicans were hosting the event and received an automatic berth.
So entering that round, the U.S. was feeling pretty good. And entering that final game of qualifying -- May 31, 1985 -- exactly a year to the day to the kickoff of the World Cup -- the U.S. was to be held at Murdock Stadium on the campus of El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif.
Since the federation marketed the games to Tico fans, the crowd was overwhelmingly Costa Rican. Just as bad was the halftime show, that had Costa Rican folk dancing – at a U.S. qualifier in the USA.
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. lost to Costa Rica, 1-0, and was ushered out of the qualifying competition.
Learning from its mistake, the U.S. Soccer Federation vowed to never let that happen again. Since then, the federation has held qualifiers in stadiums and in front of crowds that were more, or less, friendly to the U.S. team (ie. -- the U.S. always playing Mexico and beating its rivals to the south, 2-0, in three successive qualifiers).
Since the Torrance debacle, the U.S. has lost only once at home, a wild and crazy 3-2 defeat to Honduras (and midfielder Amado Guevara running the show) at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, 2011.
Since then the U.S. has forged a 23-game home unbeaten streak (21-0-2).
Let's fast forward 28 years to today.
On Tuesday, the U.S. hosts a qualifier against Panama at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The federation wanted to bring a qualifier to the Pacific Northwest and reward the fervent fans of Seattle. So, grass was placed over the artificial surface.
The game will be the Americans' fifth of 10 hexagonal matches, so the result should not have anywhere near the impact of what transpired in Torrance, Calif. But my "spidey" soccer sense tells me something not so good might come of it.
Depending on who you talk to on the team, the grass is fine or it is bad for the game.
"It's far from ideal," midfielder Michael Bradley told FoxSoccer.com. "Seattle certainly deserves a game, but the field leaves a lot to be desired."
According to reports emanating out of Seattle, the reviews of the field during the Seattle Sounders' 3-2 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps over this past weekend were not exactly encouraging.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Brad Knighton condemned the surface.
“The field was ridiculously terrible,” he was quoted by the Canadian Press. “It’s heavy, it’s bumpy, the turf’s coming up. It’s a weird surface to play on, and anytime you put grass on top of turf, you’re going to get that.”
Vancouver defender Andy O'Brien suffered a hamstring strain and pointed to the field.
“I don’t think [the field] was great in the sense that it probably contributed to my injury,” O’Brien told CP. “It was unpredictable with the bounces, and it’s not ideal.”
As of Monday, the temporary grass field showed signs of yellowing.
Why do I fear the worst? That the U.S. could fall prey to the questionable condition of the field .
Heaven forbid, a bad play or bounce occurs and costs the U.S. a goal, a win or a tie (translated, the U.S. loses its first home qualifier since 2001).
I hope my fears are wrong. I really, really do.
Because if it costs the U.S. anything, whether it is an injury, goal or worse, it will be another hard lesson learned for U.S. Soccer.