CenturyLink’s turf may impact lineup, Toronto coach says

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMarch 11, 2014 

Sounders players and team personnel celebrate after beating Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Saturday in Seattle. The condition of CenturyLink Field’s turf has been criticized by Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen, who said Monday that the pitch could influence his lineup.

TED S. WARREN/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen said Monday that the FieldTurf surface at CenturyLink Field is bad enough that it could influence his lineup Saturday when his club visits Seattle Sounders FC.

The surface “is not only an artificial turf, but a bad artificial turf,” Nelsen said, adding that a game on it “is like playing one-and-a-half (or) one-and-three-quarters games, in terms of damage to your body.”

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid last week conceded that the third-season field isn’t as good as it was in its second year, just as it wasn’t as good then as it was when it was new.

When told of Nelsen’s remarks Monday, Schmid didn’t so much defend artificial turf as dispute the notion that CenturyLink’s is worse than the others.

“There’s no good turf field in this league,” he said. “… Vancouver’s, ours and Portland, and for that matter New England, are all (about the same age), and it’s not like one is better than the other. So I don’t disagree necessarily with Ryan’s statement. I’d love to have a brand-new turf this year, as would everybody else. I disagree with the point of making it seem like Seattle’s is worse than the others.”

(Portland actually is playing on a new surface this season at newly renamed Providence Park.)

Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said before the season that the club decided to retain the current field because it was judged still satisfactory for Major League Soccer competition.

Nelsen linking field conditions to his lineup decision has added significance this season because of Toronto making two of the biggest offseason signings in MLS, bringing in U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley and English forward Jermain Defoe. Their potential absence Saturday could disappoint fans as well as give the Sounders a competitive advantage.

And while Schmid did not directly agree that artificial turf is more dangerous than natural grass, he did concede that playing on it takes more of a toll.

“A good grass field is the ideal,” Schmid said. “A good turf field is not more dangerous than a bad grass field, necessarily. It takes more out of your body; I’m not going to disagree with that, it does take more out of your body. That’s why we train a lot on grass and we try to avoid training on turf.”

Health considerations aside, most also believe artificial surfaces change the pace of the game because the ball rolls faster and bounces higher.

“You have to adapt to the turf, for sure,” newly acquired Seattle midfielder Marco Pappa said after his first match on his new home field. “The first touch you have to make with the ball is a little bit different.”

The Sounders and the NFL’s Seahawks have said that the structure of CenturyLink Field casts shadows on the playing surface that would probably prevent a grass field from ever being an option.

ADDED TIME

Forward Darwin Jones recorded a hat trick Sunday as the Washington Huskies beat a team of Sounders reserves, 4-3, in a friendly on the University of Washington campus. “It was a good run out for our guys,” Schmid said. “It was important that they play. I think UW played very well … and obviously (Jones’ speed) burned us a few times.” First-team candidates such as Leo Gonzalez, Andy Rose, Jalil Anibaba and Zach Scott went 90 minutes for the Sounders. Marcus Hahnemann went the whole way in goal. … Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso was held out of training Monday to rest a sore knee he had bumped in the season-opening 1-0 win over Kansas City on Saturday. Schmid said the issue is minor.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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