Eleven years after its opening, Columbus Crew Stadium is the granddaddy of Major League Soccer's soccer-specific venues.
And while blazing the trail for most of the MLS stadiums that have followed, one of the things Crew Stadium got right was a natural-grass playing surface.
That will come as welcomed news for Seattle Sounders FC – which visits the Crew tonight – because it has been a long while since the Sounders have played on anything that cows could actually eat.
This match will break a string of six consecutive matches played on artificial surfaces, including the games at Qwest Field, Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica, and at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Revolution.
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That unusually long run of artificial surfaces is due to a quirky cluster in the schedule: Saprissa’s home field happens to be the only major stadium in Central America to use the stuff, and Gillette uses one of only two remaining artificial surfaces in MLS.
The other is at Qwest Field, home of the Sounders and the Seattle Seahawks. However, general manager Adrian Hanauer recently tried to clarify that the idea of shifting to grass isn’t completely off the table.
“It’s a continuing evolution and conversation,” Hanauer said. “There’s no doubt that the soccer guys optimally would prefer a perfect grass pitch. ... My hunch is the football guys would prefer a perfect grass pitch – ‘field.’ But there are just some realities to what we’re dealing with and how we make it the best for everyone.”
One long-held concern about grass at Qwest involves the basic ability to keep it playable through overlapping MLS and NFL seasons – especially through the rainy months. The architecture of the stadium also creates worry that some parts of the field don’t get enough sun for grass to thrive.
In the Sounders’ initial season, the issue turned largely on esthetics. This season, however, players and coaches have noted that the field seems more matted down in ways that affect the game: causing the ball to roll faster and farther and take higher bounces. And although the evidence in anecdotal, it also seems that a disproportionate number of Sounders’ injuries this season have come at Qwest.
Hanauer said the Seahawks-Sounders decision-makers understand the demands on Qwest have changed with the addition of the soccer club, and he said the cost of new FieldTurf wouldn’t prevent replacement whenever the need arises.
However, he said no decision has been made about whether the Qwest surface will be replaced before the start of the 2011 season.
“I think everyone wants the optimal turf all the time for both soccer and football, and we’ll continue to communicate,” Hanauer said. “I’m certain that if the football guys and soccer guys all come together and decide that a new turf is needed, then the economics are not going to get in the way. So, it is something that we’re concerned with, but it’s something that we’re going to always be concerned with. The minute a new turf gets laid down we’re going to be concerned with making sure it’s optimal for both sports.”