Seattle Sounders FC believes it’s time to replace the playing surface at CenturyLink Field, and soon it will find out if soccer’s worldwide governing body agrees.
FIFA downgraded the stadium’s FieldTurf surface to a one-star rating this season as it passed its two-year anniversary of use. However, the field recently underwent tests that could restore its previous two-star rating, which marks a field as appropriate for professional soccer and international competitions, or confirm the one-star rating, which indicates a field recommended mainly for recreational, community and municipal use. The test results are expected within a matter of days.
“I’m less concerned about FIFA’s rating system than I am about the general playability and what my coaches and players are saying about the field, and the aesthetics of the field for our fans and on national television,” Sounders general manager and part owner Adrian Hanauer said Wednesday. “I don’t feel as though I need FIFA to confirm or deny what we can see with our own eyes and feel with our feet.”
Hanauer says what he sees is a pitch that was “fantastic” when first laid in 2012, “good” in 2013, and one that “works, generally” this season.
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The FIFA results could matter more to Major League Soccer, which mandates “artificial stadium turf fields will maintain the FIFA 2 Star recommended certification and sustain the field accordingly.”
That standard is met by the other three synthetic fields in the league: the Polytan surface at BC Place, home of the Vancouver Whitecaps; the FieldTurf surface at Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers; and the FieldTurf at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Revolution.
The Sounders’ desire to replace the pitch cannot be done unilaterally, as they share CenturyLink Field with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. And the ideal surfaces for the two sports are not the same. Soccer teams favor new artificial fields because the upright blades cause the ball to roll more like on natural grass. Meanwhile, blades flattened from use aren’t considered a problem for NFL teams.
“The reality is we are the second tenant of an NFL stadium,” Hanauer said. “It says ‘football and soccer’ on it, but we understand that … we’re going to have to work very well with them, that we’re not going to be the tail that wags the dog. But we would hope that as very valuable tenants — bringing 800,000-plus people through the stadium on 20 dates and averaging 40-45,000 fans a game — that our voice would be heard.”
The Sounders’ lease mandates a certain level of field quality. And the club already has requested a new field for next season. However, they have received no assurances from stadium management. The Seahawks have not publicly stated a preference.
Regardless of the ultimate decision, the time needed for installation assures that a new field cannot be laid until after the Seahawks’ final home game, which could be as late as January. And that means the Sounders will play on the existing pitch through this season, which continues with a visit from Real Salt Lake on Friday and could last into December.
“From a common-sense perspective, every single player would rather be playing on (natural grass) every day,” Sounders top assistant coach Brian Schmetzer said Wednesday. “It’s not possible, not here in Seattle. No. 2, if it’s brand-new turf, I don’t think you’d hear any of the players complain. … Their third choice — and the pragmatic approach — is we play on a nice turf field in a beautiful stadium in a beautiful city. … We deal with what we have, and we’ve won a lot of games on that field. So I think the players just accept it, they get used to it.”