Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bad Omens

The Oregonian today reports on preliminary plans to renovate and expand PGE Park for soccer in preparation for the Timbers 'promotion' to MLS. Near the end the article addresses the field itself and states:

And the kind of field is also under debate. Although nearly all the soccer-specific stadiums in the league have natural grass, it's unclear how well that would work for Portland's climate vs. the park's 1-year-old artificial turf.

As I have stated before soccer on turf is a vastly inferior product to soccer on grass and the fact that they would make such an assertion reads to me like they have already decided on turf and are slowly rolling out their excuse: 'it's just too rainy in Portland." Please. Clubs in the Premier League in England often play in excess of 40 games in their home stadiums in the middle of the English winter. And every single one of them has a natural grass field. Surely if they can manage, an MLS team that plays largely in the summer can too. More forward thinking MLS teams that have built stadiums recently in cold winter climates have even installed field warming systems under the natural grass.

Besides, turf is a real obstacle to hosting top European and international teams. Witness Seattle, who last night drew almost 67,000 fans to watch the Sounders play FC Barcelona. To host Barca they had to spend $100,000 on a temporary natural grass field that was laid on top of the artificial turf. This expense may be justified in a stadium that can draw 67,000 fans, but is probably not economical in PGE Park. As an aside, these temporary installations of natural grass on top of turf suck: they provide bad footing and a rough surface which may make the quality of the soccer even worse than on turf. But at least you don't have the ball ping-ponging around.

Since the city has approval rights over the design, they should insist on grass as it will have a real bearing on the long term success of this agreement. I, for one, am not paying top dollar to see soccer played on plastic. And big European clubs, who are a top draw when they come over for summer warm up matches often refuse to play on it. Since the city has a financial interest in the success of the team, they should not be passive on this issue.

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