An interesting blog post from Steve Goff, the Washington Post soccer reporter, on the DC United win in Portland (which was a dismal affair with almost no quality soccer to speak of). For a while I have been raising the issue of the tiny field at Jeld-Wen, and mostly being chided for worrying about it. But my point - that a small turf field is not conducive to beautiful soccer - is being echoed now by those who are covering and playing the matches.
First, here is Goff himself wondering why (as I have) the field cannot be expanded by a couple of yards in all directions:
On Jeld-Wen Stadium’s narrow pitch, two assists came off throw-ins (by Chris Pontius and Jeremy Hall) and the Dejan Jakovic penalty came off a throw. On United’s final goal, Bill Hamid could’ve been credited with a secondary assist. The dimensions are listed at 110 yards long, 70 yards wide. Oddly, there seems to be ample room to expand the playing surface to a more suitable size. The Timbers have conformed well to these tight quarters, but the matches lack elegance."Lack elegance" is one (nice) way to put it... A couple of yards sounds like nothing right? But the difference between 70 by 110 and 74 by 114 is 10% more playing area. The international standard right now for new stadia is 75 by 115, I think Portland should work with the league to allow for slightly less room behind the goals and out of touch or else this type of ugly ping pong and punting soccer is going to be the norm. Here is Goff quoting DC United coach Ben Olsen who mentions the field:
“It was about dealing with set pieces, and that’s what this field is about. Unfortunately, that’s what it is. It’s not fun to come here and play because it’s tough to play soccer. It’s about getting the balls into the box, but that’s the reality when you come here. Historically, we have lost when the field is small, when it’s turf, when it’s a real gritty game. The guys today were fed up with that and showed that they can compete physically with any team in the league.”The emphasis is mine. Note that he doesn't say it is tough to come and play against the Timbers or in front of the Army, but that it is tough to actually play the game: control, passing, movement. Instead what we get is a lot of punting the ball.
Ajax last wednesday showed that with players of enough quality you can play good soccer even on a small plastic field, but MLS is not up to this level yet and won't be for a long time. I think this is a real potential problem for the business that is Portland Timbers. Folks are not going to continue to spend money and time going out to the stadium and watching the match on TV if the game is going to be so sloppy and dull.