Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Soccernomics: Size Matters Redux

Emirates Stadium - Home of the Arsenal

I see the Timbers are getting a little touchy about the size of their field:

Portland are 5-1 in league play at their home. And yet, over the past month, a couple of opposing coaches have publicly taken issue with JELD-WEN Field’s size and suggested that it plays into the Timbers’ favor.

“The pitch, because it’s a little bit too small, when you watch the games they played at home, it’s a little pinball,” Philadelphia Union coach Peter Nowak told local reporters prior to the May 6 game in Portland. “[The Timbers] press the other team, and we’ve got to figure out a good plan for that.”

Too small?

At 70 yards wide, 110 yards long, the pitch at JELD-WEN Field is FIFA certified and meets the governing body’s guidelines as well as those of MLS. Field dimensions are not fixed from one pitch to the next and are a bit like Major League Baseball ballparks in that sense.

The oldest club in English Premier League soccer, Stoke City, play in a stadium with exactly the same dimensions as JELD-WEN. Do other EPL teams complain that it is too small?

Less than two weeks after Nowak brought it up, Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha chimed in with his thoughts on Portland’s success at home.

“More than anything, it’s the [artificial] turf and the field dimensions,” Warzycha told the Columbus Dispatch. “And the way they play at home. They’re scoring on set pieces.”

For the record, Portland did score on set pieces to beat both Philadelphia and Columbus. But was the size of the field really working against the opponent?

At JELD-WEN Field, the dimensions are dictated to some degree by the configuration of a stadium footprint that dates to 1926. It also has to do with sight lines for spectators. (From the press box, it is difficult to see the near touchline with out standing up.)

They doth protest too much.  Of course the quote from Ben Olsen that was in my last post was from the coach of a winning team so there is no suggestion of making excuses with him.

Anyway, what strikes me in all of this is the explanation that sight lines are to blame, but not from the stands mind, from the press box!  Are you serious?  You would shrink your field just so those in the press box don't have to stand up?!?  That is so lame.

And by the way, bringing up Stoke City is neither here nor there, but since they did, there is a big difference between the level of play in the Premier League and the MLS for one, and for two Stoke City is grass so the size is not amplified by a fast bouncy plastic surface.  I don't believe that any other Premier League team has a pitch smaller than the 75x110 yards (the modern stadium standard).  Arsenal did have a Jeld-Wen size field and used to be known for cynical defensive football, but then Arsene Wenger came in and instilled a possession, quick passing style of play utilizing world class players who could pull it off.  Still, when they built their new stadium they went to 75x115.

Just sayin'