Friday, September 14, 2012

Soccernomics: Once More About the Pitch

Okay, since it is Friday, I am fried and the Big Game is tomorrow (and I am not referring to the Ducks versus Tennessee Tech), let's revisit one of my favorite topics: the tiny little field at Jeld-Wen.

This is a topic I have ranted about on numerous occasions.  My complaint was not just the size but the size and the turf combo that makes for particularly unattractive soccer.  I was complaining about this as the stadium was being renovated for the arrival of MLS, but soon after MLS came to Portland, comments about the field starting coming in waves: Bruce Arena, Peter Nowak, Robert Warzycha, Frank DeBoer, Dan Gargan, Ben Olsen.  The Timbers were defensive, touchy and not a little bit patronizing in response:

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?
Um...why yes, they do.  Stoke didn't need such a small pitch, their stadium is very big, but they did it for strategic reasons so they could win by playing defensively.  This year, in response, the Premier League stopped Stoke from fiddling with their pitch size:
Whereas previously clubs had discretion about the size of their pitch (within quite broad parameters), now they all have to comply with the UEFA standard of 105m by 68m (which, in old money, equates to more or less 115 yards by 74 yds).

So it comes with quite a bit of happiness that the Timbers have announced that they plan to widen the field for next season.  

Portland general manager and interim coach Gavin Wilkinson said the team will widen the field at Jeld-Wen Field for the 2013 season.

The plan is to add two yards on each side of the field, bringing the dimensions to 74 yards-by-110 yards.

"It's something that would be a natural development for us as a team," said Wilkinson, who was named coach of the week by after the Timbers 2-1 win against Vancouver Saturday.

"Coming in as an expansion team, we wanted a tighter area with which to play, to feed off the emotion."

The current field dimensions is one of the smallest in MLS and has drawn some criticism from opponents.

Wilkinson said the move is to help give the players more room for creativity and athleticism, but the plan was in motion before the search for a new coach had started.
It comes with quite a bit of consternation, however, that they have chosen to dissemble and make it sound like this was the plan all along and its all part of a long term scheme.  Bullshit.  They even made their practice fields the same small size (which really baffles as every other field they play on ion MLS is quite a bit larger - no wonder they can't win on the road).  What they have finally done is get over their defensiveness and listen to what a ton of very knowledgable people have been saying about their pitch.  I am sure they have not been listening to the ignorant people like me but I stick to my assertion that a small artificial pitch makes for unattractive soccer. I accept their apology.

Unfortunately they will only make it wider, not longer because they sunk the goalposts in concrete and I assume, until they replace the turf, moving them is not an option.  This is a shame, because the field needs to be bigger all around: 75 x 115 is ideal.  But it also goes to show how no one was thinking of a bigger field from the start.

Speaking of the pitch, it is a shame it has to be turf (and I have come around long ago to the notion that it does).  Watching the US national team in play in a similar sized field in Columbus just reminds one of the types of events that could take place in Portland if there was a grass field.  Maybe one day they'll figure it out.  

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