Friday, December 7, 2012

Soccernomics: Growing Grass in Winter

Grow lights at Arsenal
On the day the US unemployment numbers are released, I choose to blog frivolously because I just cannot be moved to again write - recovery, happening but painfully slow.  Then of course I move on to remind folks that the situation in Europe remains painfully dire and so on.  [Actually as an aside, the ongoing crisis in Europe gets lots of press in Brazil, unlike the US where it is of passing interest to the MSM - it shouldn't be]

So let's move on to far less serious things.  I see with some delight that the Timbers have already widened their field to 74 yards.  They are now 74 by 110.  Much better than before but they could use another 5 years in length as well.  When the whole MLS Timbers things was getting underway I worried about the prospect of watching ugly soccer played on a too-small plastic field.  And while I am a season ticket holder and loyal supporter it is very hard for me to recall beautifully-worked goals at Jeld-Wen, most goals come of set plays or sloppy rebounds or, every so often a bit of magic like Nagbe's goal of the season two seasons ago.  In fact most of what I worried about came to pas: despite the ignorant rantings of the Timbers front office the play on the field was sloppy and unattractive.

So now the Timbers are starting to get it (a couple of years too late, but better late than never) and have widened their field.  I am happy with this because, given the rabid fan base (and kudos for having an 96% renewal rate in season tickets), they could very easily not do anything at all to make the on field product better.  So if nothing else good happens, it seems incoming coach Caleb Porter has already affected a positive change.

But if a bigger field is better, it is still plastic.  It is a damn good plastic field to be sure, but no matter how good plastic is, it is not close to grass.  In one of the open houses I attended during the final phase of the construction of Jeld-Wen a statement was made that grass was out of the question as the MAC club blocks the sun for a good part of the year and as such the grass would never grow properly in the north end.  Fortunately, there is now a solution for that and one which is now in use across Europe and even in US soccer and football stadiums: Stadium Grow Lighting.  The Green Bay Packers use it, as do the NY Red Bulls.

Now, there are nights when any grass field is going to have trouble keeping up with the rain in Portland, even with hybrid grass and sophisticated active drainage systems, but nevertheless eventually grass has to happen and the only real excuse left is cost.  But with 15,000+ season ticket holders becoming more and more sophisticated soccer fans, both the financial resources are there and the future demand for a better version of soccer to watch.  Plus you get the added benefit of staging international matches and friendlies with bigger clubs that will not come and play on turf (witness the Sounders hosting of clubs like Chelsea and spending $1 million on a temporary pitch that makes the soccer even worse).

Paulson has said that they will continue to look at grass within the constraints of the usage of the stadium and evolving grass technology.  I think the technology is getting better and I hope that within the next 5 or so years we might see the Timbers make the switch.  

You can begin the debate about the environmental impact of artificial turf versus grass for which you have to apply lots of energy in the form of artificial light...

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