The second weekend of matches in MLS is quickly approaching with the marquee match taking place at CenturyLink Field as Toronto FC travels to face Seattle Sounders FC. Originally, this match was scheduled for an evening kickoff, but was bumped up to a 1:30 p.m. PT start due to the anticipated clash between American stars Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, who moved to Toronto from AS Roma in the offseason.
Now it looks as though that matchup may not happen with Ryan Nelsen thinking about holding his stars back rather than let them play on the turf in Seattle. Sounder fans will agree that the turf is not desirable and is in need of a replacement, but with the seasons of the Sounders and Seattle Seahawks overlapping like they do, a full replacement is very difficult to make a reality.
This is an overreaction and one that could prove to be costly for Toronto FC in the end. The race for each conference championship and the Supporters’ Shield came down to the very last day in 2013, with each decided by point. On top of that, the last playoff position is each conference was decided via tiebreaker because Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire both finished with 49 points in the East while Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes each finished with 51 points in the West. Imagine the hoopla if Montreal or Colorado had missed the playoffs due to their coach holding star players out of a match for a petty thing like turf.
There is already precedent about this poor decision-making from this season; New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry did not travel with the team to Vancouver for their opening weekend match because of his issues with playing on turf. The Red Bulls attack was not the same without the Frenchman and New York lost 4-1 to the Whitecaps.
Consider this as well: the four stadiums which house an artificial surface are Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and New England, all places where it rains a lot. Imagine the outcry over the field conditions if it rained as hard as it did this past week in Seattle for a match with Toronto FC on a grass surface. That is arguably more dangerous due to the muddy, uneven surface.
Seattle’s turf has not caused that many serious injuries on its own. The most serious leg injury at CenturyLink Field was Conor Casey’s ruptured Achilles tendon in July 2010. That injury was on a grass surface placed over the turf because of the Manchester United friendly which took place four days later.
The decision that Nelsen makes will be an interesting one as Toronto FC only has three games scheduled on turf this season: the opener in Seattle, the closer in New England and a May clash with Vancouver in the Canadian Championship semifinal series. Would Nelsen consider holding Bradley and/or Jermain Defoe out of the finale with the Revolution due to the turf if the playoffs were on the line? I don’t think so.
Another interesting fact to consider is that BMO Field is considering switching to some sort of a hybrid surface with the anticipation that the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts will be moving there once their lease with Rogers Centre is up in a few seasons.