The Pacific North west has always been a bit of a soccer hotbed. Back in the NASL days Portland, Seattle and Vancouver were three of the strongest franchises. Even when the NASL disappeared, PacNorthWest football culture stayed strong, just below the boiling point. The addition of Seattle to Major League Soccer showed the love of football is strong in the region, and now the PacNorthWest is at a boiling point, with two other MLS franchises prospering in Portland and Vancouver.
With attendances soaring in Seattle and Portland, and Vancouver not so far behind, who would find anything to complain about? Unfortunately there is one major thing which is holding back PacNorthWest soccer: it is fake grass, otherwise known as FieldTurf. All three Pacific Northwest MLS franchises are currently playing on the stuff.
The problem with FieldTurf in Portland and Seattle has been recently highlighted by the fact the US National team would dearly love to play in front of such magnificent support in Seattle and Portland, but do not want to play on it. Instead, they want to lay a temporary grass surface over the FieldTurf. One commentator, Richard Farley of NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk, has said they should just play on the FieldTurf surfaces. He says “there is nothing wrong with Portland or Seattle’s fields.”
How wrong Farley is. Anyone who knows the game of football knows that FieldTurf is really no substitute for natural grass where professional football is concerned. I have never heard any top player express the wish to play on FieldTurf over grass; rather, they universally express contempt for FieldTurf.
There are a number of reasons why the World’s top clubs travelling through North America insist on playing on grass, and won’t play on FieldTurf. Such clubs include Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Celtic and others who refuse to play on the stuff. Why? Because it is not worthy of play at the top levels of the game. They feel it threatens their player’s careers and exposes them to muscle and ligament damage. Anybody who has played a game on FieldTurf knows the toll it takes on the body. While there is no doubt FieldTurf is better than the Astroturf of old, the world’s best teams are right about all of these concerns.
There is a reason why we missed seeing David Beckham in 2011 and Thierry Henry in 2011 and 2012 in Vancouver: both players were nursing minor injuries and did not want to aggravate them by playing on FieldTurf. If we had a proper grass pitch, we might well have seen them.
As a spectator of football, FieldTurf fundamentally changes the game and diminishes it as a spectacle. There is simply no substitute for grass when football is played at the professional level. FieldTurf is fine for amateurs, or in countries where weather conditions mean there is no alternative, but the skill of footballers at the top level is only to be appreciated on grass. Watching the best footballers on FieldTurf is like watching Formula 1 genius Michael Schumacher driving a stock car on a formula 1 track. We know the driver is brilliant, but we are never going to see that brilliance in a stock car on a formula 1 track.
While I love football so much I would watch it played on virtually anything, as a fan of football there is a huge difference in how the game is played on grass as opposed to FieldTurf. It is simply a game better played on grass.
With the fan support Pacific Northwest teams enjoy in MLS, and with the fantastic growing conditions we have, there is no excuse for having professional soccer on fake grass. Surely the goal of all three PacNorthwest MLS clubs must be to play on natural grass pitches. If not, the region will be stunted in its football growth and will never attain anything near the greatness of the world’s top clubs.
It is time for FieldTurf apologists to stop trying to sell us a bill of goods. It is time for commentators like Farley to wake up and see the truth. Stop trying to tell us this nonsense that FieldTurf is just as good as grass, or even nearly as good as grass. I really don’t care if FIFA has approved it for qualifying matches either. It is simply not as good as grass for the professional game, nowhere near, and we fans of the Pacific Northwest deserve better.
Give PacNorthWest football fans what we deserve: proper grass pitches. Then we might watch the standard of football we deserve.
2011 is no doubt going to be a joyous one for Whitecaps fans, but will take some patience. Here are the downsides:
1. Dreadful New Uniform
Rather than preserving the iconic and classic 1979 uniform in any way the Whitecaps and Adidas came up with a horribly bland and characterless strip. Can you imagine a club like Boca Juniors doing something like getting rid of their classic blue with the yellow hoop in the middle? Could never happen, right? No! In fact the Vancouver Whitecaps did exactly that. The Blue band across the chest is gonzo (along with the corresponding white band for the away uniform). The away jersey is just as boring as the home jersey. When the Whitecaps play in the away jersey they will look like a bunch of World War II Navy sea planes. The only consolation will be that if you squint your eyes with the white home jersey you can pretend you are watching Real Madrid. Too bad they’ll be playing a much lower standard of football! Perhaps its best that we just close our eyes altogether. I have shelled out for my season ticket, but the Whitecaps have lost money from me because I refuse to buy these dreadful jerseys…
2. Awful New Logo
If the new uniform is bad, the new logo is worse still. Rather than reflecting the natural beauty of our West Coast city, the Whitecaps have done a Vancouver Canucks (see the old yellow “V” uniform) on us and chosen a cold geometric logo which has nothing to do with our city or our team’s history. The Whitecaps logo is meant to represent a wave in the ocean, but some of the newbie internal staffers seem to think it has something to do with mountains as well. The last thing we needed was a new team myth created around something Bobby Lenarduzzi’s in-laws supposedly said. The new logo looks more like something out of the German Bundesliga than something which is fit for our West Coast paradise. A naughty yet perceptive friend of mine described the new logo as a “crystalline vagina”. Well spotted, son! I would call those who designed the new logo something quite similar.
3. Plastic grass
While great strides have been taken in artificial grass since the days of Astroturf, (which the Whitecaps used to play on back in the NASL days), nothing beats natural grass. The game just looks different on the plastic stuff, and not for the better, either. Many top players and teams will not play on it for fear of wear and tear on players bodies and nasty injuries. The one correct footballing decision Toronto FC made was getting rid of the plastic grass and replacing it with the real stuff (they still play crap football on it, however).
4. Obnoxious Newbies
Can you imagine sitting next to the guy who never showed up once to Swangard Stadium, because it wasn’t good enough for him, with his brand new awful Whitecaps kit on? God help us long time loyal supporters….
With all of those pubs nearby, the level of intoxication can only go up…
6. Higher Ticket Prices
We have been getting one hell of a sweet deal for years now, with season ticket prices giving us one of the cheapest forms of entertainment going. It was cheaper going to a Whitecaps football match than to the movies, and a hell of a lot more fun to boot! The new ticket prices have been a bit of a shock to many, and it has been a bit of a kick in the nethers to pay for those new tickets. Should I pay the mortgage or go see the footy match? Bankruptcy be damned, I’m going to the footy.
7. No More Swanny
While we complained about it all along, Swangard was our home through 1987 and 2010. Objectively speaking, it is a poor venue for football because of the running track which separates the fans from the passion on the pitch. Mind you, watching from close behind the goal in the Southside has been a joy most football fans in the world could not begin to have. We were able to get close to the action with complete freedom of movement, sing our songs, chant our chants, and socialize pretty much untouched by security. We could even chat with the players and hug them after they scored goals. The new venues will mean more rules, tighter security, less movement, and a more distant relationship with the club and its players.
8. No Soccer Specific Stadium
Vancouver Whitecaps fans must continue the push for a soccer specific stadium. While the new BC Place is going to be great, to be a truly world class football club, the Whitecaps must have their own soccer specific stadium with natural grass. The Whitecaps say their goal is to be in the top 25 football clubs in the world. If you look at the top 25 football clubs in the world, you will not find one that plays on plastic grass in a rented stadium. A top football club owns its own ground and plays on natural grass, period. Owning a soccer specific stadium with a proper grass pitch must be a long-term goal for the club. Keep the dream of Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium alive!
9. Lack of Canadian Content
The MLS rules definitely favour American players. The league has gotten rid of Canadian content rules, because, frankly, Canadian players are generally awful and have sunk TFC’s boat for 4 years in a row now. Lets hope having three Canadian MLS teams provides a boost to Canadian soccer development, because the current crop of Canadian players (and the coaches who develop them) are rubbish. Lets hope some of the Canadian Whitecaps residency players come good, and lets hope the presence of three Canadian MLS clubs raises the level of Canadian football generally.
10. Hyper Commecialization
Be prepared to be merchandised to death. Just as it is with the Vancouver Canucks, a bewildering assortment of merchandise will be available to you to help you rid yourself of your excess money (if you don’t have any excess money to buy merchandise, you will no doubt be able to put it on your Vancouver Whitecaps FC MasterCard, provided by Whitecaps sponsor BMO). If you want a Vancouver Whitecaps FC Reverse Home Mortgage to help you pay for your season’s ticket, you will probably be able to get one of those, too.
11. Poor Coverage by Journalists who don’t Know the Game
Okay, more than 10, but worth mentioning. Watch for some embarrassing clangers and prepare to cringe as local sports journalists try to grapple with reporting a game they don’t know or like.
I am afraid travel has taken me away from three Whitecaps games. I missed the matches against Montreal, Toronto and Rochester. I am not too upset because two of them were 0-0 draws. I did miss what I hope is a breakout match for the Caps, a 2-0 win against Rochester. I certainly was disappointed to miss the TFC match… Frankly that is my favourite fixture all year.
I travelled to Toronto and Montreal and got a look at the stadium sites for both cities from the air. It made me reflect on how far Canadian soccer has come in the last 5 years or so, and the future looks bright. All we need here in Vancouver is a soccer specific stadium, which we will have to be patient for. While Montreal and Toronto will toil away in soccer specific stadia with grass surfaces, we will be on fieldturf in a generic stadium. Still, we can’t complain, it will have to do for now.
TFC stuff was everywhere on view in Toronto, but in Montreal you could be forgiven for thinking the Impact did not exist. I saw more gear on sale for the defunct baseball franchise, the Montreal Expos, (I bought myself an Expos cap!) than I did for the Montreal Impact. With the coming of MLS however, I am sure this will change. Yes, Canadian footy has come a long way and promises to go much further.
The ironic thing about my trip was that after missing three home matches, who did I see walking through the airport in Montreal while I waited for my flight home to Vancouver? Teitur and the Vancouver Whitecaps themselves, walking by as if to mock me for missing so many games.
Sorry, lads, I’ll try not to do it again!!!
Whew!!! For a while there it looked as though we were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Whitecaps, having been successful in their Major League Soccer bid, a bid which included a refurbished and re-roofed BC Place stadium, suddenly were in crisis mode when the BC Government announced it was having a second look at the BC Place roof project. When the government first announced the new BC Place roof project, the economic bubble had not yet burst. The Province’s coffers were full to bursting. Then World markets collapsed and so did the Province’s coffers as the selling of BC resources practically ground to a halt. The Government faced tough choices in how it would spend its money. In an era of belt tightening, the new roof on BC Place began to look not only economically unjustifiable, but politically dangerous to boot.
While we are not out of the woods yet, Canada and BC look well situated to weather the Great Recession quite well, thank you very much. While there are those who think spending so much money on the roof is a waste of money in desperate times, the new roof is necessary to maintain and renew a critical resource for BC and Vancouver. We cannot let a symbol of our province crumble and fall into ruin. Anyone who owns an asset knows that you must maintain it or else you end up spending even more money to replace it.
While there are those who look down their snobby noses on sports, the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps pull people out of their homes and give people an opportunity enjoy the company of their fellow human beings in what are community gatherings. The sense of community and pride which our sports teams provide are well worth the money being spent.
I commend the government for having the political courage to put a new roof on BC Place. History will demonstrate that it was the right thing to do.