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.
Even though the Vancouver Whitecaps finished last in their first MLS season in 2011, I still have a fondness for a lot of the players from that squad. John Thorrington was injured for most of that season, and many of us wondered whether he could have made a difference.
Thorrington played in some 30 games for the Whitecaps in 2011 and 2012 as a central midfielder. It was never clear to me what role he was supposed to be playing however. His lack of offensive output, (only one point, an assist, in 30 games), would suggest he was a defensive midfielder, but wait, that was Gershon Koffie… Perhaps it was his inability to stamp himself with any kind of identity as a midfield player that marked his time here in Vancouver. He was an enigma, and an expensive one at that, with his seniority in the league coming with a heavy price tag. With no real offensive numbers and a high price tag, he had to go.
One thing that did mark Thor was his honesty and his tremendous effort, and this is what I will miss in him. He is small in stature, but never flinched when it came to sacrificing his body in crunching tackles and physical play. He paid the price for that with some nasty injuries. I for one am grateful to this man who gave his all for the Vancouver Whitecaps jersey.
Thor is apparently off to DC United, and I wish him all the best.
A major source of anxiety for the Vancouver Whitecaps and its fans has been taken away. After wavering somewhat, YP Lee has given the thumbs up to the ‘Caps for the 2013 Major League Soccer season. Lee was a key man in the 2012 squad and was voted by the fans, (who showed a great deal of football knowledge in doing so), as most valuable player. Make no mistake about it: had Lee not signed on, it would have been a major blow for the club and a crisis for the 2013 season.
Lee brings an enormous amount of experience and football skill to the Whitecaps. His years at the top level in Holland, Germany and England, along with 127 appearances for the Korean national squad (including extensive World Cup play) makes him one of the finest footballers ever to suit up for the blue and white. This puts him in the class of the likes of Alan Ball, Rudi Krol, Willie Johnston and others who played for Whitecaps during the star studded NASL years. This guy is pure quality.
Lee brings with him a very intelligent football brain: he reads the game exceptionally well; can dribble the team out of trouble; pass the ball intelligently out of the back; and can get forward to deliver crosses, as his four assists from last year demonstrate. With Lee at right back and Alain Rochat at left back, we have the best one-two punch from fullbacks of any team in the MLS.
No doubt the Whitecaps will not be able to rely so heavily on Lee in 2013. He played in all but one game during the 2012 MLS schedule, and with a heavy travel schedule over great distances, the Whitecaps will need to rest him more during 2013. Plans for a suitable deputy need to be made to slot in for Lee when he is tired or injured.
As well as being a great footballer, Lee is a wonderful person and an ambassador for the club. Just having him on board is a pleasure. It seems as though the club may have designs on having him stick around after his playing days are over in some capacity as well. Lee is a gift that may keep on giving, and all the better for us!
With Lee’s signing for 2013, the Whitecaps have a major piece of the puzzle in place for a successful 2013 campaign.
I must admit I was a bit sad to see the Vancouver Whitecaps have dealt away Atiba Harris to the Colorado Rapids. Harris only got to play in 12 games for the Whitecaps due to some very bad luck with knee injuries. Atiba paid the price for giving his all for the Whitecaps with some nasty knocks which required him to go under the knife three times, if I am correct.
Atiba was on the pitch on that magic day in March of 2011 when the Whitecaps suited up for their first Major League Soccer game. He scored the winning goal on that day. That season he scored 2 goals and provided 3 assists in spite of very limited time on the pitch. He managed to get a bit of time in 2012, but injuries never let him really get going consistently.
Even if there was more bad luck for Atiba than good in his time here in Vancouver, there is always a place in my heart for this guy who sacrificed his body for our club.
I wish him all the best in Colorado.