July 19, 2024

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Why field conditions at Copa America are worrying: ‘It’s no ordinary grass’

Why field conditions at Copa America are worrying: ‘It’s no ordinary grass’

If TripAdvisor covered Copa America stadiums, the reviews would be alarming. “Disaster”, “frustrating” and “bad for the spectacle” were just some of the complaints from players and managers alike.

Soccer’s major tournaments have arrived in the United States this week, and there is one aspect that is worrying — just as it did at the European Championships in Germany, albeit for very different reasons.

Colombian singing star Fayed performed at the opening ceremony of the Copa America in Atlanta on Thursday, but what came next was certainly not “perfect.”

After Argentina beat Canada 2-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the playing surface was heavily criticized by the players and Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.

Then, after a goalless draw between Chile and Peru the next day, both coaches added their own notes of caution about the field at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, where the men’s national team begins its campaign against Bolivia on Sunday.

Peru coach Jorge Fossati identified this as a possible reason for the exit of his captain, Luis Advincula, due to pain in the Achilles tendon.

“It came out of nowhere,” Fossati said after the match against Peru. “I realize that this pitch is grass today but it is not regular grass. It is not grass that is born and grows (naturally). It is grass that they bring from somewhere else.

“This can be a little harder surface and can affect you in that particular spot (the Achilles tendon).” I’m not a doctor but I’ve been playing football for a few years. Achilles tendon injuries can also be caused by this.

Of the 14 host pitches used during the tournament – ​​all of which are approved by FIFA – eight have pre-existing grass pitches or retractable pitches that can be extended.

The final match will be held at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, home of the American Football League’s Miami Dolphins, which is covered with Bermuda grass. Hard Rock hosts two group stage matches – Uruguay vs Panama on June 23 and Argentina vs Peru on June 29 – and then Fed is in town on July 6 before the final eight days later.

The United States will play its second group stage match against Panama next week in Atlanta, something that did not sit well with Argentina, and NFL midfielder Weston McKennie also expressed concern.

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“It’s frustrating, especially as a player,” he said. “You’re playing on a football field, with grass stretched out and patchy and breaking every step you take. It’s frustrating.”


The playing surface at AT&T Stadium has to be better than the turf that has drawn such disdain in Atlanta.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a capacity of 73,000, and is shared by Atlanta United of Major League Soccer and the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. It is an artificial turf surface that is sometimes replaced with a grass field placed on top.

Atlanta United played a home match on Saturday, June 15 and the turf was laid the next day, five days before Thursday’s match.

In Dallas, the task of converting the stadium from a natural grass surface to turf began on May 21.

The standard playing surface at AT&T Stadium was removed before topsoil was placed over the concrete. Then on June 10 — 11 days before Peru and Chile were to host — turf panels consisting of Kentucky bluegrass from a farm in Colorado were laid.

This bluegrass was transported to Dallas from Colorado in refrigerated trailers before the Cowboys crew began working on it.

Cowboys executives know the eyes of the soccer world are on their stadium, and they remain optimistic that there will be no major issues during the USMNT’s opening match.

There’s also an admission behind the scenes at AT&T Stadium that they were on a learning curve. In March, it hosted the CONCACAF Nations League final, which saw the United States beat Mexico 2-0. In coverage before the game, CBS Sports host Susannah Fuller called the stadium “patchy” and “less than ideal.”

To improve, and with the added momentum of World Cup hosting duties in two years, the Cowboys made new efforts to get it right. An irrigation system was put in place to keep the grass watered under more than 10 inches of topsoil, while massive artificial grow lights were installed that can be lowered and raised to provide light for rapid, healthy growth.

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“We were here in the Nations League in March, and this field looks much better,” US Soccer head coach Gregg Berhalter said on Saturday. “It appears to be a sand base, which makes it softer, but the grass itself looks really good and we were surprised by the field.” Play.”

Defender Chris Richards was also happy with the surface at Arlington. “I thought the field looked good,” he said. “It looked like decent grass, and I didn’t really see any holes in it. So I’m really excited to play on it.”

However, Chile coach Ricardo Gareca reported that his players felt the surface was dry on Friday night, despite being exposed to heavy water before kick-off and at half-time.

“They told me the field was very dry,” he said. “It was a smaller field, a very small field. Well, we have to keep adapting.”

Chile, Peru


Both managers criticized the surface during Peru’s 0-0 draw with Chile (Carlos Sebán/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

“It’s something we’ll analyze in everything because it makes sense with a small stadium, with a dry stadium, sometimes it accommodates one team better than the other.”

The unavoidable problem is that turf laid over concrete, or even the more extensive process done in Dallas, is not like the high-level permanent stadiums in Europe and South America.

John Mallinson is the founder of a British company that built stadiums for Wembley Stadium, Manchester United and Manchester City among others during his 40-year career. The Lancashire-based expert says quality roofs depend on excellent drainage and the correct calibration of the subsurfaces.

“Your situation a few days ago wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in and of itself,” he said. “If the material underneath can’t absorb water enough, you’re going to have problems.

“It will also depend on finer details such as the size of sand particles used under the root zone (a mixture of soil and sand common to many Premier League pitches).” You need a root zone strong enough to take a nail or blade without tearing it off.”

Mallinson believes that insufficient drainage of the pitches with water could cause the “trampoline” effect described by Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who described the Atlanta surface as a “disaster” that “jumps on you while you’re running.”


Lionel Messi faces a challenge during Argentina’s 2-0 win in Atalanta (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

“If the drainage system isn’t right on a recently turfed field, you’re going to get some areas of the field wetter than others and you’re going to get variable bounce,” he said. “Water flows through the cutting lines.”

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He added that the problem with temporary playgrounds is that they need to be watered aggressively in order to grow sufficiently.

These problems do not come as a surprise to Nedum Onuoha, the former Manchester City defender who spent two seasons in the American Premier League with Real Salt Lake between 2018 and 2020.

“The problem is that the biggest stadiums in the United States are not soccer stadiums, they are American football stadiums,” he said. “The pitches in Major League Soccer stadiums are much better. They are more consistent and fair better even during the summer, which is intense in most parts of America.

“The turf they lay for games like Cuba can be really inconsistent to move off the ball and changing direction can be difficult. It cuts a lot because it’s not really there.

“Add in 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) heat and a really soft field in some parts and patchy in others, and you don’t even know how you’re going to bounce back.”

Onuoha is also not surprised by how frank the players are.

“The highest level gives you the opportunity to not have to play on courts that force you to play in a way that you know you wouldn’t normally play,” he said. “So the physical losses are higher, both due to weather and to the surface of the ground. There are 20 stadiums that have perfectly good pitches but they’re not big enough so they do that.”

The fact remains that this tournament is a trial run for the biggest tournament in the world in just two years. It’s about laying the foundations, quite literally, and putting things into perspective.

But early reviews are a warning shot, and managers and players will not be shy about criticizing them.

(Top image: David J Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)