Driving through Winter Park, just a few minutes outside of downtown Orlando, one would most likely pass the campus of Rollins College, a small Division II school with a history of successful soccer teams. Their women's team, in fact, is coming off a year where they made it to the NCAA Division II National Championship.
For every year that the soccer program has been at Rollins, they have played on a pristine field, complete with perfectly manicured Bermuda grass. However, this year, the higher powers at the college have decided that it would be more cost effective if they dismissed the use of grass and instead laid down artificial turf.
Orlando City has been using artificial turf at the Citrus Bowl ever since the club's inception in 2011. There was last year at Disney's Wide World of Sports, which was played on grass, but that was just a one-year thing during Citrus Bowl renovations. In comparison to grass, artificial turf is a different experience to play on.
Lewis Neal, after Sunday's game against D.C. United, said, "It's difficult, it's not easy, it takes a little bit of getting used to. We wet it quite a lot before the games to try and speed it up a little bit to try and move the ball around and it gets quite slippy at times. It's difficult since you can't wear studs on, so it's trying to get your footing on it and get used to playing on it."
The big thing with artificial turf, is it's low need for maintenance. The main reason there is turf in the Citrus Bowl today is due to the 2010 Capital One Bowl, an American football game played between Penn State and LSU. With the game appearing on national television, the field, which was drenched with rain from the days prior, quickly turned into a mud pit and appeared almost unplayable on TV. In order to keep that from happening, the powers that be decided to replace the grass field with turf for the foreseeable future.
Playing on the artificial surface, however, is essentially like playing on rubber. The "blades" of plastic grass are on top, while the rubber bits and sand that holds it together are below it. So, not only is it akin to almost playing on rubbery concrete, but, because of the heat in Florida, it's like that rubberized concrete is on fire.
Neal spoke about going to the Citrus Bowl on occasion to train for games during the middle of the day, saying that because of the heat radiating off the turf, "It's difficult to want to go on there."
Around midday, temperatures on the turf can spike almost 20 degrees higher that the actual outside temperature. So if the team was practicing and it was in the mid 90s, it would almost feel like they were playing in 115-degree temperatures. This is one of the reasons they get out the hoses and sprinklers before the games; to cool the surface and try to help the ball roll better.
Another reason that people don't like playing on turf is the toll it takes on your body. Rollins Head Soccer Coach and co-host of the Orlando City Coach's Show, Dr. Keith Buckley, expressed his concerns, saying, "In comparison to playing on grass, (there's) the tiredness and fatigue of the muscles."
He added there was "no question" that there is more wear and tear on muscles and joints playing on an artificial surface, compared to playing on grass.
"If you play one game on astroturf, it's no problem at all," Buckley said. "It's the training and then the playing. Orlando City train on grass, play on astroturf. We (Rollins) will be training on turf and playing on turf, which is more taxing on our players."
Rollins Women's Assistant Coach and current Orlando City ECNL coach Sam Mitchell also commented that turf in general really isn't needed in Florida.
"It's nice to always have the option of a turf field when it does storm, because the rain comes down pretty heavily, but if you gave me a choice of grass or turf it would be grass all day long," Mitchell said.
In terms of growing grass in Florida, it should be no problem with all the constant rain and sun the state gets. However, many facilities choose to put down turf due to the multiple events that a stadium or field will host. The Citrus Bowl hosts a lot of college football and, over at Rollins, they have both men's and women's lacrosse playing on the field in the spring.
On the national stage, there was also a big hoopla made about the Women's World Cup currently going on in Canada. The tournament marks the first major soccer tournament to be held using artificial turf. U.S. Women's National Team forward Sydney Leroux posted a nasty picture of her legs, bleeding from the "turf burns" she sustained in training. These pictures prompted outcry from players and fans about the use of turf, however the tournament has proceeded anyway and so far, no injuries involving the turf have occurred.
Fortunately for Orlando City, their current turf situation isn't that bad. Yes, they're playing on artificial turf, but that turf was given a FIFA 2-Star Certification, which is the highest rating a field can get. According to astroturf.com, the Citrus Bowl's turf is top of the line.
The premium AstroTurf synthetic turf system at the Citrus Bowl features RootZone® technology, a thatched layer of texturized nylon which holds the sand and rubber infill in place to radically reduce infill migration, splash, and deep-cleat penetration. The result is clean, consistent playing surface that garners high marks for player performance, ball roll, safety, durability and aesthetics.
Even better, is that the team's new stadium, which is set to open in the middle of next season, will have the natural, well manicured Bermuda grass that many players will rejoice over. For now, the Lions will have to tough it out on the turf.