A long time ago, in a college far far away, I was a goalkeeper. What I loved about my college was the rich, thick grassy field we played on. When I dove to make a save (or attempted to, I wasn’t perfect you know), it was like landing on a pillow. However, that is nothing — and I mean nothing — like the instant “joy” one gets when you play on artificial turf, aka The Devil’s Carpet.
Two of the schools in the northern reaches of our conference had turf fields for monetary purposes. It snowed half the year and it made keeping a grass field almost impossible on a limited budget. So, when we piled in the team bus and made the four- to five-hour journey up to said locations, our team was overwhelmed with “excitement.”
Why, you ask? I mean, for starters, who doesn’t love a field where every time you take a step it feels like you’re landing on cement? Or the untrue bounces and skids a soccer ball can take at the most random times. Oh, if it’s raining, you might as well be playing on a slip-n-slide, as there is next to no footing to be had.
You can go out and drop a couple hundred dollars on turf spikes if you want, but it makes little difference. As players, your butt will be on the ground more than your feet will, depending on the quality of field. Bruises and abrasions will be your friendly reminders of how much fun you had during the game.
Of course, if that’s not enough to get you pumped about the surface, there are the cumulative effects to consider as well. My fellow goalkeeper from one of the previously mentioned schools blew out his knee landing awkwardly on the surface. With there being no give at all, he never had a chance. In a conversation we had a few years later, he told me that half of his team was experiencing some sort of leg/knee/back pain. Can it all be attributed to the turf? I’m not a doctor so I can’t answer that, but it is pretty coincidental.
Obviously, from the tone of this article, you can tell my disdain for the surface shines through. Much like my friend above, I too suffered an injury on the surface my sophomore year. When I went to plant my foot to dive to my right, my ankle gave and slipped out from under me on the surface. I blew out my ankle, and my season was over. It still isn’t right to this day, almost 20 years later.
I know the quality of turf at the Campground is far superior to the turf of a small Division III college in Pennsylvania, but it is still considered one of the worst fields in Major League Soccer for a reason. Every time I watch a game when Orlando City is at home, especially when it rains like it did this past weekend, I cringe with every move Joe Bendik makes.
And when most people mock Didier Drogba for not playing when the Montreal Impact come to town, I sympathize with him. Hell, even Theirry Henry avoided turf like the plague.
Still not convinced about the difficulties of playing a full season on turf? Look at the current and former Lions that had knee problems — Tally Hall, Seb Hines, Kevin Molino, Harrison Heath, etc. Now, some of them came to the team with problems, but playing on the turf can’t help it. To date, I’ve lost track of how many times poor Seb has gone down holding his knee at home.
I’m also not naive; I know freak injuries happen on a real grass field as well. Still, count me among those who will be happier next year when the team’s new stadium is built and they are playing on the wonderful surface known as a grass. I fully expect a better field to create better playing conditions for the team and for the players to really blossom under the joy of the brand new field.