Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SEATTLE – One of the more glorious aspects of holding Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier between the U.S. Men’s National Team and Panama at CenturyLink Field is the expected turnout from the U.S. faithful. It is anticipated that more than 36,000 fans will be on hand to watch the CONACAF clash and while that number may not be as high as some around the country expected, it will still be, by and large, the largest pro-U.S. crowd the Americans have played in front of for a World Cup qualifier in quite some time.
What seemingly will not be anywhere near as glorious will be the field.
A temporary sod surface was placed over the turf pitch that is usually played on at CenturyLink Field days ago and it looked worse for wear on Sunday, appearing dry, uneven and full of divots. The field was watered and in better condition prior to the U.S. team’s training session on Monday afternoon, but several players seemed to have no real issue with the surface regardless of how it felt and how much of a talking point it has become among media and fans.
“Me, personally, I’d rather play on turf if it was my choice but I never had a problem with these fields in the past,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who could potentially start in place of Graham Zusi (yellow card accumulation) or Jermaine Jones (concussion) on Tuesday night. “We’ve done this a lot when we’ve played at Giants Stadium, whether it was against Argentina or Brazil in the past. Look at the end of the day, it’s 22 guys all on the same field and we all have to get used to it and be ready for it so it really makes no difference to me.”
While the condition of the field may not bother a veteran like Kljestan who has been through several matches like these, not every player on the U.S. squad has experienced a game on a grass field that sits on top of a turf surface.
Foreign-based players who are relatively new to the team like Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona all admitted to the field being different than what they are used to. The ball does not move exactly the same as it does on the pristine grass fields that litter stadiums in the German Bundesliga or on the type of turf surfaces like the one Castillo and Corona play on in their home games with Club Tijuana, and it also doesn’t bounce the same.
Needless to say, some of the U.S. players are still adjusting.
“It’s a lot different,” said Johnson. “When you run fast and you step, you kind of feel when the whole grass is moving. It’s just different. When the pitch is wet, I think they’re going to wet it tomorrow before the game and halftime, it’s going to be fast, but when the ball bounces, it’s just dead. We’re going to prepare for that.”
“It doesn’t bounce, it doesn’t bounce,” said Castillo. “It feels a little weird, but we’ll be good. We trained yesterday and we know it doesn’t bounce, (the field is) going to be wet. It’s going to be a little difficult but we’ll be good.”
“There’s not a lot of bounce, I can tell you that from yesterday’s practice,” said Corona. “It’s a nice field, but Panama doesn’t really know the field so we’ve got to take advantage of all that.”
Some of the Americans may still be adapting to the pitch, but that will not serve as an excuse if they fail to pick up three points on Tuesday. After all, most of Panama’s players are not used to it either and this is still a home game for the U.S.
“I’d rather play on real grass over turf than to play on turf, but the ball rolls good and … they’ll water the field and the ball will be moving quickly and rolling true,” said captain Clint Dempsey. “The only thing you might notice is that when it bounces, it doesn’t bounce as much on the surace but botht eams will be able to play good soccer and it should make for a good game.”
- Fabian Johnson is one of the more versatile players the U.S. have and while he can serve as a right midfielder, it does not seem he will play there against Panama. “I feel more comfortable on the left side because I’m tucking into the middle,” said Johnson. “It’s easier for me to play on the left side.”
- Edgar Castillo, a candidate to start in midfield due to the absence of Zusi out wide, provided a couple of the funnier moments before Monday’s training session. Castillo first touched on playing as a left midfielder like he did in a brief cameo off the bench in last Friday’s 2-1 win vs. Jamaica by admitting his fondness for playing there: “When I came (on) against Jamaica, I felt good and I like the position; I don’t have to defend much,” said Castillo. “I’m good wherever I get to play.”
- Castillo was then asked about the play of Panamanian centerback Felipe Baloy, who he has gone up against in Liga MX. Castillo was complimentary of Baloy but to an extent: “He’s a good defender but all he does is hit and hit all game, and he’s going to talk bad stuff to you but we’ll be good.”