The first Law in the Laws of the Game is the “Field of Play." Law 1 defines the field surface, field markings, dimensions of the field, different areas of the field, goals, commercial
advertising, etc. The field of play or the pitch is one of the most important building blocks of both elite and recreational soccer. Good and standard playing surfaces help both the professional and
So let us have a look at the U.S. soccer scene through Law 1.
Law 1 talks about natural and artificial surfaces. Some of you might not be aware but
natural surfaces mean grass and dirt fields. Yes, in many parts of this planet soccer is still being played on completely dirt fields. There might be a few in our country also, but when we say natural
surface we understand grass -- good or bad quality. Unfortunately, there are no standards for grass surfaces in the U.S. or anywhere else as far as I know.
FIFA has standards for artificial turf
. One star standard is for training and local games and two stars
standard is for international games. According to FIFA, there are only 32 FIFA approved artificial turfs in the
. Naturally, the numbers are far more than that, but only 32 of them have artificial turf surface that conform to FIFA standards. Although FIFA has numerous publications that show
that there is no increased risk
playing on the artificial pitch, still there are various objections. It is still vivid in our memories how some players reacted to the artificial turf-surfaced stadiums in the Women’s World Cup in Canada
. Although safe
according to FIFA, economical due to low maintenance costs and in some climates it is without a competitor, artificial surfaces are still despised by the elite players of this beautiful game.
We know that most of our high school and college stadiums’ surfaces are artificial. The Turkish men's national team in 2010 came to USA to play three friendly games. As the secretary
general of the Turkish FA, I couldn’t find a small (capacity of five to ten thousand) stadium with natural turf in Northeast USA for the friendly game with Northern Ireland. Since Guus
the head coach of Turkish men's national team at the time, insisted to play on grass, the game had to be played in a high school stadium with a grass surface in Connecticut. The field was
slanted quite a bit on one side due to the harsh winter conditions. The Turkish press made a mockery out of the situation. But the coach was happy to play on a terrible grass field instead of a good
surfaced artificial one!
Ten venues were chosen for Copa America Centenario with an average capacity of 70,655. None of the stadiums were soccer specific stadiums. They were chosen
because of their capacities and their locations. Only three had professional soccer clubs as their tenants: Foxboro, Orlando and Seattle. Five of the venues originally had artificial turf. Four had
natural grass and one had hybrid. In order for Copa America games to be played on natural grass the fields for five venues with artificial turf were covered with sod. Watching from TV, there did not
seem to be a serious problem except for the NRG Stadium in Houston. I believe for future international tournaments like the World Cup, a better sod solution should be sought. Since I do not believe in
due time that any of the stadiums with artificial turf will switch back to grass, on the contrary some of the grass surfaces might be converted to artificial. On the other hand, the decision makers of
international soccer will never be convinced for a major tournament to be played on artificial turf. Though the introduction of hybrid surfaces in the last few years will make grass field maintenance
If we look at the stadiums on which MLS teams play, five of the stadiums have artificial surfaces. Of those five, only two conform to FIFA two stars standard, namely the
Gillette Stadium and Providence Park.
Law 1 says for international games the field dimensions must be a minimum of 110 by 70 yards. The dimensions of the MLS stadiums differ a lot
. There are 10 different dimensions, ranging from 120 by 75 yards (seven of those) to 110 by 70 yards (the
minimum allowed). U.S. Soccer in its professional league standards says: “Playing surfaces for all teams must be at least 70 yards by 110 yards and be FIFA-approved.” That is it; not a
word more a word less. “FIFA approved” part is a bit intriguing since only two fields out of five have FIFA approved artificial surfaces. The decisions for other aspects of the stadiums
– like security, fan comfort, dressing rooms standards etc. are left to MLS and the other professional leagues. But many Federations and UEFA insist on a fixed size for their top level
divisions. For example, in order to play in the Champions League your field dimensions must be
115 by 75 yards. Needless to say, different field sizes in the
same league give an unfair advantage to the home team.
If you go to the other leagues in the USA, you will see fields of play that you will hardly see anywhere on this planet. I am not
talking about the multi-colored lined artificial surfaces to accommodate football, soccer and other sports on the same surface; that is covered with Law 1 though it makes life difficult for the
officials. I am talking about football goal cross bar inches above and behind the soccer crossbar. Although there is no mention of this in Law 1, I am sure IFAB did not think of this possibility. This
small problem is easily resolvable with a portable football goal.
How about commercial advertising right in front of the benches in the technical area in another stadium? The coach has to
go around the ad to reach the bench, although Law 1 clearly does not allow this. This is the reality of the U.S. soccer scene. I am not even mentioning the dressing rooms without a shower; the showers
were 50 yards away. Well this is not covered in Law 1!
Have a look at the UEFA standards for stadiums. Look at the details given for security;
player, official, fan comfort and others. In our country all of those are left to the leagues to standardize and monitor. Do you know how many permits you have to get from the governing bodies like
cities and states to open up a small restaurant? You don’t get those permits from the Restaurant Owners Association.
So much for the elite side of soccer and their fields. How about
recreational and developmental soccer? For recreational soccer as long as the pitch is safe, it doesn’t matter whether it is grass or artificial or even dirt. Recreational soccer means fun and
nothing else, although in our country it is a bit different. Please read a recent article in
Soccer America, if you haven’t done it yet. The article compares the Italian youth calcio approach to ours.
For the developmental level, the surface matters a lot. I live in
central Texas and most of our playing and training fields are grass, including for the developmental teams. To start and maintain a good grass field is extremely difficult and costly. For U-13
developmental teams and above, one of the training objectives is to develop their long range passing. Most of the grass fields are bumpy which does not help the developing players with their
long-range passing and their possession game. It would be wise to have artificial fields for the developmental clubs instead of badly maintained grass ones.
Artificial or natural; the
organizations must choose the surface that is suitable to their needs and budgets while conforming to the standards of the governing bodies.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA.
He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.