Turf at Qwest Field not holding up well for soccer
Last week, Sounders FC commissioned a study to see if grass could be a viable playing surface in the future.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders FC @ Philadelphia, 1 p.m., KONG
Latest from the Sounders FC blog
Three things are a given when it comes to Sounders FC games at Qwest Field: a passionate crowd, attack-minded play and complaints about the artificial turf.
The surface is a constant issue for soccer purists, who think the game should be played exclusively on grass.
The grumbles aren't unfounded.
In January, Qwest Field's three-year-old FieldTurf failed to achieve FIFA two-star certification (the highest rating for artificial surfaces) and currently holds FIFA one-star status. All the other MLS teams that play on turf — New England (Gillette Stadium, FieldTurf), Portland (JELD-WEN Field, FieldTurf), Vancouver (B.C. Place, Polytan) — play on two-star artificial surfaces or will upon the completion of their permanent stadiums.
FIFA's official website categorizes one-star synthetic fields as "mainly for recreational, community and municipal use."
That language came as a surprise to Sounders FC officials and MLS staff, and hardly reflects an ideal playing surface for a professional team.
"For sure the turf is an issue, there's no getting around it," said Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer. "We're certainly actively looking at a lot of different alternatives."
Last week, the Sounders, Seahawks and First and Goal commissioned a study to see if grass could be a viable playing surface in the future. But whether it's grass or artificial turf, the days on the current surface are numbered.
"I would be surprised if we're playing on the same turf next year," said Hanauer, who claimed "timing and logistics" prevented a new installation before this season.
According to MLS director of communications Will Kuhns, Qwest Field currently "does meet current MLS standards for match play" and the league is "satisfied" with how the turf plays.
There isn't a hard rule that states the field must be two-star quality, Kuhns said, but the league wants teams playing on the best surface possible.
MLS commissioner Don Garber has long indicated his preference for grass and reiterated the stance last September to The Vancouver Columbian amid stadium renovations in Portland.
Players almost unanimously prefer grass as well, and Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller said Tuesday that the opportunity to play on a natural surface on the road could be one reason why the team plays so well away from home.
Coach Sigi Schmid admitted the Qwest Field surface is showing signs of wear.
"The thing with turf is every year it lies down a bit more," Schmid said. "It's a little bit faster than it was last year and that's going to continue to happen."
How a soccer ball rolls and bounces off the turf is a part of FIFA testing, as are shock-absorbency tests and a check of turf composition and durability. That means a lower-grade turf affects the quality of play and could be a greater injury risk.
Jim Froslid, director of soccer development for FieldTurf, said having several community events at the stadium, along with housing two professional teams in Sounders FC and the Seattle Seahawks, takes its toll on a surface.
And since two-star certification only lasts a year (one-star status last four years), financial obligations can also play a role in maintaining, or losing, a top rating. FIFA testing can cost around $15,000-$20,000, according to Froslid.
"Economics come into play here," said Froslid, who notes that one-star artificial surfaces have been FIFA approved for preliminary competitions.
• Sounders FC split into two teams and played a pickup softball game Tuesday instead of training regularly at the Starfire Sports Complex. Kasey Keller led the blue team to an 11-9 victory, pitching a complete game and hitting a go-ahead three-run home run late in the game. Taylor Graham stood out for team orange, hitting two home runs despite playing with a broken hand. "I just felt it was time to have some fun," Schmid said.
• Forward Fredy Montero was medically cleared to practice Monday after undergoing wrist surgery two weeks ago.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.