Many participants in the 2015 Women’s World Cup have voiced their displeasure about playing on turf instead of grass. 60 players went as far as to file a lawsuit leading up to the tournament citing gender inequalities, as the Men’s World Cup is always played on grass. While the lawsuit has been dropped, USWNT star Abby Wambach remains vocal about playing on turf, calling it a “nightmare”.
Wambach has also recently cited the turf as the reason for the USWNT’s scoring woes. She claims she’s more “carefree” on grass and will “throw her body” when she’s not playing on an artificial surface. In the USWNT’s opening game vs Australia, Wambach missed 2 headers within 6 yards of the goal that she usually buries. One must wonder if an aging Wambach is simply making excuses for her own sub-par play.
Does playing on turf really have a negative impact on play? As a former soccer player who still plays recreationally every week, I know the difference between playing on turf vs grass.
Before you jump down my throat about the excuses line, I admit that Wambach has made a few good points about playing on turf vs grass, and it is unfair that the men get to play on grass while the women are forced to play on turf. I think all games at the highest level should be played on grass, male or female. Wambach mentioned how dangerous playing on turf can be, and it’s true, you will bleed if you slide with open skin on turf. “Road-rash” or “carpet burns” are inevitable if you are not wearing proper protection, but the danger of diving for headers is no different on turf or grass. You can get hurt equally on either surface when you throw your body, so I’m sorry, Abby, I’m calling bullshit on that one.
Point for Grass
Playing on turf does take more of a toll on your body than grass. You’re basically playing on fake plastic grass sodded with rubber pellets on a slab of concrete. If you play several games a week on turf your knees and shins are going to ache. Playing on an artificial surface every once in a while isn’t a big deal, but if you have a game every 2 or 3 days chronic pain is unavoidable. You generally don’t have this problem on grass. Grass 1, Turf 0.
Point for Turf
Every play of the ball on turf is “true”, as opposed to the oddities you may find on a grass pitch. After about 35 minutes of play on a grass pitch, the field is torn up. There are divots, holes, and areas of the field where the grass may have turned to mud. This doesn’t happen on turf. The field stays the same no matter what you do to it. Balls roll faster on turf than grass, and take higher bounces, but every single play of the ball is pretty much the same. You’re likely to get a more desirable result on a set-piece on turf than you are on grass. As a free-taker, I’ve always preferred a turf pitch. Grass 1, Turf 1.
Players Need to Make Adjustments
The time to complain about the turf fields was during the 4 years leading up to the tournament. Once the opening whistle of the first game blew, it was time to suck it up and play. I don’t want to call out the USWNT’s leading scorer of all-time, but Wambach needs to make the adjustments necessary to thrive on turf instead of complain about the surface. For one, I think all the US Women should be wearing cleats made for playing on turf if they aren’t already. There are several different types of studs that cleats can be fitted with, and your footwear really does make a huge difference. I know from experience, TF cleats are much more comfortable and will prevent you from sliding around as opposed to FG or SG studs. In recent years, they’ve started pushing AG for artificial grass surfaces, but I’ve never been a fan. I’d be playing in TF’s if I was Abby.
Secondly, if she’s afraid to dive or slide for fear of burns/cuts, wear long sleeves and tights, or pull your socks above your knees. The USWNT has access to the most advanced sportswear in the world from Nike, and I just checked the FIFA rules and saw that there’s nothing preventing the women from wearing tights or long sleeves. I know it’s summertime and it can get warm out there, but Nike does make long sleeves and tights meant to be worn in the heat. Gear up and suck it up.
I’m sure FIFA is going to listen more to the players than some blogger who didn’t make it past college level soccer, and it’s likely this will be the last World Cup played on turf, but it really isn’t a big deal in my opinion. Every single game and every single team is playing on the same surface. There is no advantage or disadvantage that one team has over the other. I hope the USWNT can look past the field they’re playing on and keep their focus on the ultimate goal, a third star and that World Cup trophy.