The “field turf vs. natural grass” argument is one that has been on going for many years. In every sport around the world that is played outside there are people who swear by field turf and those who swear by natural grass. The sport I will be concentrating on in this post is soccer, more specifically the MLS. A majority of the teams that have opened their own soccer specific stadiums have opened with natural grass fields in place of the field turf that many teams played on in the early days of MLS. These days there are only 4 teams in MLS that play on field turf (Montreal, Vancouver, Seattle and New England). Vancouver and New England are widely considered to be the worst fields to play on in the league and, while they are considered to be better, Seattle and Montreal also present a problem for MLS players. The main problem with these 4 turf fields in MLS is clear, the big name players in the league are concerned about possible injury playing on turf which ultimately leads them to sit out games played on turf. For example, Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls faced off against the Sounders in Seattle last week, but Henry (and teammate Jamison Olave) did not feature in the game solely due to the fact that Seattle plays on a turf field and Henry did not want to risk aggravating his chronic Achilles injury. Henry has never played a game in Seattle and often misses games played on turf fields around the league, which is a real shame for those fans who are misses out on arguably the most influential Designated Player the league has ever had.
Another major problem with turf fields, in my opinion, is the fact that when international teams or European club teams come to America to play they almost always require the stadiums to put down grass on top of the turf because they refuse to play on turf fields. The main problem with this is, even with months of preparation, the stadiums always seem to put the new grass down only a few days before the game, which does not allow the grass ample time to grow together and become a satisfactory playing surface. These playing surfaces are so bad, that it would probably be a better option to just leave the turf down. Putting grass on top of turf hinders play and is so much harder on the players’ legs than just playing on turf (which is a lot to say considering turf is like murder for players legs). Another problem with this is that when grass is put on top of turf there is so much padding underneath the playing surface that the ball doesn’t bounce at all and the quality of play is not nearly as high as it would be with a better playing surface. The solutions for this seem simple on the outside, but there must be something else going on that hinders the stadiums ability to proper prepare the field for these games.
I played soccer for the first 18 years of my life and played on pretty much every surface imaginable from grass to turf to gymnasium floors and I can honestly say there is nothing like playing soccer on a beautiful grass field. The ball moves so smoothly and everything is so easy. While turf fields offer a smooth surface with barely any bumps, most turf fields play so fast that it takes away from the beauty of the game. A simple ball that would be fantastic on a grass field turns out to be over hit by several yards on a turf field. Soccer was made for grass and if you want to play the game right and the way it was intended, natural grass is the only way to go.
The #1 problem I, and I’m sure a lot of people have with turf fields, is the incredibly high risk of injury. In my time playing on field turf surfaces I have seem more people blow out their knees due to getting their studs stuck in the turf is extraordinary. Field turf does not leave any room for your cleat to shift should you foot get suck in the ground. When playing on natural grass, if you get suck in the ground, you’ll probably just slip and fall. But on field turf, there is no give and whatever direction your body goes, your foot and knee will stay planted and this usually leads to some serious knee injuries. The torn ACLs and other knee ligament injuries have become all too common in sports today and while field turf is not the only reason, it is a contributing factor to the weakening of the knee ligaments, making it easier for them to be torn. Playing constantly on turf accelerates any leg problems and even causes knee leg to problems to occur. The wear and tear that field turf surfaces put on your body is a lot more than most people realize.
While I am not a fan of field turf, it has become clear that is a way of life in sports these days and the advancements made in field turf technology in recent years, has me encouraged at the fact that we may be looking at a time where field turf does not represent the same injury risk as it does today.