Home MLS Toronto FC Poor field conditions are to be expected when MLS Cup is held in mid-December

Poor field conditions are to be expected when MLS Cup is held in mid-December

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I’ve been covering soccer in Canada for more than 20 years now, and if there is one thing that bugs me above all else about the Canadian soccer media, is our reluctance to criticize our own sport.

I get it. Soccer fans in this country are so used to being trolled, to having their message boards bombed, to see one lame dive as the only highlight used on a sports-wrap show. So, any sort of criticism of our own game would only give fuel to the people who have tormented us for so long. It would be like giving brass knuckles to the schoolyard bully.

We saw another fine example of this on Monday; in the wake of Saturday’s MLS Cup final loss to Seattle, Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco admitted to the media that his playoff performances on the road were much better than those at home. He suggested the environment might have had something to do with it. He never called out the CFL Argos, who became a tenant at BMO Field in 2016, and the Grey Cup was played in the stadium in late November.

By mid-afternoon, the oh-so-tired cultural war between galvanized sections of the TFC and Argos fan bases began anew. Some Argos players openly questioned Giovinco’s commitment to his team.

Sigh.

First off, if you’ve got a problem with the tenant, then you’ve got a problem with the landlord. I will leave the Argos-TFC debate there.

But, why does MLS get off scot-free in this debate? Every year, the date of MLS Cup final is pushed back. MLS headquarters are in New York; the folks there must be aware that by mid-December, a lot of their markets are basically into their winter seasons? Right? 

According to Environment Canada, over the last five years, the nighttime temperature in Toronto on Dec. 10 has been above freezing… once. So, the law of averages would have let us know well ahead of time that the game was likely not going to be played in great conditions.

If you play a game at night in the second week of December, chances are you’re going to get poor field conditions in Chicago or Toronto or Columbus or Salt Lake City or the Denver suburbs. A grounds crew can heat and protect the field as much it wants; if it’s well below 0 C when the game begins (which it was in Toronto), the field isn’t going to play all that well. 

This also holds true for artificial surfaces; as it gets colder, the surface gets slicker and plays a lot faster. It becomes almost impossible to get balls behind defensive lines and have your wingers catch up with them before they go out of play. Cold weather on artificial turf changes the way you play; so teams like New England would also feel the effects of hosting a mid-December MLS Cup.

Oh, and remember that Olympic Stadium has a snow and ice policy that could force it to postpone games if the weather is poor enough. The roof can only take so much. And, well, last time I checked, it sometime snows pretty heavily in Montreal in December.

So, when does MLS realize that the later it pushes MLS Cup, the more it increases the chance of the game being played in crappy conditions? Or risk a postponement?

I understand that it’s not easy; MLS is under great pressure to at least try and recognize some of the dates on the international calendar, which leads to weeks off during the season. There was even a break in the playoffs to make room for international friendlies and World Cup qualifiers (see? I put “friendlies” ahead of “qualifiers. Why? Cause I’m Canadian, that’s why.) So, the season keeps getting longer and longer.

And, if you start the season any earlier, you start thinking about games in February, which is a bad idea for the same reason a mid-December MLS Cup is a bad idea.  So, do you shorten the schedule? Not gonna happen. Go to a winter schedule so the final could be held in late spring? Can’t wait to see the big crowds for all those November-March home games in winter markets.

It’s a rock and a hard place. Playing conditions might have improved a bit if the game was played while the sun was up, but then the TV network wanted the prime-time experiment.

You could always go back to a neutral-site home game, where MLS could pick indoor or warm-weather venues. But, then, it becomes “MLS Cup in Los Angeles” every second year. I’ve always supported the neutral-site Cup final, but I understand the arguments against it. You don’t want to be in a city that might be ho-hum about it if the home team isn’t in the event; this isn’t the Super Bowl or a World Cup.

But, trust me, there will come an MLS Cup where we’re going to see an MLS Cup final played in far worse conditions than what we saw Saturday night. We’re going to see a game in the snow or with stupid high winds. We’re going to see a field that’s either chopped up or rock-hard.

And guess what? It’s December.

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One Comment

  1. Mik

    December 14, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Hard pressed to disagree with anything you wrote here. The bottom line is that any changes made (back to neutral sites, change to schedule) will bring about complaints.

    Reply

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