The tough turf questions to ask after the WNT cancellation

The U.S. women’s national team will not play Trinidad & Tobago today. The cancellation is the stunning but fair conclusion to yesterday’s news that Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in training and the team was less than pleased with the conditions of Aloha Stadium’s artificial turf.

The first question: How could this happen?

Easy answer: U.S. Soccer dropped the ball and failed to check out the field. But it’s a little more complex than that.

This field hasn’t been sitting idle for months. Hawaii’s football team just finished a full season on it. The NFL’s Pro Bowl will be played there in a couple of months.

So how can a field be suitable for large people making sharp cuts and tackling each other but not suitable for a soccer game?

KHON says turf was added to the playing area in an effort to make it wider than a football field, and they cite Hope Solo’s tweet lifting a seam in the turf. But the Honolulu Star-Advertiser cites coach Jill Ellis in saying the field is still “very narrow.”

From overhead photos, it looks like the stadium has little space to add width. This isn’t one of these new NFL stadiums with allowances made for the width of a soccer field.

But they’ve done it before. The Los Angeles Galaxy played at Aloha Stadium in 2008. David Beckham, who criticized artificial turf upon his arrival in MLS, played in that game.

So what happened since then? Did the stadium try a different method of widening the field than was used in 2008? Has the surface simply deteriorated?

Men’s soccer has been through plenty of turf issues in the past couple of generations. The NASL played on old-school artificial turf. The Dallas Burn spent one season in Dragon Stadium, a high school football stadium that was OK for Friday night games in Texas but turned into a broiler in the summer heat. The Burn, no longer willing to take their name literally, moved back to the Cotton Bowl before settling into permanent facilities elsewhere.

Most of the narrow fields are gone. The Columbus Crew will play today in their spacious home, not Ohio State’s narrow football stadium. But turf is still an issue in MLS, and some players are “rested” when it’s time to play on the fake stuff.

So field quality is an ongoing issue. The question now: What can be learned from the Hawaii incident?

For U.S. Soccer, it simply shows venues must be vetted more thoroughly. But I’m also curious to know how a stadium that has hosted elite pro soccer in the past along with its usual college and pro football was unable to pull it off here.

Update: To clarify, it appears Rapinoe was injured on a training field, not at Aloha Stadium. It was on grass, in fact, though reliable sources suggest it was a poor grass field.

I’ve been chatting a lot on Twitter today — some good discussion, some “how dare you ask questions and not just be satisfied with our narrative that U.S. Soccer doesn’t care about women?” nonsense. The latter does not cover the women’s soccer community in glory.

Yes, we should ask why the men play on grass-over-turf (which often incurs its own set of problems) while the women play on turf. Yes, we should ask why the training field was so bad.

But we can and should ask whether this should be the last straw in terms of the men and women playing in unsuitable venues. U.S. Soccer clearly needs to overhaul the way it vets its venues, period. Maybe international games should all be in MLS stadiums with grass. (Sorry, Portland.)

And, to get outside of our soccer bubble, we can and should ask whether the Aloha Stadium turf is unsafe for college football. Or the Pro Bowl.

So thanks to those of you on Twitter who found these questions interesting. In the long run, I think these questions will help all athletes. Including women’s soccer players.

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One thought on “The tough turf questions to ask after the WNT cancellation

  1. It is a tough question. Some turf is perfectly safe to play on, some is not. Some men’s players play on it 20 times a year. But I have heard that Aloha Stadium’s turf is pretty notorious. I don’t know how the line will be drawn.

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