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"In any language, the whole world is united by a ball." --- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Playing Futbol on an American Football Field

I turned on the tube to watch the MLS game of the week. The league is spending a lot of money to "brand" Thursday nights on ESPN as "soccer night." I agree with the idea, because with all of the other sport options in this country, soccer needs a special day. But there was one slight problem: the pitch. I witnessed the same problem last month during a telecast from Kansas City.

In a reminder of how far we have not come, the field surface at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City could have been in a time warp. Gridiron marks from American football that a blind man or woman could easily see. In June, there is no excuse for this. Not to mention what appeared to be a miserable artificial playing surface that was too narrow for the sport of soccer. This stadium is the home field of the University of Utah Utes.

I don't always agree with the commentary, on or off of the pitch, of ESPN's Eric Wynalda. As a player, he is one of the best that this country has ever produced. But tonight, Shakespeare could not have said it better, or in a more concise fashion:

"This field (pitch) is terrible. I hate to see gridiron football stripes. It makes me glad that I am retired."

Rob Stone, the play-by-play commentator, quickly interjected that a new stadium was under construction. ESPN then showed us several bulldozers grazing a large vacant dirt area in Sandy, Utah. Reminding us that within a year, Real Salt Lake would have its own stadium. I saw a lot of sand in Sandy, Utah. One hopes to see verdant green grass next year. And no gridiron stripes. ;-)

I remember in the 1970s and 1980s when the NASL (North American Soccer League) tried to alter the rules, pitches, and stadium environment to suit an American audience. The experiment failed. Despite the influx of many famous international stars, new and old soccer fans, ultimately, did not buy the product.

For a look at the past, please click here. Remember that this video is from the 1978 Soccer Bowl, and you will see another line on the field above the penalty box. This was the infamous "35 yard line." The NASL tried to change the offsides law by allowing players to be in an offsides position before this line. They also used to decide games by "shoot-outs." Players would line up on the same line, and had 5 seconds to score a goal, one on one, against the keeper. Exciting? Yes. But not a part of the laws of the game. It was effected because the marketers of the day felt that Americans would not accept tie games. Other mainstream American sports were loathe to witness a "tie" game. The perennial problem has always been to compare soccer to domestic sports.

Respect for the game starts with the basics. The marketing arm of the MLS sometimes does not comprehend that important tenet. Don't play on an American football field if you expect to be taken seriously. We must respect the game and its laws. The laws never mentioned a pitch with gridiron stripes. In the old days, they used to spray green paint to cover the lines. Today, with innovations in turf management, I am certain that Real Salt Lake could find a better solution.

To the credit of Major League Soccer, great strides have been made since the days of the NASL. Let us keep moving forward, and not exhibit painful reminders of the past.

1 comment:

wilablog said...

Amen. Well said.

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