SOCCER: U.S. to face Panama tonight
SEATTLE — Ask FIFA and the organization says it sees no problem with playing on a quality artificial field.
U.S. Soccer still does.
“I’d rather play on real grass over turf than to play on turf,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said Monday.
Playing on a temporary grass field is the situation that will face the United States tonight when its plays Panama in a World Cup qualifier at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. The U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region after winning at Jamaica last Friday night 2-1. The U.S. trails Costa Rica (2-1-1) on goal difference and is ahead of Mexico (1-0-4) on goals scored.
In order to bring a World Cup qualifier to the Pacific Northwest — where artificial surfaces are almost required — putting down a temporary grass surface was a condition. Seattle obliged, but the surface was far from ideal.
“When you talk about playing home games in World Cup qualifying, especially for us, you’d like to be playing on a field where it’s cut real short and you’re able to get some water on the field before the game and that creates just a fast, wet surface that is conducive to how we want to play,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Look, clearly there are a lot of things that go into making these decisions. Seattle certainly deserves a game, but I think the field unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.”
A win over Panama coupled with a victory next week in Utah against Honduras could give the Americans control of the qualifying group. The U.S. is 8-1-2 all-time against Panama, which is expected to be without leading scorer Blas Perez because of gastroenteritis.
“It’s a huge game. We badly want three points in this game and then obviously next week in Salt Lake,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Those are home games and they are must-wins.”
Bringing a qualifier to Seattle was a goal for U.S. Soccer, trying to capitalize on the resounding success of the Seattle Sounders in the MLS and arguably the league’s strongest fan base.
“It’s great to see the game is building and there are markets like this where people have so much passion for the game,” Dempsey said. “I almost felt like I was in another country the other day when the Seattle Sounders game was on.”
The match with Panama will be the first World Cup qualifier played in Seattle since 1976. But making the commitment to bring any major soccer match to Seattle comes with a host of logistical obstacles, none larger than the playing surface.
The Americans will be forced to make significant changes to their midfield. Klinsmann finally fielded an identical starting lineup in consecutive games against Germany and again at Jamaica.
Injuries and suspensions will force changes against Panama. Jermaine Jones will be held out after suffering a concussion against Jamaica, and Graham Zusi, who assisted on Jozy Altidore’s opening goal, will sit because of yellow card accumulation.
Asked how he would fill those spots, Klinsmann listed a number of options, capped with “we have a pretty good idea how we want to start, which I won’t tell you.”
“This is always what it is when you go through this amount of games, if it’s injury, if it’s yellow card, if it’s what it is and you deal with it,” Klinsmann said.