MLS

What soccer specificity? Eyesore pitches tarnish solid playoff weekend

Photo: Earl Gardner

This weekend’s first leg action in the MLS Cup Conference Semifinals had a particular element which was troublesome — and it wasn’t the normal list of complaints.

Was it the play? No, actually every match had its share of excitement. Officiating? Nope. Again, a continual nitpick for fans and analysts alike turned out to be excellent, getting the vast majority of the calls correct and allowing the play to flow nicely.

Instead, it was a point we thought had long gone away — American football lines on a soccer field.

Many a new market in MLS has been lectured on the importance of securing it’s very own stadium. A major part of that necessity is due to the high lease costs that hampered clubs like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles for years. A side benefit was aesthetics — stadiums full of rabid fans close to the action looks good on television, plus the pitch that wasn’t marked up with reminders of the NFL team who had graciously shared their stadium at cost.

Saturday’s matches were no big surprise. Both New England and Seattle continue to play their games in a stadium that is home to an NFL team, and some unfortunate timing meant the field needed to be ready for their co-tenants to play a home game on Sunday.

But then on Sunday, we turned on Houston hosting New York, and there were those stripes all over the field. In a soccer-specific stadium. In the midst of the most important time of the MLS season. The BBVA Compass grounds crew had tried to hide the lines, but they were still there as a reminder that MLS can’t seem to escape the shadow of that other sport. (Ed. note: If anyone wonders why many Philadelphia Union fans don’t want to share PPL Park with Villanova football, this is why.)

The stigma

It’s not the end of the world, of course. Soccer can be played on these pitches (two of which were made of FieldTurf, another debate for another day), and it’s not like the games were ruined. They were quite entertaining, in fact.

But if there’s one thing that annoys soccer fans, it’s that feeling that the teams we support are considered second-class citizens. There is a disparity in income, television revenue, crowds (in most cases), and team values. In the media, at work, or even at home, soccer tends to get the short end of the stick. But on game day, finally, soccer gets its day in the court of opinion among a multitude of people who bleed the sport.

To spend 90 minutes being reminded of the bitter truths of sports inequalities — smack-dab in the middle of the playoffs — leaves fans irritated and asking questions.

What can be done?

Perhaps this gives a decent argument towards switching the schedule to fall-spring. Most of us have concerns about starting the MLS season during throwball, as well as the weather in winter months. Yet the MLS Cup playoffs fail to be the true spectacle that MLS desires in the fall, and that may have never been more apparent than this past weekend. Right now, MLS games taking place in venues that also host American football teams look like the afterthought. Playoff games in May would not have this problem.

But how about some solutions that work without a schedule change? As far as I know, this only happens with the three teams mentioned above. Perhaps the best way to avoid this is to acknowledge that the order of the two-legged match-ups doesn’t really matter. Last year, because of weather, the DC United-New York matchup was swapped on account of weather. Because each team plays at home, with a Saturday-Wednesday or Sunday-Thursday schedule, you could flip matchups to avoid the snafus experienced over the weekend (unless two of the three teams above were matched up).

Don Garber also could do a better job leading the discussion of the issues. The SSS movement was pushed by his agenda. There is no doubt that the Kraft Group will always view the Revolution as the red-headed stepchild of their portfolio. The Sounders appear to have more respect from their landlords, but the result was still the same on Saturday. But Houston is supposed to be the prime tenant for BBVA Compass, and they still got gridiron-bombed.

Maybe we’re being overly sensitive?

I’ve gone back and forth about this. Personally, I hope that technology advances in the very near future, where lines on a field can be generated rather than painted. Perhaps there is some embedded technology that gets developed, or an advance that makes the painting and removal less time consuming.

Until that time, it’s just an annoyance that we’ll have to accept. The fact the play on the pitch is improving makes the enduring of gridiron marks a little more tolerable.

For now.

20 Comments

  1. Soccer specific stadiums sometimes have issues of their own. Does anyone know the over/under on the number of divots on the field in KC tomorrow (a stadium newer than PPL Park)?

  2. I actually turned of the soccer games this weekend because it was hurting my eyes looking at a multi lined field.

    • I did too, at least with the KC-NE game. It didn’t hurt my eyes. It’s just that it’s very disorienting, particularly when you are someone who was an American football fan/player first, as I was. You see the ball go past the American football sideline and have to remember that it can go farther, so then you look for the lines.

      The Seattle-Portland game was too interesting not to watch. But I kept on thinking, “Touchdown!” every time they got deep into the attacking zone and thinking of Chris Berman describing a counterattack as “rumbling, bumbling, stumbling all the way down to the 24-yard line.”

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    It’s not so much frustrating to me, a soccer-head, but I can see how the casual fan (which the MLS covet SO BAD) thinks it’s a joke. It really hurts the image of the league. To be viewed as 2nd class or an afterthought, is probably the biggest problem the MLS has.

  4. I actually turned the TV off because the quality of soccer was pretty awful. Who cares about some additional lines on the field …
    .
    Let’s have a discussion on why the quality of soccer is still pretty bad, even during play-offs, these days.

  5. I guess the bright side was that the football lines made the offside calls for ARs a little bit easier.

  6. If you switch to a Fall-Spring schedule, this issue can go away as you can make sure that there are no conflicts with NFL games because these will be regular season matches. By the time the playoffs roll around, no NFL.

    With the playoff schedule being thrown together only a few days prior, it’s hard to avoid this even at soccer specific stadiums.

  7. The higher seed should have the option to host the 1st or 2nd game. Then, each team could decide which date would be most advantageous to them. Stadium concerns would be a factor in making such a decision.
    .
    Also, the MLS scheduler should be fired and run out of town–a horrible regular season schedule followed by an embarrassing, disastrous playoff schedule.

  8. Everyone wants Soccer Specific Stadium. The best way to ensure that, have matches that draw paying fan to those stadiums. Before the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) was debunked and the Philadelphia Independence was playing they’re home games at Widener University’s Leslie Quick Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania. They played the 2011 Playoff at PPL Park. Why were they not playing at PPL Park during the regular season? When the Unions 1st Squad is at away match, have the Reserve Squad play matches at the stadium and open it up to paying fans just think how many fans would have like to see Wheeler(f), Torres(m), Anding(d), Hernández(f), Kassel(m), Jordan(d), and Ekra(f) just to name a few. The crowd may not fill the stadium but are butt in the stands better then empty seats it depends. On 11/08 the Army Navy Cup will take place these are the games that the stadiums need to host. Picture Boys and Girls State High School Championships Soccer Games, State and Regional Club Soccer U 12 to U 18 Championship games. The more clubs affiliated with a stadium the more games that could be played in those stadiums making the stadiums part of the soccer culture and hopefully cost affected.

    • It costs money to operate stadiums. You need to have security, maintenance, concessions, electrical operations, etc. It’s one thing to use the stadium for events that may only draw a few thousand, but using it for events that likely only draw a few hundred just isn’t cost effective.

      • Yep, operational costs would be the deciding factor. It would’ve been fantastic to have the Independence playing at PPL, but would there have been enough butts in the seats to offset the operational costs? Could the Independence afford to pay the rental fee? It’s more than just fling the doors open and let ’em play.
        .
        I would’ve gone to see the Independence at PPL. I would’ve gone to see reserve league games (prior to their affiliation with HCI). But would enough other fans have done so?

  9. The NE match was not as interesting to me so I turned off that eyesore. The lines at Houston game did not bother me much as they were very evidently taken care of. The BBVA compass was built with partnership with a local university; thus the lines.

  10. they play PLAYOFF games on fields that look like that but refused to play a US open game in ocean city because of 1 yard. what a joke

    • US Open Cup is a USSF Competition, not an MLS Competition. They can – and usually do – operate by separate rules and procedures.

  11. I love MLS and was pretty excited for the play-offs but I just couldn’t get into the games played with the football lines. I’ve been spoiled by the SSS that we do have and the ease of access to European football games. I’ll watch every play-off game but not those played with football lines on the field.

  12. james lockerbie says:

    Man, I wish it was as easy as open up the gates and let them play. huey0328 I hope you just described the year 2020. At that moment in time, maybe there will be enough people interested in soccer to have all of those games you mentioned at ppl park. I am worried that a few more playoffs played on fields with American Football lines will destroy all hopes of such a day.

  13. major setback in attracting viewers and a disservice to the league. i agree about the horrible playoff schedule. at a bar last night it was Oregon-Stanford and Vikings-Skins on the tvs despite 2 MLS playoff games.
    i wouldn’t mind a regular season schedule flip to draw better attention to the league but the league sure isn’t helping itself with poor scheduling and painted lines.

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