Turf. In many an MLS locker room, this seemingly harmless word is met by players and coaches alike with a negative tone, scowl or huff – a literal and figurative four-letter term.
For the Fire, who are 0-3-1 on turf across all competitions this year, a win on the artificial surface in New England on Saturday is a necessity if the team hopes to stay in the chase for the top spot in the East.
“Turf is not my favorite to be sure,” said Fire veteran defender Arne Friedrich. “For my back and my tendons, it doesn’t help to have to play on it.”
Friedrich mentions one of the reasons for the turf dislike is the additional soreness after playing afterwards. More apparent though are adjusting to a faster surface and the difference in the way the ball bounces.
A long-time Bundesliga and Germany veteran, Friedrich had only previously played on turf once in a national team game at Russia, recognizes that the surface remains a reality even as Major League Soccer comes up on the end of its 17th season.
“I’m very glad that it’s only a few teams in MLS that still play on it, but I guess once or twice a year isn’t a very big problem.”
The Turf Numbers
It’s not just this season in which the Fire have had a bit of trouble on an artificial surface. Heading into Saturday’s game, the Men in Red ride an eight-match league winless streak (0-6-2) on turf.
The last time the team won a league game away from grass was coincidentally a 1-0 win at New England on June 27, 2010 with the only game the Fire have won on turf in the past two years coming during 1-0 victory in a third round U.S. Open Cup match at Rochester last June.
How much of an advantage does turf provide?
This season alone, teams accustomed to playing on grass have gone a combined 16-25-15 when visiting the turf confines of New England, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and Montreal (at the beginning of the season).
In contrast, turf teams have gone a combined 33-15-20 on their artificial grounds with even bottom dwelling teams like New England and Portland both coming up with winning records at home.
It’s clear that beyond just playing in front of home fans, being used to playing on the surface when your opponent isn’t provides somewhat of an advantage.
Even still, Fire captain Logan Pause doesn’t see it as a valid excuse heading back into Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
“It’s not my number one choice of surface to play on with it just not being natural,” he said. “But there are enough teams around the league and enough guys on this team that have played a lot on artificial surfaces in the pro and college ranks. It’s not going to be anyone’s first game and we can’t use it as an excuse.”