I get it, field turf isn’t the ideal playing surface. It plays a different bounce then grass. Feet can stick where grass can be forgiving. And for those with a debilitating spinal condition like the former MLS player Juan Pablo Angel, it can take a toll (as can a debilitating spinal condition in general). One day, we can hope that all MLS games are played on real, preferably Kentucky Blue, grass. But FieldTurf is here for the foreseeable future on the fields in Seattle, New England, Portland and Vancouver. Part of this reason is the climate as the grass does not grow at the beginning of the season and dies quickly due to the cold weather. Same thing occurs come October in New England, the Northwest and Canada. There are ways around this but it is expensive.
What else is expensive? Designated players. Thierry Henry at his highest made 5 million a year in the league. Frank Lampard will make 6 million a year in MLS. Henry created a dangerous precedent by proclaiming he would not play on turf, except inexplicably on Portland’s. Now, Lampard won’t be playing this Saturday against New England because of the turf. Lampard went from originally playing a 34 game season, to a 16 game season, and now with skipping this weekend, he might play 15. Fortunately for NYCFC, this will be the last game on turf, but it is ridiculous that he is allowed to skip the game because of a field’s surface. Lampard will get paid $147,000 this week to practice and not play. Kwadwo Poku, who will likely get the start in his place, will get paid $1,800 (or 1.2 PERCENT of what Lampard will receive) this week to practice and play on that awful, no good, field turf.
How awful is this turf? Well it seems that DP Clint Dempsey and DP Obafemi Martins have no problem playing 17 home games on it. DP Jermaine Jones still signed with New England despite knowing he will be playing on it, as did DPs Fanendo Adi, Liam Ridgewell, and Diego Valeri of the Portland Timbers. Former Montreal Impact DP Marco Di Vaio scored 24 of his career 34 goals on turf. In the NFL, 21 of the leagues’ 32 stadiums are turf fields and I don’t recall ever hearing about an NFL player not playing because of it. They would be laughed out of the league.
The ‘Thierry Henry Exception’ is dangerous and should be punished. If a healthy Designated Player skips a game because he doesn’t want to play on turf, he should be docked a paycheck by the league. MLS created the Designated Player rule to allow teams to circumvent the salary cap in order to lure players that will draw fans into the seats. If the players don’t play in 20% of the stadiums in the league, it defeats the purpose of the rule and penalizes the fans of those teams who have no say over the material of the field. Lampard should be playing this weekend at Foxboro. Will he play if NYCFC somehow makes the playoffs and plays against the Revolution?
Henry started a dangerous precedent and Lampard is continuing it. MLS must do something to put a stop of it before it becomes the norm rather than the exception.