Don't Step On The Grass, Sam

Despite the opinion, current in some circles, that Dan and I are mere slaves to the massive Major League Soccer PR machine, we don't actually lay about the house waiting for the phone to ring with the day's instructions direct from the bowels of the corporate beast.

The fact that we both tend to feel that Commissioner Garber has done his job rather well overall (and leaving aside the gob-smackingly imbecilic Toronto blogger who just last week wrote that Garber was nothing but a "caretaker" Commissioner and that it's time to get a guy in there who will actually DO something) doesn't change the fact that from time to time I feel the urge to bulldoze my way through his hulking personal security cordon of ex-Mossad assassins, SAS commandos and Spetznatz thugs, grab him by the lapel, slap him across the face a few times and scream "SNAP OUT OF IT, DON!!!".

Today being one of those times. Thank goodness he's probably having lunch at Elaine's with Chuck Blazer today; nobody is crazy enough to mess with that old dragon.

The impulse struck me as I READ THIS ARTICLE after being linked by the increasingly excellent and relevant FAKE SIGI BLOG and discovered that, yes indeed, the Portland Timbers will be playing on that goddamn plastic grass.

Which will go nicely with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who will also be playing on plastic grass.

Both of these, of course, follow the Seattle Sounders who, as we noticed while watching the ugliest MLS Cup game in league history, one where both teams looked like middling U15 sides who brought a good deal of enthusiasm but, alas, Elephantine first touches and no conception of how to pace a ball, shares their affinity for non-bovine-edible playing surfaces.

Of course Sonnnyboy Paulsen assures us that his plastic grass will be NEW! IMPROVED! SUPER-DUPER SPECIAL plastic grass. They always do. He's still a teeny bit apologetic, but he tells us that it's necessary because, after all, what with all the college football games, a grass pitch would only get ripped to shreds.

"Soccer Specific Stadium" is apparently a term which has lost any real meaning. The actual terminology should be changed to "a building you control".

Fortunately, for "special events" - like when actually good teams from overseas come to play - they say they'll install real grass. And hopefully get it out of there so as not to waste it on their own players.

I recall way back in the dark ages of MLS - say, 2003 or so - the criteria was quite clear: in order to gain entry to the league you had to have a soccer stadium, compete with natural grass.

Somebody should tell Philadelphia they got fleeced. They went out, fools that they are, and built a soccer stadium.

Don Garber once commented that they had to compromise on the grass issue because they wanted Seattle so badly. OK, if you feel the league is a virtual cripple without the Sounders, fine. I disagree but I'll bow to Don's judgment, being his houseboy and all.

Is the same true of Portland? Will the league fail if Vancouver can't get in? How many other cities can we expect to be "exceptions"?

The fact is that Fieldturf has now progressed from an exception to the rule. The whole stadium-and-grass thing has become totally irrelevant. The one and only thing that matters is whether you can write them a really really big check.

Period.

Consider:

2006: Houston gets an MLS team. They still play in an embarrassing sandbox of a borrowed building. Nobody who saw that Seattle playoff match would say that it was anything other than garbage.

2007: Toronto: actual sss with fieldturf, which they are - God bless them, one and all - are at last ripping up.

2008: San Jose: play in a 10,000 seat borrowed stadium.

2009: Seattle: play in an NFL stadium with Fieldturf.

2010: Philadelphia: as noted, did it right, perhaps the last team in MLS history to do so.

Add Portland and Vancouver to the list and the deal you get one team - ONE - out of the last seven new league entries who came in playing in an actual soccer stadium and on grass.

Dans' piece from earlier generated a discussion of journalistic ethics in the comments section, and a well-respected Stupidface alluded to the fact that good coverage requires a willingness to ask questions which the interviewee doesn't particularly want to answer.

So the next time Don is waxing eloquent on the topic of how MLS is totally, completely and irrevocably committed to improving "the quality of play" I'd like to hear just one ink-stained wretch ask him whether the quality of play between, presumably, the two best teams in the league in MLS Cup was his idea of lovely soccer.

(Personally, I'd also like to inquire why it is that Randy Lerner was told there was no way he could have an MLS team in nicely grass-covered Browns Stadium because you had to have a soccer specific building. Randy consoled himself by purchasing Aston Villa instead, but now, all of a sudden, it's not an issue at all.)

I guess what I'd mostly like to hear is the Commissioner telling us exactly what the league policy is. If plastic is OK, then let's stop pretending that we're making "exceptions", although I'd like to hear his explanation of why BMO is putting down the real thing and why Seattle spends a quarter of a million bucks to put down trays filled with dirt and bluegrass when Barca comes to town.

I'm betting the true answer, which is: "because the new owners' money is the only real consideration" isn't how he'll respond.

Look, I know a lot of people are doing the Evelyn Wood shuffle down the page in their eagerness to complain about anti-fieldturf bigotry, to which I say: save it.

The only thing I want is for Don Garber to look us in the eye and admit that MLS just flat doesn't care.