Miami Bounces Back: But Turf Stands in the Way

jamaica-el-salvador-miami

Following the Confederations Cup final, we had a long discussion about South Florida as a market for football. While the TV ratings in English were higher in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market than any other in the country (with the nearby West Palm Beach market also ranking near the top of the ratings), the area is the largest metropolitan area in the country without an MLS team and one of only two markets to have seen an MLS team previously fail.

Additionally, current USL-1 side Miami FC struggles for a gate that would even be respectable on the USL-2 level. The Blues are not only last in average USL-1 attendance but would be third from last in USL-2 attendance were they a league lower.

Yet, last night without local favorite Haiti or a South American invite to boost the crowd locally, a respectable attendance figure was earned at FIU stadium. In the nine previous match days of Gold Cup action held through the years in Miami, the attendance was never above 25,000 without a South American invite.

Crowd numbers ranged from 5,000 to 22,000 with a pure CONCACAF group of teams, while the four match days that included Peru, Colombia and Brazil all drew over 30,000 fans, including back to back crowds of over 49,000 for Peru and Colombia in the 2000 Gold Cup group stage.

So yesterday’s crowd of close to18,000 for a group that included Canada, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Costa Rica was quite good, especially given the recent state of football locally. FIU Stadium with a “soccer specific” feel seems a good fit for International Football and MLS/USL. The atmosphere was great, the stadium nearly full and the crowd so lively, I and two other reporters ditched the press box late in the do or die game between Jamaica and El Salvador and joined the crowd.

Walter Centano, one of the best players this region has seen in the last decade had a classic performance earning man of the match honors. Centano’s heroics salvaged a draw for the Ticos against a superior Canadian side and sent Costa Rica, ever dangerous on to the knock out stages. Canada, even without Julian DeGuzman looked lively and dangerous. The Canadians along with Guadeloupe have been the top teams in this tournament thus far.

Jamaica, who features former Miami Fusion favorite Tyrone Marshall as well as several other current MLS and USL players pressed for a victory and got it thanks to Omar Cummings goal. But Cummings and Puerto Rico Islander Nicholas Addlery both had great chances at the end of the game to increase the scoreline and failed. Additionally, El Salvador had some good counter attacking chances and set pieces that were either saved by Donovan Ricketts or the woodwork.

A great two game evening, and a seemingly good venue made Miami’s Gold Cup night special.

But one major problem still exists for FIU Stadium: Artificial Turf. Canadian manager Stephen Hart was rightly borderline obsessive about the turf in his post match remarks choosing to focus on the affect it had on the match rather than to comment on the match itself. Canada’s tentative play early he attributed to the turf.

Hart is right. Several times last night, I saw unnatural bounces and players get their feet trapped in the junk surface not able to cut properly or react with the normal sharpness. In the US-Grenada match last weekend I observed some of the same issue on the turf in Seattle.

I’ll be honest: As much as I try and watch MLS or USL, turf pitches bother me so much that often times I skip matches on turf or simply watch them more passively. It’s one thing for MLS, still trying to find adequate ground to play in or USL whose clubs often fight for survival financially each and every year. But for international football the junk needs to be banned.

But FIFA has another attitude. In Peru, the U-20 Championship of 2005 were largely played on turf. But most South American clubs and players hate the stuff so gradually after that tournament the turf was abandoned. Same for Canada in 2007, where the majority of games were played on turf, but now Canadian coaches and players like Stephen Hart don’t want to get near the stuff.

Bob Bradley made his views on turf clear before the US traveled to Costa Rica in June. At the same time, the USA has a handful of players who flat out to refuse to play on the junk unless it is absolutely vital for their team or nation.

Florida has not had a stadium for football, or the real kind or American variety (what we call throw ball on this site) that hosts a professional team that has used turf since the 1970s. Three NFL franchises, three NASL, two MLS and several USL teams have played on natural grass.

Yesterday’s crowd demonstrated that Miami/South Florida can embrace an event with high caliber non South American or European players. The atmosphere was wonderful, and many in the press box remarked that MLS may have put Miami back on the radar thanks to the crowd. But the use of artificial turf at FIU stadium which is otherwise a great facility could and should be a deal killer for MLS or truthfully any future CONCACAF tournaments. Even if FIU insists on turf, a layer of grass should be placed by CONCACAF, should the Gold Cup return to FIFA (as I anticipate it would after last night) in 2011.

(Photo at top by Christopher Harris)

FINAL GROUP A TABLE:

1- Canada 7

2- Costa Rica 4

3- Jamaica 3

4- El Salvador 3

NOTE: UNLIKE THE CONFEDERATIONS CUP OR OTHER FIFA EVENTS WHERE GOAL DIFFERENCE AND GOALS SCORED ARE THE TOP TIEBREAKS, CONCACAF STRANGELY BREAKS TIES BASED ON HEAD TO HEAD MATCHUPS. SO, JAMAICA IS STILL ALIVE AND EL SALVADOR ELIMINATED FROM THE GOLD CUP. JAMAICA AWAITS THE RESULTS OF THIS WEEKEND’S GAMES TO DETERMINE IF THEY WILL ADVANCE.

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