MLS commissioner Don Garber is ready to make key changes, including the addition of natural grass, to accommodate the arrival of Lionel Messi. The Argentine has played on real grass for the majority of his career. However, in Major League Soccer, several clubs still use fully artificial fields.

Five clubs only use fake grass. Those are Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, New England and Charlotte. A further four use a type of hybrid grass that has reinforced roots with synthetic fibers. Inter Miami is not one of the clubs to use artificial grass, which is where Messi will be playing the majority of his games. Yet, Messi will play multiple games on fields with artificial grass over his two-and-a-half-year contract with the Florida club. Two of those are this season against Charlotte and Atlanta United.

That may change, though, says the head executive of the league. Don Garber spoke to several MLS reporters about potential changes that may stem from Messi’s arrival in the United States.

“MLS promotes a lot of international games and we have been able to bring natural grass into those stadiums, but we’ve never done that for a regular season game,” Garber said. However, he added that it is his expectation that clubs would make that change. He says clubs can temporarily install a layer of real grass on top of the artificial turf below.

“My expectations are that that’s what they will do, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to figure all of that out.”

Messi risks injury in MLS without natural grass

Artificial grass is a longstanding complaint of Major League Soccer. While it is easier to maintain, there are inherent risks involved. For example, Miles Robinson ruptured his Achilles, and he missed out on the World Cup. That happened on Atlanta United’s fake grass. A 2019 study showed a marginal difference in the frequency of injuries between artificial and real grass. However, for the difference that existed, it leaned to show more injuries on artificial grass. The video above, where Mark Delgado picked up an injury, happened on Vancouver’s synthetic turf.

Garber said many of the game’s great players to appear in MLS featured on artificial grass.

“A lot of international stars come into Major League Soccer, and they are either intrigued or concerned about not playing on grass. And then you see some of the best players who’ve ever played the game, the (Thierry) Henrys of the world and Kakas of the world, who played on turf.”

PHOTO: IMAGO / Sven Simon

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