All of the Sounders players and coaches agree the new FieldTurf surface at CenturyLink Field is a big upgrade from the slick and worn old version they played on last season.
"Having a new turf field is a big plus for us from the standpoint of it’s going to play much truer – the grass – and it’s going to slow the ball down at times, which is important for a team like us that likes to keep possession," coach Sigi Schmid said. "Obviously there’s more bounce to it, there’s more give, it’s a spongier surface so it plays a lot better than it did last year."
Beyond the roll of the ball, Schmid said the softer turf also should help in terms of his club's health.
"Physically it definitely helps because it’s softer," he said. "It’s still hard underneath. That’s the way it always is. But it’s definitely easier on the body than it would be otherwise. There’s a lot more unplanned cuts in soccer that you have to do … so just being able to cut on this surface with it being softer like that takes a lot of the wear and tear off."
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"Different feel, different surface, but it still feels like home," veteran Roger Levesque said. "Getting out here at CenturyLink has been great today. The surface has been really good. We did some passing drills, and over the next week or so Sigi’s going to have us playing a lot just getting used to the surface and making it feel more natural and more like home. But so far so good. The ball is rolling true. It’s a little easier on the body to run around, especially for an old guy like me: 31, the softer the surface, the more like grass, the better. Guys eyes are lighting up, seeing the pitch.
Of course, no matter how good the artificial surface is, most soccer players and fans prefer grass. But Sounders senior vice president of business operations Gary Wright said stadium design will prevent that from happening as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
"It’s the configuration of the roof: the shawdows and the patterns," Wright said. "It would just be impossible to replace all the time. You’d be playing in mud more than half the season. Even if you kept replace the field. It sounds great, and I know there was speculation out there that Mike Holmgren didn’t want grass, he wanted artificial. Right from the beginning Paul Allen wanted grass, Mike Holmgren wanted grass, everybody wanted grass. If it would have worked, it would be grass."
And as they spoke about the turf, a new video board hung in the south end while a new board is still rising on the north end.
"The boards won't be ready (Wednesday), but it's an ongoing process of making sure we have a first-class stadium and all the latest enhancements," Wright said. "From a soccer side, it was important to upgrade the turf and get the best playable field possible."
Wright also added that he hopes the new surface will lure the U.S. National Team in for another Seattle appearance soon.
"We would love for that to happen," he said. "I've had conversations with major managers who have been here before and said had it gotten to their desk they would've played on FieldTurf. But it doesn't always seem to get to the right person. They're so used to playing on grass, but it will be interesting to see how this one plays out this year. This is the latest and the greatest. The reports in their testing have been great."
Meanwhile, a couple of other player reactions to the turf:
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado: "It looks great. It feels great. Who knows how it’s going to go during the season, but we trained out here today and it felt great."
Servando Carrasco: "The new turf is great. Compared to last year’s it’s a lot better. Last year’s was a little too quick when it rained, and it rains a lot here. I think we’re starting to get used to it. It’s the first day out here and it’s only going to get better. You can definitely feel a little more support with this turf. I think we’re all happy with this."