Australian left back Brad Smith, on loan to the Sounders from Bournemouth of the English Premier League, hadn’t played extensively on artificial turf until he signed with Seattle in 2018. And now, a year after arriving and getting used to the turf at CenturyLink Field, he’ll have to get used to another new surface.
The Sounders, along with the Seahawks and First & Goal Inc. — which operates CenturyLink Field — announced Thursday that they installed a new FieldTurf Revolution 360 playing surface at the stadium. The material replaced the previous turf installed in 2016.
Fortunately for Smith and teammates, they will have had two practices, including Thursday’s session, at CenturyLink before hosting Vancouver in MLS play on Saturday.
“I’m glad we’re training on it,” Smith said. “When I heard it was changing, I was pretty excited to come and try it before a game because, obviously, you don’t want to just step out onto something new or the unknown.
“It feels good. The ball runs well on it. It feels spongy, but time will tell with the games.”
The Sounders signed a lease with CenturyLink Field in 2015 that stipulated the turf be replaced every four years until the lease’s expiration in 2028. This installment is ahead of schedule in that it could’ve occurred at the end of the MLS season.
“It’s got to settle in,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “The fact that the blades stick up a little more, the ball rolls truer; it’ll be better for the athletes because it’s not as hard — they’re not running on a hard surface.”
Three other MLS teams play on FieldTurf: the Portland Timbers, Atlanta United and New England Revolution. The Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Cincinnati use artificial turf but from different companies.
Artificial fields have been in the soccer spotlight in recent years, with many teams preferring to play on natural grass — most notably the U.S. women’s national team — citing safety. A group of women players unsuccessfully sued to have turf fields replaced by grass at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. In 2017, the issue persisted, with U.S. and Reign star Megan Rapinoe speaking out.
“We do understand that we can’t — or (U.S. Soccer) is unwilling to — put every single game of ours on grass,” Rapinoe told The New York Times then. “But the expectation is that wherever we can, and with their best efforts, they will try to put us on grass.”
For the Sounders (7-4-5), training Thursday on their new artificial surface was more intense than recent practices as they prepare for the second half of the MLS season. The league was on a two-week break for international competitions, which depleted Seattle’s roster.
Players are trickling back, with midfielder/defender Joevin Jones making an appearance midway through Thursday’s session. He was called up by his Trinidadian national team, which didn’t advance past group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“I’m happy he didn’t play a ton of minutes last night,” said Schmetzer of Jones during Trinidad and Tobago’s final match Wednesday in Kansas City. “It gives me flexibility for Saturday. He’ll be involved in the game for sure.”
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, a 17-year-old forward, was also available to train after multiple stints playing — and winning — with various youth national teams.
But the club will likely still announce the signing of Tacoma Defiance forward Justin Dhillon to fill the void up top until mainstays Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) and Jordan Morris (U.S.) are done with their national team duties.
“He’ll need to learn the system a little bit; I’ll make (Justin’s) task very specific,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll see what we get out of him. I believe he will be signed.”