Timbers haven't warmed to hot turf
Zarek Valentin stepped into a new pair of loafers and shook his head. More than half an hour after leaving the Providence Park turf last Saturday following the Timbers' 1-1 draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Portland defender's feet still hurt.
Burning feet are just one of the realities of playing afternoon soccer at Providence Park, where the temperature on the FieldTurf is significantly warmer than the air temperature.
The spin and pace of the ball also changes as the surface dries out, creating less predictable bounces. It is a combination of fatigue and uncertainty that impacts the quality of soccer.
"It pains me, because we have such a ridiculously cool fan base," Valentin said. "Incredible tifo, all that stuff. But playing at 2 o'clock in the sun is really hard. It is obnoxiously warm on the field."
Neither Valentin nor coach Giovanni Savarese used the heat as an excuse for a disappointing draw. But Savarese said conditions affected the play.
"Today was tough," Savarese said after the match. "In the second half, the heat played a part and we couldn't move the ball quick enough. So it became, from both teams, a little bit slower match."
The turf isn't the only nuance at the stadium. Because the field is 35 feet below the ground around Providence Park, the stadium bowl limits the wind at field level. And the depth of the field is among a series of factors that make maintaining a quality grass field difficult, according to Mike Golub, the president of business for the Timbers and Thorns.
The good news?
The Timbers' only remaining afternoon home match this season isn't until October.
The Thorns had 50-degree weather for two of their three afternoon home games this spring, but played in temperatures approaching 80 degrees in their May 12 loss to Orlando. They play one more 12:30 p.m. Lifetime television game at home and will be hoping for below-average temperatures on Aug. 22.
Golub said MLS has been good about limiting the number of afternoon matches at Providence Park — and tries to avoid scheduling them during the summer months. The 88-degree temperature on May 13, when the Timbers played host to Seattle, was well above average. The 80-degree weather for the June 2 match against the Galaxy was the warmest day in two weeks.
"We've had some really bad luck" with the weather, Golub said.
This week, rain was in the forecast for kickoff against Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Golub — who said the FieldTurf at Providence Park is widely regarded as the best non-grass soccer surface available — added that the organization (with the help of FieldTurf) is studying a new filler product designed to cool the surface. The team will test the cooling filler product at its practice facility to see if the ball plays any differently.
If those results are positive, the new fill product might be used next season. The Providence Park FieldTurf, new this season, will be replaced again before next season because construction of the new east grandstand requires that the current turf be removed.
A cooler field temperature could be cooler for fans, too.
"Generally, the ball moves slower, bounces higher, and also with the spin of the ball it can bounce in odd directions," Valentin said about how the game changes when the FieldTurf dries out.
"It's really hard," Portland midfielder Diego Chara said. "It's hard for us to try to pass the ball well because the ball (bounces)."
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella tries to be extra careful on warm, dry days.
"There were a couple odd bounces," Attinella said after Saturday's match. "It's hard when you're not sure if it's true all the time or what it's going to do."
Valentin said friends texting him from Norway were excited about watching the Timbers-Galaxy match. He gets why networks want to show Timbers home games.
"It's a great spectacle," he said. "But I think at times we sacrifice a little bit of the quality on the pitch because it's too hot."
n Timbers midfielders Andy Polo (Peru) and David Guzman (Costa Rica) have each made their country's team for the World Cup tournament that kicks off on June 14 in Russia.
The Costa Rica squad includes former Timber Rodney Wallace, who now plays for New York City FC.
Those three are among 19 current MLS players named to World Cup rosters. Mexico, Egypt, Sweden and Panama also have MLS players on their squads.
n FC Cincinnati will begin play in MLS next season, which guarantees the league will maintain a footprint in Ohio if/when the Columbus Crew relocate to Austin, Texas. If the Crew stays in Columbus, there will be quite a rivalry in Ohio.
Officially the league's 26th franchise, FC Cincinnati will join ahead of Nashville and Miami in 2020 and give the league 24 teams in 2019. Figure Cincinnati joins the Eastern Conference, giving each conference 12 teams next season.
n Portland Timbers 2 saw their win streak end at four games and their unbeaten run stopped at six when San Antonio FC scored twice after the 85th minute last Saturday to beat Portland 2-1.
T2 (7-4-2, 23 points) are fourth in the Western Conference of the United Soccer League. They are back in Texas this Saturday, visiting Rio Grande Valley.
n The Thorns are idle until June 16. Well, not idle but on a break from National Women's Soccer League competition.
Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Midge Purce are with the U.S. for friendlies against China on Thursday at Sandy, Utah (6 p.m. PT, FS1) and Tuesday at Cleveland (4 p.m. PT, ESPN2).
Christine Sinclair is with Canada for an international friendly on Sunday against Germany.
The rest of the Thorns — after serving last Saturday as grand marshals for the Starlight Parade — will be busy training, something coach Mark Parsons was looking forward to after his team fell 4-1 on May 30 to league-leading North Carolina.
Parsons said the international break comes at a good time — not because of Wednesday's result but because the busy May schedule has limited quality training time. Players such as Ellie Carpenter and Andressinha have had work with their new teammates.
"We look forward to refreshing, recharging and getting to work," Parsons said, "making the improvements that we need to make."