Alexi Lalas MLS blog: Exhibition matches against Prem sides taking precedence over league games? Sod that!
Welcome to MirrorFootball's new MLS blog, brought to you in conjunction with ESPN. Every Wednesday USA legend Alexi Lalas will be on hand to bring you the latest news from the 'States, and you'll also be able to watch the week's best goals and highlights...
Greetings people of the United Kingdom! Here's your weekly shot of 100-proof Major League Soccer. Quick, smooth and potent.
Who's responsible for a waterlogged field? Sorry, I think you guys call it a "pitch". Whatever.
Over here, soaked turf has been all the rage this week. See several of our MLS stadiums (grounds?) have synthetic fields. They don't have to be watered, cut, and most importantly, can withstand 300-pound NFL players when they get together to bash their heads together.
However, when your precious EPL teams come over to North America each summer for the exhibition games - and they all come - they demand real grass. So the MLS teams roll out the good stuff. They bring in sod, which usually costs about $200k to install.
These exhibition games help expand the brands of both teams and can be incredibly lucrative for all involved. Which is why Vancouver jumped at the chance to host Manchester City at Vancouver's Empire Field on Monday night (final score: 2-1 to City) and dutifully installed a grass field in the middle of last week.
Now installing real grass over artificial turf is a little like unrolling a bunch of yoga mats right next to each other. It is not a perfect science. For one thing, it struggles to drain correctly.
Which is what caused all the problems. Last Saturday, 48 hours before the Manchester City friendly, Vancouver were set to host Real Salt Lake on the freshly laid real grass at Empire Field. Mother Nature had other ideas. She dumped an ocean of rain on British Columbia. The water accumulated on and underneath the new turf, and ultimately that luscious pitch was deemed unplayable. The MLS game was postponed.
Now we can get back to the question of responsibility?
We all know that stuff happens. But there was a feeling that, despite the agreed upon fact that the field was indeed unplayable, the MLS game had somehow been sacrificed to save the field for what was deemed the more important Manchester City exhibition.
The truth is, Empire Field was clearly altered to accommodate a visiting foreign team for an exhibition game. So the risks that an unexpected deluge might turn the newly installed grass field into a ripped-up sponge were Vancouver's to bear. Remember, the permanent existing synthetic surface would have handled the rainfall and it has been used all year for MLS games.
Therefore, I think that Real Salt Lake can make a case for compensation.
They were ready to play and were punished by a voluntary business decision that ultimately resulted in the cancellation of their game.
But I hate forfeits - a team must sing for its supper. But the league can act. It seems most fair to give RSL the option of playing the game at home.
After all, if Vancouver can't put on their home games, maybe they don't deserve to host them.
For MLS teams, the lure of exhibition games against the elite teams of the world is too good to pass up. But it should not come at the expense of league play. Ever. While Vancouver certainly didn't plan for this to happen, that doesn't mean they're not responsible. Because as we all know, you might have the best-laid plans - or grass - and you can still find yourself under water.
Alexi Lalas is a lead football analyst for ESPN - the live and exclusive broadcaster of Major League Soccer in the UK. ESPN will broadcast live coverage of DC United v Everton at 12.30am on Saturday 23rd July. ESPN and ESPN America are the home of major sports from the US, including NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL Monday Night Football, and NCAA US college sports. For details visit www.espn.co.uk/tv