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Published on June 21, 2024
Argentina and Canada Raise Concerns Over Turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium After Copa America OpenerSource: Unsplash/ Emilio Garcia

The opening game of Copa America has left both Argentina and Canada with a sour taste, not because of the scoreline but due to the questionable turf at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Shortly after securing a 2-0 victory, Argentinean and Canadian players voiced deep concerns over the condition of the playing surface, which had been switched from artificial turf to natural grass following a Major League Soccer match just days prior to their match. "The field was a disaster," Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez told WABE, describing the turf as akin to a "springboard" with the ball unpredictably bouncing.

Amid comments from the Argentine camp, Lionel Scaloni, Argentina's coach, pointed out the short timeframe given for the players to adapt to the new surface, stating, "They knew seven months ago that we will be playing here and they changed the surface a few days ago." Known for not mincing his words, Scaloni saw fit to acknowledge the victory which cushioned the blow of the turf issue, emphasizing that the subpar field conditions should not be an excuse, but nonetheless acknowledged that the field was "not apt for these players." The stadium, despite its current criticism, is set to play a significant role in the 2026 World Cup by hosting eight games, including a semifinal.

The discomfort with the turf wasn't exclusive to just one side, as Canadian defender Kamal Miller echoed similar sentiments after the match. Walking on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium's field felt "like walking on a stage, as if it was hollow," he explained in a conversation with reporters. The turnout, which was a whooping crowd of over 70,000 at the opener, suggests a high level of fan engagement that may be disappointed if venue conditions do not meet the standard expected for a tournament of this magnitude. Following this contentious start, the stadium is set to host the United States and Panama on June 27 as the next match in the 32-game series.

Already looking forward, organizers at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens are planning to install a new grass surface for the Copa America, sandwiching the venue's efforts between a scheduled July 6 concert and the tournament's final on July 14. The precedent set by the opener could serve as a cautionary tale; however, given the logistical planning in question, the changeover appears to be giving at least some pause for concerns regarding pitch readiness for the latter stages of Copa America - because we've all just been handed, rather glaringly, a clear example of what can go astray when the ground underfoot isn't given its proper due.