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LAFC learning MLS surface lessons one game at a time

Expansion team seemed to by puzzled by Atlanta’s turf.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more striking aspects of Los Angeles Football Club’s game on Saturday to me was the volume of final third passes that were just off.

There were multiple moments where the ball was just a little heavy on throughballs and slip passes up to teammates. Just a few yards too far, promising moments were snuffed out and attacks died, again and again.

Call it a lesson in MLS surfaces.

What do Atlanta United, Minnesota United, New England Revolution, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and sometimes Montreal Impact have in common? They all play on turf at home games.

And before I get bogged down into a discussion of turf vs. grass, or the nuances of the respective surfaces (I agree, good turf is better than bad grass, and not all turf surfaces are alike), it is worth noting the impact that the varying surfaces can have on a team, especially a new team.

The first couple years the Timbers were in MLS, opposing teams routinely struggled to weigh passes properly. Part of the issue was probably the novelty of the venue and surface, part probably the smaller dimensions of the field which have since been extended, and the turf itself has been changed since Portland entered the league. Now, you don’t hear those complaints anymore. Teams are probably accustomed to the difference in the surface, and chances are the turf itself may be different enough now that the distinction isn’t as pronounced.

In contrast, the popular opinion of the Sounders turf is that balls tend to bounce harder and higher there. This can obviously lead to heavy passes, but obviously LAFC didn’t struggle too badly with that in their first match, when they beat the Sounders in Seattle.

Look, I’m not saying if LAFC had played Atlanta United on grass, they wouldn’t have lost. In addition to the heavy balls the defense struggled all day, the attack was stymied in more ways than one and the midfield was totally overrun. LAFC struggled in all facets of the game.

But LAFC kept the game to 1-0 through 66 minutes, so if they had been able to link up on a pass through the lines and get a good shot off, maybe the game would have turned out much differently? There’s no way of knowing, but it seems like having a handle on the surface would have helped LAFC, certainly.

Now, comes another challenge on a new surface, as LAFC will head up to BC Place for the first time to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday night. I can’t say I hear a ton of specific complaints about the Whitecaps’ surface, but again, it’s not grass, and it could be tricky if LAFC aren’t quite ready to change the weight of their passes. I expect Bob Bradley will leave no stone unturned in trying to snap out of the team’s first ever losing streak, but it will be interesting to see if LAFC have to play at each venue before they figure out the quirks of each surface, or if they’ll look to ensure the struggles at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last weekend was a one-off occurrence.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!