Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Turf wars: The USWNT continues fight to get more games on natural grass

The U.S. women’s national soccer team played a thrilling 3-1 friendly against South Korea on Thursday night in New Orleans.

The victory gave fans many highlights to celebrate: In the 24th minute, defender Julie Ertz knocks a beautiful diving header to land the first goal of the match. Before halftime, Kelley O’Hara passes it to Alex Morgan who turns on a defender to slot the second. In the 52nd minute, Megan Rapinoe scores the final goal after converting a penalty kick.

The match was undoubtably fun to watch, but all of this excitement was played in front of a disappointingly lackluster audience. The Superdome, which seats 73,000, only hosted 9,371 fans last night. And what’s worse? The USWNT once again had to play on artificial turf, which looked questionably patchy from the television screen.

Since artificial turf doesn’t give as much as grass, athletes often complain about the surface being tough on their bodies—particularly after playing 90-straight minutes in back-to-back tournament games. And during the summer months, the turf beads on the field absorb more heat, which increases the risk of heat exhaustion.

[More from Excelle Sports: USWNT tops South Korea in friendly with goals from Ertz, Morgan and Rapinoe]

Before the 2015 World Cup, athletes from around the globe tried to sue FIFA to move the contest to natural grass fields. They failed. But the USWNT continued their fight to have better venues. During their 2015 World Cup victory tour, they boycotted a game in Hawaii because of poor artificial turf conditions, and since then the number of games played on turf has declined.

Still, watching last night’s match reminded viewers that U.S. Soccer needs to do more to protect the health and safety of its only World Cup champions.

In the 44th minute, forward Mallory Pugh was tripped near half-field and went to the ground grabbing her hamstring. Some speculated that the reason for that injury was because of the turf, but there is no saying if the injury wouldn’t have occurred if she were on grass.

The USWNT actually tried to persuade U.S. Soccer to avoid the Superdome venue before the Oct. 19 friendly occrued, according to the New York Times. The players listed other grass options, which the federation failed to seriously consider. As per the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) each party signed in April, both the USWNT and U.S. Soccer concurred that natural grass was the preferred surface when looking for potential match hosts.

[More from Excelle Sports: USWNT hangs out with Saints, Pelicans ahead of match with South Korea]

But it doesn’t seem like U.S. Soccer has yet to make much effort to secure better venues for their women’s team. Just last month, the USWNT played New Zealand on artificial turf in Cincinnati. On the other hand, the men’s national team has not played a home game on artificial turf since 2014.

The new CBA may have secured higher wages for the players of the USWNT, but it’s clear after last night that there’s still much more equality to strive for in the world of women’s soccer.

Jump To Comments