Play­ers try not to sweat turf heat

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

WIN­NIPEG, Canada — The ar­ti­fi­cial turf that FIFA man­dated for the women’s World Cup was a hot topic in the year lead­ing up to the tour­na­ment. And the turf has got­ten even hot­ter now that the games have started.

A TV re­porter said the tem­per­a­ture on the field for Sun­day’s Nor­way-Thai­land game in Ottawa topped 129 de­grees. The day be­fore, at the tour­na­ment opener be­tween Canada and China, the sur­face tem­per­a­ture was 120.

The air tem­per­a­ture in both cities was be­low 80 de­grees. But the plas­tic grass, left to bake in the sun, col­lected heat de­spite the rel­a­tively mild weather.

The U.S. hasn’t had to deal with such ex­tremes in Win­nipeg, where it plays Swe­den on Fri­day in its sec­ond group-play game. But Coach Jill El­lis has taken mea­sures to pre­pare for the turf just the same.

“We’ve asked for it to be wa­tered,” El­lis said Wed­nes­day. “When you’re play­ing and you want to try to move the ball, the sur­face needs to be a lit­tle bit slick. And with­out rain, the wa­ter is im­per­a­tive.”

Last year, a coali­tion of more than five dozen play­ers, led by Amer­i­cans Abby Wam­bach and Alex Mor­gan, filed a gen­der-dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaint against FIFA and the Canadian soc­cer fed­er­a­tion. In the com­plaint, made be­fore the Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal of On­tario, they ar­gued that the men’s World Cup has never been played on ar­ti­fi­cial turf and that forc­ing the women to play on it would al­ter the way the game is played and re­sult in ad­di­tional in­juries, such as turf burn.

FIFA stood firm, though, and the play­ers with­drew their com­plaint in Jan­uary.

“It’s the same for every­body,” El­lis said of the ar­ti­fi­cial turf. “The sur­face, if it is wa­tered, al­lows you to play quickly.

“De­fen­sively, you have to check your run a lit­tle bit. But in terms of just the play, it hasn’t af­fected the qual­ity of the teams that are here and the play­ers that are here and some of the things that they can do.” Glad that’s over

The U.S. sur­vived a poor first half to beat Australia in its first game. And for mid­fielder Tobin Heath, get­ting those open­ing­night jit­ters out of the way leaves the U.S. feel­ing a lot more com­fort­able head­ing into the game with Swe­den.

“Now that we got our first game un­der our belt, I think you’ll see a much dif­fer­ent team from the start,” Heath said. “This will be our sec­ond time in the same sta­dium. All those things that you [saw] in the first game, we got out of our sys­tem. Every­body is just look­ing for­ward to get­ting back on the field and putting in a bet­ter per­for­mance.

“In our group there’s no easy teams. And mov­ing on we can’t take a break. We can’t take a breath.” War of words

El­lis brushed aside a brew­ing con­tro­versy over com­ments made by for­mer U.S. coach Pia Sund­hage. In a story in the New York Times, Sund­hage, who will coach her na­tive Swe­den against the U.S., lamented Carli Lloyd’s lack of con­fi­dence, said Wam­bach is only a part-time player and con­fessed that coach­ing Hope Solo was chal­leng­ing, “es­pe­cially when it comes to trou­ble.”

“All I’m do­ing is fo­cused on my play­ers and my team and our prepa­ra­tion,” said El­lis, a friend of Sund­hage who coached un­der her with the U.S. “Dis­trac­tions don’t re­ally creep into my mind when I’m try­ing to pre­pare my play­ers.

“We’re an in­cred­i­bly pro­fes­sional group. And the only fo­cus for us is three points and our prepa­ra­tion to try to ad­vance.”

De­fender Lori Chalupny, who played un­der Sund­hage but was not men­tioned in the story, was asked whether she thought her team­mates might use their for­mer coach’s words to fuel their per­for­mance Fri­day.

“When you’re in a World Cup,” Chalupny said, “there’s no ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion needed.”

Joe Scar­nici Getty Images

TOBIN HEATH says the U.S. team should be more re­laxed and com­fort­able for game against Swe­den on Fri­day.

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