Players on Canada's three Major League Soccer teams can't escape playing on artificial turf in the North American League. But they clearly prefer the real thing.
"My opinion is soccer should be played on grass. Absolutely," said Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, who has represented the U.S. at two men's World Cups.
"No one ever wants to play on turf," said Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush.
"I think we should eradicate turf from football," added Toronto FC captain Steven Caldwell.
Caldwell, a Scottish international defender, is watching the legal challenge by a group of elite female players ahead of the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015.
The women are alleging discrimination, arguing that the men would never play their World Cup on an artificial surface.
"I'm fully behind them," Caldwell said in a recent interview. "I don't think they should be playing the World Cup or any games on turf in any professional league. Fingers crossed that it's a precedent for the future in that we can try and hopefully get to a position where we can eradicate turf from all professional leagues."
"I definitely sympathize with them," Toronto fullback Justin Morrow, a U.S. international, said of the women. "I hope they win their case because I don't think the men's tournament would ever be played on artificial grass so there's no reason why theirs should be."
Caldwell calls artificial turf an "alien surface" that is not good for the joints. "It can be very dangerous at times as well," he added.
FIFA permits the use of sanctioned artificial surfaces and men's World Cup qualifying games have been played on turf. FIFA consultant Eric Harrison calls such approved turf a "credible alternative" to natural turf and something that makes sense for Canada’s climate.
The Vancouver Whitecaps play on turf at B.C. Place Stadium, which will host the Women's World Cup final next July.
"I think it takes some getting used to," said Whitecaps' Irish international defender Andy O'Brien, who played more than 300 games in the English Premier League. "I think guys back home wouldn't want to train on it once because we're used to playing on grass.
"I had a few little niggles myself when I first started playing on the turf, but I think it's something that your body gets used to, adapts to. The more that you play on it and get used to it the easier it is. If you're not used to playing on it the body can take a bit of a battering."
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, a former Welsh international, is not complaining.
"The turf's fine," he said. "My guys like it. It's not grass, we're not trying to say it's grass. Seattle, Portland, New England have the same thing and we play on it in Major League Soccer. Is it grass? No it's not grass, but we're not pretending it is grass.
"You're always going to get arguments for and against it."
The Whitecaps train on grass but play on turf.
"You have to judge timing differently," said Vancouver midfielder Russell Teibert. "Obviously the ball is going to roll different than it is on grass. You can't really slide on turf as well as you'd slide on grass. When you strike a ball it's different on turf than it is on grass, but these are all aspects of the game that are out of your control ... It's something that you have to get used to and I hope they can sort it out."
Montreal Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier, like Teibert a Canadian international, sees both sides of the debate.
"As an athlete, of course you want to play on natural grass, but the people who are taking care of the (World Cup) tournament had to look at the venues that were available and the dates, because we're in season and we can't be gone from Saputo Stadium for a whole month," said Bernier.
"But these days, artificial turf is part of it. You've seen it in the younger tournaments, they're played on turf. Especially in a country like Canada where there's not that many stadiums outside of Toronto Montreal and Vancouver, and even Vancouver plays on turf. You just have to play on it.
"At the end of the day, you want to play on grass, but the tournament was scheduled with what was available and you have to play on what's given to you."
While FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association say studies show there is no greater risk of injury on turf than grass, players say the game does play differently on turf.
"The game on turf is a bit faster. There's not as much adherence when you turn and you move. It's a bit harder on your joints," said Bernier.
Bush also feels the difference.
"It beats up the body a little more. Your joints feel it more," said the American 'keeper. "On top of that, the ball doesn't travel the same way. You can tell the differences as a player. From the stands, maybe the differences aren't as glaring, but it's definitely a big difference.
For Bradley, the decision is simple. Choose the best surface.
"Playing on turf, especially bad turf fields, it changes the game and I think when people watch on TV, when people come to the stadium, for players, for coaches, we all want the best version of our game and there's no doubt that that is played on grass.
Said Bernier: "The newer generations (of artificial turf) are closer to grass but it's never going to be grass."
With files from Canadian Press sports reporters Bill Beacon in Montreal and Joshua Clipperton in Vancouver
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