PORTLAND, Ore. – It got a lot less fanfare than one would think, and perhaps that’s a sign of the times: Tuesday night's 6-1 win over Belize quietly marked the first game of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure in which the US national team played a home game on artificial turf.
That snapped a 17-game span of home games on grass (or grass lain over turf, as was the case in Seattle last month).
And Klinsmann’s adjustments at JELD-WEN Field were very small: replacing players in his lineup – which mostly mirrored that of the 6-0 Gold Cup warmup victory over Guatemala last week – with players for whom the unforgiving turf wouldn’t be so harsh.
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Michael Orozco Fiscal came in for Oguchi Onyewu, while Chris Wondolowski subbed in for Herculez Gomez. Stuart Holden was again a halftime substitution with the US already leading 3-1. All of it was done, Klinsmann said, with the surface in mind.
“The decision with actually Gooch and Herc was based on the fact that they have [had] knee issues in the past and we didn’t want to risk anything on the turf field,” the US boss said in his postgame press conference. “Same with Stuart Holden. [We told him], ‘If we need you, come off the bench when things maybe open up a little bit.’ So that was our concern.”
All three of those players have been dealing with knee injuries in some form or another. Onyewu’s and Holden’s both date back several years, while Gomez’s troubles are as recent as the recently completed Liga MX season.
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But it was a precaution the players appreciated.
“I haven’t been playing on turf in four or five years,” said Holden, who left Major League Soccer after the 2009 season to join Bolton of the English Premier League. “I wouldn’t have known how I would’ve reacted, so I think [the best idea was to] plan on the cautious side there and eliminating some risk.”
The US could play as many as two more games on turf in the Gold Cup, but not until the knockout stages: If they finish third in Group C, they’d end up playing a quarterfinal at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, while the semifinals are at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.