PORTLAND, Ore. – With the international soccer spotlight shifting once again to Portland with the awarding of the 2014 MLS All-Star Game, the discussion over JELD-WEN Field’s artificial playing surface continues.
And Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said he’s thinking of doing something about it.
“If I could do grass, I would do grass,” Paulson said during the press conference announcing the All-Star Game’s coming to the Rose City. “There’s stigma around artificial surface, and it’s something that we’re continually assessing. So never say never. We’re looking at it.”
The topic arose when Paulson fielded a question regarding US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments about keeping several players who were recovering from injury out of Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener at JELD-WEN against Belize because of the stadium’s artificial playing surface, and how that might affect the All-Star Game.
First, Paulson ran through the merits of the playing surface, which has earned FIFA Recommended 2-Star certification all three years the Timbers have played in MLS.
“We’ve got a unique surface and we’ve had great teams and world teams play on our surface,” Paulson said.
Then he said he’s looking at all the options available to transition to a permanent grass field.
“I’m certainly not ruling out a permanent natural surface here,” Paulson said. “And again, I don’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse. It’s something we’re always assessing.”
But there are a number of hurdles to overcome before grass is in place by the 2014 season, let alone the mid-summer All-Star Game, namely the fact that the Timbers share the field with the Portland State University football team in the fall.
“I think that makes it very difficult to do natural,” Paulson said. “If at one point and time that wasn’t the case, who knows. That’s not the only factor but it’s certainly one.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.