Sydney Leroux: Why Turf Is Terrible For Soccer Players

Sydney Leroux drove past BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday, and couldn't help but fast-forward eight months.

"Ah," she thought, "this is where the final of the Women's World Cup will be."

But then the star forward for the U.S. women's national team immediately had another thought: "I hope with everything in me that it will be played on grass."

I caught up with Leroux while she was in Vancouver visiting her mom, who is Canadian. Leroux is part of a lawsuit that a group of more than 40 international women's soccer players brought against the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA over the 2015 Women's World Cup being played on synthetic turf surfaces instead of real grass.

Who better than Leroux -- especially so close to the epicenter of the issue -- to explain why playing on turf in Canada next summer is such a bad idea:

Q&A with Leroux

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

On grass, slide tackling is part of the game. But on turf, Sydney Leroux says "there are certain tackles I am just not going to go into."

Q: FIFA.com recently posted an article citing Dr. Jan Ekstrand, the vice chairman of UEFA's medical committee. The Swedish doctor conducted a series of studies on the risk of injury on artificial turf and believes there is no higher incidence of leg burns on turf versus natural grass. "In fact," he responded, "we saw more instances of leg burn on natural grass."

A: Oh my goodness. That's insane. Growing up I played on grass. Now that I look back on it, I feel like that allowed me to become the aggressive player I am today. Especially playing in Vancouver with the rain and grass. You can slide and do all these things. In my first true full season on turf at Boston, I completely ruined my leg. So it's not even an argument. Everyone knows the raspberries you get by playing on turf. And the injuries. [French international star and 1998 World Cup champion] Thierry Henry won't even travel to Seattle [to play the Sounders] in the regular season because he doesn't play on turf. Some of the best players in the world refuse to play on turf. Look, I would play on dry Arizona grass in the heat of the summer before I would play on turf. Every time.

Q: How does playing on turf affect you physically? When FIFA.com asked Ekstrand if the recovery time after injury is longer on turf than on natural grass, he responded, "There is no difference."

A: There is a huge difference. I learned while playing on the turf in Boston there are certain tackles I am just not going to go into. Besides scoring goals, one of my favorite things is I love to absolutely crush an outside back when they are about to hit a long ball. I don't do those anymore. It's not worth not being able to shower for three days [because water stings turf burns]. I am not saying you don't get beaten up on grass. The sport we play is physical, but when going into a tackle, you are not supposed to be thinking, "Crap, this is going to hurt, and [it's] probably not worth it." Turf does that to you. It takes away from how I play and we play soccer. And the back problems. My back is the worst it has ever felt this season as I felt like I was running on concrete every day [playing on turf all season for the NWSL's Seattle Reign].

I can say pretty positively that not one player going into this World Cup would rather play on turf than grass.
Sydney Leroux

Q: How does turf change the way you play? How is it different technically and tactically?

A: The ball bounces differently. Faster. You can't just play a ball over the top and know it will die and fall at a player's feet. The way you strike the ball is different. You can't chip a ball the same on turf and you can't get under the ball the same way. I feel like it is a completely different game. It's as if you are on a basketball court. Then other times, the ball catches on rubber and checks back. You just don't know what to expect. Usually as a forward I can tell if the ball is going to die or go fast. But on turf, you don't know, you have no idea.

Q: How confident are you that you will be playing on grass come June?

A: I feel like we are in an uphill battle with FIFA. I don't think they are taking this seriously. And international players, like [Seattle Reign teammate and Japanese star Nahomi] Kawasumi, are on same page. Kawasumi doesn't want to play on turf either. She hates it. To be honest, no one likes it. I know I cannot speak for them, but I also know Canada soccer players would much rather play on grass themselves. They just can't say it. I can say pretty positively that not one player going into this World Cup would rather play on turf than grass.

I really feel it is an equality issue. Do you think the men in Brazil this summer would have said yes, we are fine playing on turf? No way in hell that would happen with men. It's really sad women have to be guinea pigs for this. Once every four years it is a dream to play in the World Cup. And to have to think, OK, we have the potential for seven games at the World Cup. The first couple games, I have to be careful and take care of my body because you saw my leg. How am I supposed to play after that with the same aggressiveness? I can't come out completely bandaged up. We will have to figure out a way that when sliding, we can continue to play without chewing up our body. The issue is: How are you supposed to play with the legs that I had? And I'm sure it would be even worse in a World Cup, where you're giving everything and more.

Q: How will you be mentally if you have expended all this energy to get the World Cup played on grass and in June, you find yourself playing on turf?

A: We are playing either way. If comes down to it and they don't agree that we have a valid argument -- which it completely is -- we are going for gold no matter what.

Q: Will you be angry?

A: Yes of course, and not just us, but the rest of women playing in this World Cup who believe we should have equal opportunity to play on grass this summer.

Q: At what point do you back off and let it go?

A: I feel like we will fight until the very end. That's the American mentality. This is the only thing left is to keep fighting, continue to bring people in and show people this is NOT the way.

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