U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann watches his players stretch during a Gold… (Nicolas Kamm / AFP / Getty…)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The field conditions at Cowboys Stadium could have a huge effect on who survives Wednesday's semifinals of the Gold Cup soccer tournament.
The U.S., unbeaten in the tournament and riding a record nine-game winning streak, meets Honduras in the first match. The Central Americans are the last team to beat the U.S. in a competitive game, winning 2-1 in San Pedro Sula on the opening day of World Cup qualifying in February.
In the second semifinal, struggling Mexico faces Panama in a rematch of the Gold Cup opener for both teams. Panama won that game 2-1, then crushed Cuba 6-1 in last week's quarterfinals. Mexico barely advanced with a 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.
But who reaches Sunday's final in Chicago could be decided by the field conditions. A temporary grass surface was laid down in the $1.3-billion stadium over the weekend and it seemed lumpy and uneven during Tuesday's training sessions, with large seams and some bare spots that were disguised with green sand.
That could give all four coaches pause before using any player with niggling leg issues. And the hardness of the surface figures to make it quick, favoring fast, offensive-minded teams like the U.S. over teams like Honduras, that play a more conservative style.
"Whatever it is, both teams have to play on it," U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said before getting a look at the field. "So we always make the best out of it. There’s no complaints on our end."
For the U.S., Wednesday's match will mark the third time in six weeks the team has played in an NFL stadium where artificial turf is the norm. Laying grass down over turf is a common, but not ideal, solution for soccer teams which like the huge crowds that NFL stadiums can accommodate but don't like playing on unforgiving plastic fields.
In most cases, the sod is installed over the turf. But at Cowboys Stadium the artificial surface was rolled up and removed and the thin carpet of grass -- the last blade of which was laid down Sunday afternoon -- was placed directly over concrete.
U.S. goalkeeper coach Kasey Keller told Fox Soccer's Grant Wahl that the surface felt like concrete and was "hard. Real hard."
A grass surface has been used for soccer before at Cowboys Stadium, notes Paul Kennedy of Soccer America magazine, with England's Chelsea meeting Mexico's Club America there in 2009. And last year Brazil played Mexico in a friendly in Arlington on 100,000 square field of Bermuda grass.
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