YOESTING: All for USA at Cuba, but pitch was unacceptable

Cuba and the United States national soccer teams play a friendly match in the Pedro Marrero Stadium in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. The U.S. beat Cuba 2-0. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

Growing up I played soccer on a lot of different fields. Some were fantastic, like the newly installed surface at Hohlt Park in Brenham. Some not so much, like my club’s home field at George Bush Park in Alief.

Some were muddy despite drought; some were hard as concrete despite deluges. I recall on one in particular, the entire 18-yard box on one end was basically a giant sand pit.

And yet, I don’t think any of them were as bad as the one the U.S. Men’s National Team played on against Cuba on Friday.

I’m all for opening relations with Cuba. Perhaps I’m too young to hold grudges over the Cuban Missile Crisis or our hilarious, failed attempts to assassinate Cuban leadership, but given the geographic proximity (and the number of great baseball players) it makes sense to at least be cordial with our neighbors.

In that sense, Friday’s match was a great opportunity for the two nations to continue to heal the divide between them.

The Americans played Cuba on Cuban soil for the first time since 1947, although I use the term soil lightly.

The pitch was only partially covered by grass, with large patches of dirt strewn across the field. Where the grass did grow, it was unkempt, looking as though no one had mowed the grass in months.

Now maybe I shouldn’t be the one to criticize, since my yard doesn’t look much better (but, to be clear, it is better). But if I knew the soccer team of the world’s most powerful nation was coming to town, I’d sure do my best to have it in top condition.

Perhaps because I graduated from an agricultural school (Texas A&M), I take pride in the surfaces of the teams for which I root. I never actually took any agricultural classes, but I enjoy the occasional grass-related fact, like pointing out when artists depict dinosaurs roaming on grass fields as anachronistic, since grass did not evolve until after the dinosaurs went extinct.

I’m glad Kyle Field features one of the best grass fields in college football just as I enjoy the smooth surfaces top teams in England somehow coax out of that dreary British weather, Emirates Stadium in particular.

Cuba, however, where grass should be easily maintained, was incapable of supplying a pitch worthy of a herd of goats, never mind a couple national teams.

But don’t take my word for it.

“The field was a field that was not playable,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “On that field, it’s impossible to get a higher rhythm, a higher tempo, higher pace.

“We knew that it was going to be difficult on this field.”

Ultimately the U.S. prevailed 2-0, though arguably given the stature of the teams involved the margin should have been much greater.

I was ready to put that down to the pitch until Tuesday’s performance against New Zealand.

Klinsmann had an almost entirely new squad for the game at RFK, with many of the players likely to start in a month when the hex World Cup qualifying stage begins sent back to their clubs.

But the U.S. looked poor and was fortunate to go ahead on Julian Green’s second goal in as many games and New Zealand deserved the point, if not more.

Hopefully when the Americans come back together to play Mexico on Nov. 11 in Columbus, Ohio, the team will be sharper and more motivated.

One thing will be certain: the pitch will be in better condition.


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