Veteran players usually frown upon playing soccer on the unforgiving confines of an artificial turf but New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry takes his disdain to a new level.
With all of one appearance on the fake stuff in two and a half years, his behavior could easily lead some to label him “turf-phobic.” Red Bull fans have already begun wondering aloud if their star striker will even appear for the home opener at Jeld-Wen Stadium.
Fret not. The last time New York’s star striker took the pitch on a turf field? 2011. The opponent? The Portland Timbers.
“I played there if you remember,” Henry told reporters. “I was sent off, I scored, I did pretty much everything there.”
Why Portland and not New England, Seattle or even Vancouver?
“Their turf is good!” the Red Bulls captain explained. “It’s different from any other turf you play in the league. That’s an amazing one.”
A rare compliment from the turf hating striker for sure, but he isn’t alone in his hatred of the artificial. Newcomer Juninho Pernambucano has enjoyed a 20 year career that has taken him the world over, littering his trophy case with championships. The man has quite literally done it all.
Well, almost everything. You see, come Sunday, he will experience an unwelcome first when he steps foot on the field in Portland.
“I worry a little bit because I have never played an official game on artificial turf,” Juninho explained to EoS. “I’ve played 6v6 in Winter in Europe when the fields weren’t that good to work on but never an official game.”
To prepare for the experience, Juninho has spoken to his teammates, including Henry, about the conditions he could expect in Portland. “What (Henry) did tell me is that we have a very strong, physical league with a lot of contact; a very direct style of football where they look for the forwards a little bit faster to challenge with headers and go after rebounds. You have to do everything faster.
“I know it’s different, but mentally I have to be strong like always and not think now about how two or three fields will effect my game,” he concluded. “I hope to adapt well to the artificial turfs, but I am not endorsing it. I feel football should be played on a normal pitch.”
In his view, turf will always be the great equalizer and not worthy of a second thought. “If the conditions aren’t good, it won’t be good for either team,” he said. “I feel sure of myself but I respect the fields of the teams that play on turf.”
Instead of focusing on what he cannot control, Juninho chooses to work on what he can.
“We have technically gifted players but we suffered a little but during preseason,” he said. “We still have lots of confidence in our team and, with all due respect, we hope to start well against Portland.”