Fire set for rare repeat on artificial turf

As a youngster coming up the ranks, Fire midfielder Fabian Herbers sometimes would have to play on artificial surfaces. Not every experience on turf in his native Germany was a pleasant one.

“It feels like you’re playing on concrete,” Herbers recalled. “They just build on top of a parking lot or whatever. It’s not great. It’s just super hard, and it doesn’t really go deep. And then it’s not great on your body. But when you’re younger, you can still kind of manage it. When you’re getting older as I am, it’s not as nice.”

Luckily for the 30-year-old Herbers and the Fire, the artificial fields they’re playing on are much better.

When the Fire (1-2-2, 5 points) visit Atlanta United on Sunday (2:30 p.m., Fox 32, Apple TV+), they will be on turf for the second straight game for the first time since the opening two pre-pandemic matches in 2020. Last Saturday in New England, the Fire and Revolution tied 1-1 on a soggy but well-received plastic pitch.

Herbers didn’t sound too concerned about the repeat, which is obviously much rarer for the Fire than Atlanta (2-2-0, 6 points). He also said turf fields have improved, something Herbers apparently had to learn the hard way.

“The teams that play in it do it week-in and week-out. I don’t think it’s too much of a load or too much of a difference, to be honest,” Herbers said of back-to-back games on an artificial surface. “Yes, it’s a little bit different, but especially Atlanta (which installed new turf before the seasn), and New England had a fairly new turf as well.

“Turf fields are pretty good these days; they are not as hard and as bad as they used to be in the past.”

For teams like the Fire that play on grass at home, however, the turf fields can force some adjustments. In the lead-up to matches on turf, some coaches prefer to have their players train on a similar surface.

Frank Klopas is not one of them.

“I’m not the kind of guy that believes in training on turf a whole week,” Klopas said. “That’s something that the players don’t really like. They want to be on natural grass, and then just go in the day before the game and be ready to go. The two facilities [in New England and Atlanta] are excellent. Even though it’s [not] grass, it’s some of the best turf that you can find.”

Because artificial fields can be harder on players’ bodies, teams have been hesitant to use players who might be dealing with knocks or are coming back from injuries. Though Klopas said the turf might spur a discussion on how banged-up players are used, he wouldn’t let the surface dictate his roster choices.

If somebody is ready to play, Klopas said, he’ll play. It would be more worrisome to Klopas if a player just getting over an ailment had to play on a slick and rainy surface.

“Before they get released to be ready to go, they go through a certain process and they are full strength before they can integrate and get involved with the team,” Klopas said. “Once they are released 100%, they are good to go regardless of the surface.”

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