The artificial turf that FIFA mandated for the women's World Cup was a hot topic in the year leading up to the tournament. And the turf has gotten even hotter now that the games have started.
A TV reporter said the temperature on the field for Sunday's Norway-Thailand game in Ottawa topped 129 degrees. The day before, at the tournament opener between Canada and China, the surface temperature was 120.
The air temperature in both cities was below 80 degrees. But the plastic grass, left to bake in the sun, collected heat despite the relatively mild weather.
The U.S. hasn't had to deal with such extremes in Winnipeg, where the Americans meet Sweden on Friday in their second group-play game. But Coach Jill Ellis has taken measures to prepare for the turf just the same.
"We've asked for it to be watered," Ellis said Wednesday. "When you're playing and you want to try to move the ball, the surface needs to be a little bit slick. And without rain, the water is imperative."
Last year, a coalition of more than five dozen players, led by Americans Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, filed a gender-discrimination complaint against FIFA and the Canadian soccer federation. In the complaint, made before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, they argued that the men's World Cup has never been played on artificial turf and that forcing the women to play on it would alter the way the game is played and result in additional injuries, such as turf burn.
FIFA stood firm, though, and the players withdrew their complaint in January.
"It's the same for everybody," Ellis said of the artificial turf. "The surface, if it is watered, allows you to play quickly.
"Defensively, you have to check your run a little bit. But in terms of just the play, it hasn't affected the quality of the teams that are here and the players that are here and some of the things that they can do."
Glad that's over
The U.S. survived a poor first half to beat Australia in its first game. And for midfielder Tobin Heath, getting those opening-night jitters out of the way leaves the U.S. feeling a lot more comfortable heading into the game with Sweden.
"Now that we got our first game under our belt, I think you'll see a much different team from the start," Heath said. "This will be our second time in the same stadium. All those things that you [saw] in the first game, we got out of our system. Everybody is just looking forward to getting back on the field and putting in a better performance.
"In our group there's no easy teams. And moving on we can't take a break. We can't take a breath."
War of words
Ellis brushed aside a brewing controversy over comments made by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. In a story in the New York Times, Sundhage, who will coach her native Sweden against the U.S., lamented Carli Lloyd's lack of confidence, said Wambach is only a part-time player and confessed that coaching Hope Solo was challenging, "especially when it comes to trouble."
"All I'm doing is focused on my players and my team and our preparation," said Ellis, a friend of Sundhage who coached under her with the U.S. "Distractions don't really creep into my mind when I'm trying to prepare my players.
"We're an incredibly professional group. And the only focus for us is three points and our preparation to try to advance."
Defender Lori Chalupny, who played under Sundhage but was not mentioned in the story, was asked whether she thought her teammates might use their former coach's words to fuel their performance Friday.
"When you're in a World Cup," Chalupny said, "there's no extra motivation needed."