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Players union opposes U.S. friendly in Cincinnati over playing surface

U.S. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter joins the Heineken ESPN FC Boot Room to talk all things Gold Cup and his ambition to win the tournament.
Peter Vermes explains to ESPN FC why USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter's system needs to be implemented throughout the U.S. men's youth program.

American soccer players are objecting to the decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation to have them play Venezuela at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, claiming the playing surface is dangerous.

The match will serve as the U.S. team's final preparation match ahead of the 2019 Gold Cup, and will also mark the first time the U.S. has played in Cincinnati.

The U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association released a statement on Thursday opposing the match, which will be played on a temporary grass field on top of the venue's artificial turf.

Nippert Stadium is the home of Major League Soccer's expansion Cincinnati team. The association said "a game played on sod on top of artificial turf will be a waste of 90 minutes and also presents a substantially increased risk of player injury."

"The United States Soccer Federation is not advancing the interests of the sport of soccer or the interests of the players or the fans, but is solely focused on generating ever-increasing revenues and profits for the federation, its employees, its sponsors, and private businesses associated with the federation," the union said in a statement Thursday.

The union released an April 2 email it said it sent to USSF President Carlos Cordeiro in which players said the friendly "would be waste of time and resources, is a threat to player safety, and would be damaging to the effort to develop the United States men's national team and help the team achieve competitive success."

U.S. Soccer responded with a statement on Friday, saying: "There are a number of different factors that we take into consideration when determining the location of National Team matches. With a large number of matches being played in venues across the country in the lead-up to and during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, combined with our desire to reduce travel for the team to maximize training time before the tournament and to connect with Cincinnati's growing soccer culture, it was determined that Cincinnati would be a perfect host for our warmup match against Venezuela.

"Laying sod at large stadiums is common practice for world class matches, as was the case during Copa America Centenario, and again this summer with the Gold Cup, as well as other club and international matches played in the United States. We always listen to our players and their interests are extremely important to any decision. The sod, installation, and maintenance planned for Cincinnati will provide players a first-class surface for what will be a tremendous night for soccer in an incredibly passionate soccer city."

Reports have also stated that the U.S. will play Jamaica at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. four days earlier, though no official announcement has been made.

Venezuela is coming off an impressive 3-1 victory over Argentina in Madrid last month. The U.S. will begin play in the Gold Cup nine days after the Venezuela friendly, starting with a match against Guyana on Tuesday, June 18 in Saint Paul, Minn.

Following that match, the U.S. moves east to face Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday, June 22 in Cleveland before closing group play against Panama on Wednesday, June 26 in Kansas City, Kan.

The final is scheduled for Chicago's Soldier Field on July 7.

Information from ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle and The Associated Press was used in this report. 

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