Copa America 2024: Smaller US grounds, poor quality of surface hamper tournament

The ongoing Copa America’s quality has been hampered due to the state of the playing conditions in the United States.

Published : Jul 09, 2024 23:02 IST , CHENNAI - 8 MINS READ

A general view of the stadium during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group A match between Peru and Chile at AT&T Stadium on June 21, 2024 in Arlington, Texas.
A general view of the stadium during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group A match between Peru and Chile at AT&T Stadium on June 21, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

A general view of the stadium during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group A match between Peru and Chile at AT&T Stadium on June 21, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

While two of the biggest international football tournaments, Euro 2024 and Copa America 2024, are being played simultaneously, it has sparked a war of words off the pitch.

French star Kylian Mbappe recently stated that winning the Euros is ‘more complicated’ than the FIFA World Cup. “In South America, football is not as advanced as in Europe, that’s why when you look at the last World Cups it’s always Europeans who win,” Mbappe said.

In response, Argentina’s captain Lionel Messi said, “There are many world champions left to say that the Euros is the most difficult.”

However, the case for Copa America is certainly not being helped due to the state of the playing conditions in the ongoing edition in the United States.

After his group stage match against Canada, Argentine keeper Emiliano Martinez said, “A field that is a disaster made it a little difficult. We have to improve in that aspect. Otherwise, the Copa America will always be at a lower level than the European Championship.”

The size of the pitches has been significantly smaller and the quality of the surface has been inconsistent, which has had a major impact on the kind of football played and the well-being of its players.

Are the Copa America 2024 pitches smaller?

The current edition of Copa is being played across 14 stadiums, but not all of them were made solely for football. Eleven of the 14 venues are multi-purpose stadiums and have been used to host American football, NFL (National Football League), the most popular sport in the US in terms of viewership.

NFL pitches are narrower in dimensions since it is 110 metres long but only 49 metres wide. The minimum size for a football field, according to FIFA regulations, is 100 metres long and 64 metres wide. This has led to the stadiums having to find ways to increase the size of the pitch to its maximum extent leaving no wiggle room for players outside the touchline.

This was highlighted in the Peru vs Chile group stage game at the AT&T Stadium in Texas where the players were finding it difficult to take corner kicks with no room for their run-up to the ball.

To keep the competition fair for all teams, the CONMEBOL decided to keep the dimensions of the pitch constant throughout all venues, even stadiums with bigger pitches having to reduce the field of play. In MLS stadiums like the Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas or Exploria Stadium in Orlando, the older markings of the field were visible indicating the difference in size of the pitch used in Copa.

It has been observed that the size of these pitches is as small as the ones used by U-13 players in Europe to learn the transition from playing 9-a-side to 11-a-side football. Forcing some of the best players in the world to smaller grounds is harmful, especially for South American football where the teams are known to bank on the players’ individual ability and flair more than tactics behind the scenes.

Alex Ferguson, previously, said during his time with Manchester United that, opposing teams used to make pitches narrower for home games against the Red Devils to ensure they don’t get outflanked by his side and force United to play centrally tipping the odds to the defensive side.

The narrower the field, the more crowded the game is, making it more cagey. Although it has become easier for the ball to travel during build-up play, most of the games are fought in the midfield because the final third is crammed with players from both sides. Since the dimensions of the penalty box can’t be changed, there is limited space on the wings especially in the final third forcing teams to play narrow and attack down the middle.

The current edition of Copa is averaging 2.21 goals per match while the previous editions have averaged 2.32, 2.31 respectively. The 2016 edition especially had an high average of goals of 2.84 per match.

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This has also made counter-attacking difficult for the teams and has resulted in a limited number of goals scored. During the quarterfinal stage, apart from Colombia’s 5-0 win over Panama, the rest of the ties ended in low-scoring draws and had to be settled on penalties. 

Argentina’s 1-1 game against Ecuador only recorded two shots on target by each side while the Brazil and Uruguay game, which was supposed to be the biggest game of the tournament, resulted in a sombre goalless draw and was later settled on penalties.

Brazil boss Dorival Junior was one of the first ones to highlight the issue about the size of the pitches. “We have been talking a lot about it in training, how it will make it easy to get forward swiftly, but also how it will be more difficult to find a way past a deep defence.”

“The measurements are extremely narrow,” said Nestor Lorenzo, Colombia’s coach. “Nearly every player out there is used to playing on a much wider pitch. Wider and longer, too. And that helps the team that presses, almost always.”


The issues don’t stop with the size of the pitches but also the quality of the surfaces. In America, sports are generally played on artificial grass and hence for Copa, the stadiums were installed with temporary grass ahead of the tournament.

This means the grass is not naturally grown in the stadiums but elsewhere and is then transported and laid down on top of the artificial surface in patches and sewn together. Although the preparations began months ago, the surface for the opening game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium was installed just three days prior to matchday.

Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni was quick to criticise the surface when he said, “We gave not necessarily a good game, but a game according to the pitch and what the opponent proposed. We couldn’t do much more with the conditions of the pitch. Look at the speed of the passes that we did.

“They knew seven months ago that we’d play here and they changed the field two days ago. They sewed panels of grass together. It’s painted to appear nicer than it is,” Scaloni concluded.

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Argentina ‘keeper Martinez, too, backed his boss’ comment, “Very bumpy. We faced a strong Canadian side on a pitch that was a disaster. It jumped on you as you ran.”

USMNT’s Weston Mckennie agreed saying, “You’re playing on a football field, with laid grass that’s all patchy and it breaks up every step you take. It’s frustrating.”

Apart from the shoddy work with the installation, the durability and longevity of the surface has also come into limelight. Due to different weather conditions in different venues, the grass is reacting differently to the conditions making the surface unpredictable and inconsistent for the players to get used to.

The grass for the final at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami will be changed for the second time and it will be interesting to see how the finalists react to the surface and if new problems arise on the big day.


Peruvian captain Luis Advincula had to leave his group stage game against Chile early after suffering an achilles injury for which head coach, Jorge Fossati blamed the surface in Dallas.

“I realise that this is a grass field today, but it’s not normal grass. The harder surface can affect you in that exact place [the Achilles]. I’m not a doctor but I’ve been around football for a few years.”

Such injuries can rule players out for a long time without it being completely their fault.

Apart from injuries due to the surface, the smaller grounds have forced the players to play a lot more physical as we have seen an increased number of fouls in this tournament.

Brazil’s clash against Uruguay alone had 41 fouls committed between both sides. The 2021 edition saw a total fouls of 779 whereas the current Copa has already seen 742 fouls with still four games left to play.

With the 2026 FIFA World Cup also being partly held in the US, eight of the fourteen stadiums used in Copa will also host the next World Cup.

The football governing body will be under added pressure to ensure it works its way around, implements new changes to the stadiums, fields and addresses the players’ complaints in the two years time to not repeat the same dire situation. 

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