Copa America 2024 and its "tiny" fields generate controversy in the USA

Conditions and changes to the size of the pitches for the Copa America in the USA have sparked controversy among coaches and players, raising questions about the next big events
Allegiant Stadium
Allegiant Stadium / Aaron M. Sprecher/GettyImages

Soccer involves passion, emotions that are difficult to explain, only to feel. The 2024 Copa America in the USA promised to be a spectacle, even more so as it included teams from Conmebol and Concacaf, encompassing the entire American continent, something that could be great. However, the decision to use smaller pitches than the international standard is causing a stir among coaches and players. With dimensions of 100 x 64 meters, the American pitches are five meters shorter and four meters narrower than the usual 105 x 68 meters. This has led to many complaints, and no wonder.

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First, let's put the cards on the table. The size of the pitch directly affects the game. In a reduced space, intensity and speed increase, forcing athletes to adapt quickly. While on the one hand this can seem exciting, on the other, the lack of space can stifle beautiful play, turning matches into fierce, less technical battles. Argentina, for example, had a hard-fought win against Canada, but players like Messi, Di María and Dibu Martínez were quick to criticize the conditions of the pitch, calling it "a disaster". Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni himself described the situation as follows: "The pitch in our first match was not a suitable stage to play a soccer match of this importance."

Miguel Almiron, Vinicius Junior
Paraguay v Brazil - CONMEBOL Copa America USA 2024 / Buda Mendes/GettyImages

Ronald Araújo, from Uruguay and a defender for giants Barcelona, said that "having a suitable pitch is the key to everything in a soccer match", as well as pointing out: "If you want to see a show, I think the pitch has to be suitable for that".

And if you think this is just a matter of adaptation, think again. Imagine a painter having to create his masterpiece on a smaller canvas. That's more or less how the players feel. Vinicius Jr. was clear after the match against Costa Rica: "The pitches get in the way. The quality of the pitches, you see it here and at Euro 2024, at the Copa America it's completely different. What's more, this year they've reduced the size of the pitches to hinder us even more."

Ironically, there were complaints from even USMNT players. Midfielder Weston McKennie went further on the dimensions of the pitches. The Juventus player also lamented the poor condition of the pitch, not to mention the fact that it could lead to injury.

Weston McKennie
Weston McKennie took a hard tackle and complained about the pitch conditions / Omar Vega/GettyImages

"We're playing on a soccer pitch with uneven turf, which breaks down with every step we take. It's frustrating. In Germany, everyone plays on big fields with beautiful grass and the game is affected positively," said McKennie

Obviously, the situation of the pitch interferes with the game. Most of the stadiums used in the Copa America are NFL arenas. NFL fields end up being adapted for soccer games. But the big controversy is the size of the pitches. The irony here is that FIFA allows pitches between 100 and 110 meters long and 64 to 75 meters wide. In other words, technically, the US pitches are within the rules. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

And it's not just Argentina that's complaining. Players from Brazil and other teams are also expressing their frustrations. Are they right? Yes and no. In the Premier League, for example, we have pitches of varying dimensions. Liverpool's Anfield is 101 x 68 meters, while Fulham play on a 100 x 65 meter pitch. The difference is that these teams train regularly in these conditions. At the Copa America, adaptation has to be quick and often painful.

There is another important point to consider: the upcoming major sporting events in the USA. With the Club World Cup in 2025 and the World Cup in 2026 on the horizon, the issue of field dimensions becomes even more critical. Will we see the same controversy repeated? Or will the organizers learn from the mistakes of the Copa America? It's very likely that some of the stadiums will undergo renovations, especially for the 2026 World Cup.

When it comes to the Copa America, what we have is a tournament where the unpredictability of the pitch adds an extra layer of challenge. For some, it's a real test of skill and adaptability. Players need to slow down their shots or even be careful when dribbling so that the ball doesn't go wide.

Arrowhead Stadium
Arrowhead Stadium / Kirby Lee/GettyImages

Meanwhile, Conmebol is trying to calm tempers, claiming that all the pitches meet the minimum standards required by FIFA and that most have been converted from synthetic to natural grass. In theory, all the pitches meet the minimum standards required by FIFA. Players and coaches want more than the minimum: they want conditions that allow them to play a good game of soccer, nothing more.

What is clear is that the controversy over the size of the pitches for the 2024 Copa America in the USA is not just about physical dimensions, but about respect for the game and its protagonists. As the tournament progresses, we'll see if the teams can adapt and if the games really do get more intense and exciting. Until then, the criticisms and complaints will continue to echo, reminding everyone that, in soccer, every detail matters.