With the speed at which artificial grass pitches are sprouting all over the metropolis, you'd think they were made of the real thing.
Tucked away on a quiet, leafy suburb of Quezon City is the newest artificial Football field in Metro Manila, the FEU-FERN pitch in Mapayapa Village near Commonwealth Avenue.
The facility is the home of FEU's vaunted junior Football program, and will also serve as the training ground for FEU's senior team. In fact while I'm visiting, Dr. Kim Chul-Su, FEU's Technical director, is busy mentoring the high school team.
The field has been cut out of a gentle slope near the entrance of the school.
Several features distinguish the pitch from the other fields currently in use. Firstly, I am told that the playing areas is a full 68m wide and 105m long, which makes it probably the biggest synthetic field in the country and the only one roomy enough for an International match.
I hear conflicting reports on how wide McKinley Hill's Emperador Stadium Field is. Some say 60 meters, others say 64. The Empy is just 97 meters long.
The FEU FERN field is also striped using two different shades of green plastic grass. The effect mimics the look of real pitches that are mown by strips from different sides, creating a different hue because of the grain. The striping could even help assistant referees get their offside calls right. I think it's a neat touch.
The supplier for the field is Decorea, the same supplier that provided the turf for The Camp, Freddy Gonzalez's new indoor artificial grass pitch in Taguig.
According to FEU's Vince Santos, the field cost P15 million for everything including installation, which according to my sources is significantly less than what was paid for the Turf BGC and Emperador pitches, which had Italian firm Limonta Sport supply their field.
Another aspect of the FEU field that is very unique and appropriate for our hot climate is the color of the rubber infill, the tiny blocks of rubber that replace the soil.
Unlike in every other plastic pitch I've seen, the Decorea rubber is not black, but light brown in color. This should create a much cooler playing surface for hot days. Players have complained that when you play in Turf BGC, the heat is so bad that you can feel it through your shoes.
Light brown rubber should reflect back heat instead of absorbing it, so games near midday will be much more bearable.
The blades on the FEU pitch are broader and much more substantial than the ones in the new De La Salle Santiago Zobel pitch, which are thinner and much grassier-looking. These two types of blades are distinct from the Limonta blades in Turf BGC and the Empy. The Limonta blades are thinner and S-shaped when you view them directly from the end of the blade.
FEU has gone with yellow lines instead of white lines because, according to Santos, FEU's school colors are yellow and green.
But the field is not perfect. Firstly, the field is more uneven than the Emperador, which is Pool-table smooth. There are clear waves and undulations on the surface, and ground balls sometimes bob and weave. However its still much, much smoother than any natural field, so it would be churlish to complain.
The goal frames are of an unusual design. I don't mind the raised stanchions in the back but the nethooks are located on top of the crossbar instead of behind them. A ball could theoretically get damaged if it strikes the hooks.
The ridges between the stripes are also a bit on the hard side.
Right now there are no bleachers, but I can imagine FEU constructing some soon. Ditto for the lights. No night games in FEU until they come up.
There is a need for high nets to stop balls from getting lost. I think a hard clearance can even make it outside the school property from one side.
Unlike Rizal Memorial, the field is not perfectly perpendicular to the path of the sun, so during games in early mornings and in late afternoons, one team will play with the sun in their eyes from one corner. At least that is what the shadows on my pictures, which I took just before 3 pm, tell me.
There are also trees in one corner, and during the Saipan- Meralco Sparks scrimmage that day, a corner kick got tangled up in some branches.
After that game, a 70-minute affair that ended 0-0, Spark Chad Gould said that the ground was a bit slippery. His team mate Freddy Gonzalez said that while the Emperador pitch has so much infill (ground passes kick up the rubber all the time), the FEU field seems to be lacking infill.
Santos tells me that a fresh layer of infill will be laid in soon. That should do the trick and make the surface grabbier for players.
There are walls on the side of the pitch that have eaten into the slope and I've heard some complaints about it. But in my opinion there is more than enough allowance beyond the playing area for this to be a non-issue.
Unlike Turf BGC and De La Salle Santiago Zobel, there are no penalty areas on the sidelines for small-sided play.
I believe that the benefits of artificial turf outweigh the disadvantages. Its the best way to get a smooth playing surface that will help players develop. The botched installation of the natural grass turf in Ateneo's Moro Lorenzo field helps convince me that synthetic is the way forward.
That Bermuda field, though brand new, is soft, sandy, loose, and in many spots, already grassless. It's also bumpy. There is much talk that not enough time was given for the grass to take root before UAAP games were played on it.
Overall I give the FEU pitch two thumbs up. Its demerits are minor quibbles, and the light-colored infill plus the full size make it a winner.
A few fixes here and there and it should be an ideal venue not just for UAAP games but also for the UFL and maybe even Azkals training sessions.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.