Friday, October 16, 2009

Real Soccer Stadiums Have Grass Surfaces

The New York Times' Goal blog has the this story on the installation of the natural grass field at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, future home of the MLS New York Red Bulls.

How can they possibly make it work in such a climate?!? They are installing a SubAir system that helps control the moisture in the turf and can keep it warm as well in freezing temperatures. It is what the Broncos use in Denver and has been installed in the beautiful grass fields at the new MLS stadiums in Salt Lake, Denver and Chicago (as well as in Bolton in England). The system actually uses vacuum pressure to help keep moisture down in periods of heavy rain.

From the blog post:

On Wednesday, only hours before the Red Bulls lost their 27th straight road game in Major League Soccer, the first pieces of the grass playing surface, Kentucky bluegrass, were rolled out at the team’s new $200 million stadium — Red Bull Arena — in Harrison, N.J.

The balance of the turf will be placed over the next week in preparation for the stadium’s debut when the Red Bulls play Chicago on March 27, 2010, to open the new season. The grass is only one component of what the club is calling a “cutting-edge underground field drainage and turf-heating system” that uses the SubAir System.

According to the club’s news release: “The SubAir System applies vacuum pressure to accelerate the speed at which moisture moves from the playing surface through the soil system. At the same time, the system can apply pressure through the subsoil pipes to stimulate moisture movement through the soil during particularly dry periods, as well as regulate the core temperature of the soil throughout the year to help stimulate grass growth.”

The stadium, across the Passaic River from the Ironbound section of Newark, is inching toward completion. Only 13 panels remain to be installed on the signature, silver-toned translucent panels that will allow natural light to pass through into the bowl. When finished, the roof will cover the stadium’s entire seating area.

Now if teams in places like Utah and Colorado and Illinois which can get cold and have tremendous rain and hail storms, can get natural grass to work out just fine, surely the relatively mild Portland climate poses no real obstacle.

There seems to be a sense that the only technological innovation in athletic fields has been in artificial turf, making them the only real choice for most applications, but this is false. Modern natural grass fields are high tech and durable. There is also a sense that modern turf fields perform just as well as grass for all sports. This may be true of football, but definitely not of soccer. Everything form the speed of the ball, the bounce of the ball and the players ability to tackle changes on turf - for the worse. Its pretty fun to play on, but pretty dismal to watch.

Oh, and one final note, Merlo field at the University of Portland is natural grass, so if the Timbers blow it and install turf, there will still be one place to watch high-level real soccer in town.

And, by the way, the stadium in New Jersey is awesome, but there will be none better than Portland's if it is done right.


Torrid said...

Which of those MLS stadia have American football tenants? Both college and high school football will continue to hold games there regularly. PGE is to be soccer-specific, not soccer only. It was my impression that football would tear a grass field up, to the detriment of soccer.

I know at the NCAA level they love the turf field in Richmond VA, where they've had the championships. So it's not prohibitive to use turf, I fon't think.

Patrick Emerson said...

Football is hard on grass surfaces, but modern ones are up to the abuse. The Home Depot Center in LA hosts high school, college and the soon to launch UFL professional football league along with two MLS teams.

Other 'soccer specific' stadiums with natural grass in the MLS regularly host football, rugby, other soccer matches, concerts and even X games motocross and monster truck rallies.

Suffice to say if these surfaces can take this level of abuse, one in Portland that had a modern drainage system should have no problem.

And my point is about how soccer is as a spectator sport on turf not how it is as a playing surface. I play soccer all the time and usually a few times a year on turf and I have a great time playing on turf and like it as a new challenge that rewards precision (though I wouldn't like to play on it regularly). But it is a far inferior surface to watch soccer being played, and I worry that this will hurt attendance as the initial buzz wears off (I worry about this in Seattle too). Add in the expense of laying down a temporary grass field if you ever want to host a world cup qualifier, international friendly or a top european club team and turf starts to make less and less sense.

paulsepp said...

Portland needs a natural grass field if it wants to be taken seriously in the MLS. Toronto played its first two seasons on turf and is now ripping it out, because of all the complaints. No player in the league would choose fake turf over grass. Turf is expensive and takes a lot of maintenance just like grass. There is no real cost savings by going to turf.

Patrick Emerson said...

Toronto is replacing it?!? Fantastic.