When the Minnesota Gophers' TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009, it joined the growing list of collegiate and professional stadiums sporting synthetic turf. But this weekend, the stadium will be sporting a more natural look when it hosts a soccer matchup on Saturday featuring two of the most premier teams from Europe. Manchester City, champions of the English Premier League this past season, will face off against Olympiacos, winners of the Superleague Greece, as part of the the second annual Guinness International Champions Cup tournament.
Workers are busy installing sod over the existing synthetic turf, creating a playing surface more akin to what the players are accustomed to. "Because you end up running 7, 8 miles in a soccer match running on [synthetic] turf is not good for your legs," tournament spokesman Harrison Raboy said. "They play on grass, and that's the most natural playing surface for soccer."
University of Minnesota athletic department spokesman Dan Reisig noted the sod used is a bit thicker than what you normally might see in a backyard, and the process of installing the grass was, as Reisig called it, a "pretty significant effort." After the field is installed, it requires delicate care, including mowing the grass to the preferred length, putting patterns on it, and painting and watering it.
Despite the effort involved, the installation will not be a permanent fixture. The Premier League match will be followed by another featuring North America Soccer League members Minnesota United and Ottawa Fury, with tickets being valid for both contests. The stadium will return to its natural playing surface of synthetic turf on Monday, and some of the grass used for the match will be repurposed with the rest of it being recycled.
The tournament takes places in 13 cities and 12 stadiums in both the United States and Canada. TCF Bank will not be the only stadium hauling in natural grass and redoing its playing surface; Michigan Stadium is bringing in that same type of thickened sod to host Manchester United and Real Madrid. Steve Bush, owner of Bush Turf, said in an interview with Mlive.com's Michael Niziolek that the initial layer of sod is like "thick landscaping fabric" and once that is laid down, truckloads of sod are moved in. However, the difficulty with this is that Michigan Stadium only has one tunnel through which to shuttle the sod.
When you look at the grand scheme of turning the whole field around for an international soccer "friendly," there has to be some sort of validation for such a laboring process, and there certainly is in Michigan's case. When the game gets underway on Saturday afternoon, it is estimated to be one of the most-attended soccer matches ever, with the stadium holding over 109,000 spectators, which will greatly assist local businesses as well as Ann Arbor's economy. Not to mention, there could be some positive, residual effects for Detroit's economy, but there have been no projected gains yet.
The third and final synthetic-turf stadium among the 12 tournament hosts is California Memorial Stadium, home to the Cal Bears, which also changed its playing surface to grass when Real Madrid played Inter Milan on July 26.
Rexford Sheild is an intern with Athletic Business.