Eventually green green grass of home

As successful as the on-field product has been at Toyota Stadium in early 2022, there have been concerns of the field itself. Players slipping became a common sight in the opening seven rounds of FC Dallas’ home schedule.

A Long Offseason

FC Dallas finished up its 2021 home run with a feel-good win over Austin FC on October 30, 2021. While the players took some rest, the field would need to be prepared for three college football games. Bowl games on December 21st and 23rd, followed by the FCS National Championship on January 8 left 48 days for Director of Stadium Grounds, Allen Reed, and his staff to ready the playing surface for the new era.

Unfortunately Mother Nature opted not to cooperate. Overseeding rye grass on the existing Latitude 36 Bermuda grass produces a suitable field in a typical year, ready to withstand the vast swings in temperature and precipitation that North Texas experiences.

Growth Degree Days was a phrase that Reed introduced to me. It’s a formula to quantify the growth of plant life by taking into account the high and low temperatures against an ideal average for a given type of grass or plant. It’s not a count of days, for example Sunday, June 12 saw Frisco record 41.5 GDD according to an online calculator.

Of the 57 days from the New Year until the season opening draw with Toronto, only nine days saw a GDD over zero. Only nine total days saw any worthwhile growth in attempting to not only maintain the Bermuda grass but grow the rye that will fill the gaps of damaged Bermuda grass and provide a hard-wearing surface through the colder months.

The lack of growth was evident as FC Dallas took to the field in preseason. The bowl logos were still visible with the grass not growing sufficiently to cut a great length, and little rye grass to cover over the remnants. Attending practices gave the opportunity to see the effects up close. The usually lush practice fields were yellow and patchy.

Photos from the opening day of preseason in 2020 and 2022 to show damage to the fields over the winter of 21/22 (Dan Crooke)

“We were just doing all we could to get there,” explained Reed of the efforts to beat the weather and repair the Toyota Stadium field early in the 2022 season. “Using our blankets, using the grow lights that we have, just trying to get it to where we want it to be. Normally, we can kind of get through February and the beginning of March. By March we’re growing ryegrass, but this year had extended all the way into almost April.”

Where many fields in Europe – anywhere that experiences the conditions DFW did in Winter – use artificial fibers threaded into the soil to help underpin the grass, the field at Toyota Stadium uses the previous year’s Bermuda grass in a similar way. With the harsh winter, that took the appearance of a bald spot on a lawn more so than a green on a golf course.

Building for Summer

The summer FIFA window is the target every season. The winter grass just needs to last until then, before the entire field is torn up and relaid. Why the need every season?

“One reason we do this is we’re in what they call the transition zone, which which means there’s not one grass that will grow all year round,” said Reed. “So we actually grow two grasses at different parts of the season. Summertime – June, July, August, September, and some of October – will be 100% Bermuda grass. Come October we’ll start overseeding with rye grass, and that’ll come up and give us our green color and playability throughout the fall and the spring months. We do that a lot just because we have so many offseason events outside of the FC Dallas games.”

Hours after FC Dallas’ loss to Minnesota United, Reed and his staff began removing the top half inch of the field to expose the sandy sub-soil as shown in the video FC Dallas Tweeted.

After a week of work on the drainage and aeration of the soil itself, the new grass arrives.

The new Latitude 36 Bermuda grass is grown just north of Austin before 90,000 sq ft of sod is moved up I-35 to its new home.

In past years, the grass farm would cut up the field on the evening prior to the install and have that ready to leave Austin by morning in two shipments across the day. As Reed well put it:

“Everybody in Texas knows how bad I-35 is. From Austin you get Waco then Dallas traffic, so a lot of the times those trucks were getting stuck in traffic just sitting in the hot sun. That’s not good for the grass.”

This year the installation was scheduled overnight. The first trucks arrived in Frisco at 6am with little traffic to deal with in the early hours. Two installation crews worked in tandem, and the field was in place by lunchtime – something that usually takes two days to install.

The hard work wasn’t over over as a heavy schedule of watering every every hours for two weeks began to encourage the grass to root is necessary to avoid visible seams that have been an issue with short-term implementations like we’ve seen at AT&T Stadium for one-off games.

“Today [Friday, June 3] is day five, so it’s rooted in pretty good,” explained Reed. “You can still pull up some of the edges but the roots are tapping in and they’re getting pretty strong. We started mowing yesterday, we’ll probably mow about every two days or so right now and just kind of stay off of it.

“Next Monday, we’ll go ahead it will start sanding it, get it level and smooth. We’ll roll it a couple of times and it should be should be good to go. We’ll fertilize, we’ll kind of spoon feed it about every three to five days, with some liquid and some granular just alternating to make sure it’s not lacking anything to make it want to drop roots.”

The FC Dallas players get to enjoy the benefits of the ground staff’s hard work on Saturday with MLS play resuming. Vancouver Whitecaps will be looking to bounce back from a midweek 4-0 loss to Seattle, while Dallas will want to reestablish Fortress Frisco on the new playing surface.

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