Austin FC end inaugural season playing on different pitch than they started with

Weather & Traffic In-Depth

AUSTIN (KXAN) — You might not know it when you watch Austin FC play, but the grass they’re playing on isn’t the grass they started with.

Not long after Austin FC played their first home game on June 19 at Q2 stadium, Senior Director of Grounds Weston Appelfeller was noticing problems with the pitch.

“When the players would come out, they’d plant their foot, we’d have some give to it. We’d have some bigger divots and that sort of thing,” said Appelfeller.

Appelfeller and his team blamed the weather for the sod, or pre-grown rolls of grass in a layer of soil, for not taking root as expected.

Appelfeller said, “Obviously we had one of the coldest Februarys on record, so the snow and the ice storm that dealt us a large blow there, but I think May was the bigger challenge for us… from May 1 to the second week of June, 15 inches of rain.”

The spring rain was made worse by the lack of sunlight, one of the most important ingredients in developing a suitable field.

The original grass pitch was made up of just half an inch of sod known as Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum, picked for its ability to withstand heat and grow in the shade.

As playing conditions deteriorated, the decision was made to re-sod the entire field. Replacing a third of it in June and the rest of it a few weeks later in July. Same type of grass, but thicker sod.

The replacement sod was four times deeper than the original.

“We ended up going with another sod that was two inches thick, it was grown on plastic, all the roots had grown together, and it made it to where when we laid it down, we could play on it, and we didn’t have to worry about it coming up,” added Appelfeller.

Since July, they’ve had no problems, but the thicker pitch does have some drawbacks. According to Appelfeller, “It just holds onto the moisture, so it makes it more difficult on us personally to try to get it to dry out.”

Replacing an entire MLS field just a few games into the first season is expensive but not uncommon.

“It’s a learning curve, we’re not the only first-year stadium that’s had issues right out of the bat. I’d say it happens more often than not,” said Appelfeller.

For now, those growing pains seem to be behind them as they look ahead to next season.

“From where we started to where we’re at now, we’re extremely pleased,” said a relieved Appelfeller.

Ahead of this winter they already have a few preventive measures in place in case mother nature kicks another curve ball. These field protecting measures include overseeding with a cold weather tolerant grass as well as the ability to put a cover on the field and turn on fans that can keep the pitch warmer.

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