For Soccer, Takeout Order Of Turf<

July 02, 2009|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

When soccer clubs Chelsea and AC Milan come to Baltimore this month as part of the World Football Challenge, they'll be playing soccer inside M&T Bank Stadium on the best pitch that money can buy.

The Ravens just have to ship the natural grass in from Virginia and install it before the two teams arrive.

Even though the synthetic turf inside M&T Bank Stadium is considered to be among the best in the NFL, soccer at the highest level is almost always played on natural grass. So as part of the agreement to host the game, the Ravens have arranged to install temporary sod on top of their own turf for the July 24 game.

"The promoters of the event expressed to us that the teams wanted to play on natural turf, and obviously we wanted to do whatever we could to address that," said Roy Simmons, Ravens vice president of stadium operations. "What we're doing is not unlike what several other venues will be doing during the [six-city] tour."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's editions about natural grass being installed at M&T Bank Stadium for a soccer match contained incorrect information about a recent U.S. national team loss during a World Cup qualifier last month. The team lost to Costa Rica at Saprissa Stadium in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

The move, according to Simmons, will be "fairly costly," although he declined to give an exact figure.

"The cost certainly wasn't a deal-breaker," Simmons said.

Especially when you factor in projections of how much revenue the event might generate for the region, which could be close to $20 million according to some estimates. The team announced recently that more than 60,000 tickets have been sold.

To make the move to natural grass, the Ravens have hired Duraturf Service Corp., a Richmond, Va., company that regularly provided similar services for RFK Stadium.

The sod will be trucked from the company's farm in Virginia and then fitted together atop plastic sheets to protect the Ravens' regular turf.

"It will take about 30 truckloads of sod," said Ravens groundskeeper Don Follett. "It will be about 80,000 square feet in total, and it will take about two or three days to get it in and make sure all the seams fit together. It all goes relatively smoothly and is not that uncommon."

After the game is played, Follett said, the sod gets rolled up and shipped back to Virginia, where it's replanted for future use. It takes a 15-man crew a couple of days to dismantle the field, which weighs about 200 pounds per square foot.

Simmons said the Ravens are doing this in part because they would like to put M&T Bank Stadium on a short list of potential stadiums that could host a FIFA World Cup game if the United States gets selected as the host nation in either 2018 or 2022.

"It's a great opportunity for us to use this game as a showcase for our stadium and our city," Simmons said.

The turf vs. grass debate has been a controversial one for USA Soccer recently. The United States lost to Honduras, 3-1, last month in World Cup qualifying in a game that was played on artificial turf in Saprissa Stadium in Honduras. Two days after the loss, American coach Bob Bradley called on the sport's governing body, FIFA, to ban artificial turf.

"The field is terrible, and FIFA should not allow artificial surfaces," Bradley said. "They should have some courage. They should stop it. It's no good for the players, and somehow I hope the players have the ability around the world to stand up and say we're not playing on this, plain and simple."

AC Milan vs. Chelsea

When: July 24, 8 p.m.

Where: M&T Bank Stadium.

Tickets: Range from $35 to $125, and are available at worldfootballchallenge.com and baltimoreravens.com/soccer or by phone at 410-261-7283.

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