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How and Why Rio Tinto Stadium's Pitch is Replaced

Since Rio Tinto Stadium first opened in October 2008, Real Salt Lake has enjoyed quite a home-field advantage on its home turf.  Now, after seven full seasons of wear and tear, the bluegrass that made up the pitch is in the process of being replaced, sending RSL on the road for a five-game stretch while the sod is laid and the grass takes root.

The process is far from simple and started nearly immediately after Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night to improve to 4-0-0 at home this season.

On Sunday, RSL’s Director of Fields and Grounds Dan Farnes and his crew removed the irrigation heads.  On Monday, all of the grass and two inches of topsoil were removed and on Tuesday, two more inches of soil were removed.  Now on Thursday and into Friday, new soil will be placed and laser-graded to ensure that the field is level before the new sod arrives from Colorado next week.

After five weeks of watering and regular maintenance, Farnes is confident that the field will be ready for action when RSL hosts the Portland Timbers on June 18.

“We’re really confident it will be good to go,” Farnes said.  “Five weeks of growing is great to have, plus we’re getting thicker sod.  We’re confident that it will root and it will take.”

Typically, grass fields are replaced every 8-10 years.  Because of extreme weather conditions, Rio Tinto Stadium’s pitch was on an accelerated schedule.  That was exacerbated by RSL’s playoff run in 2013.  Combined with a frigid winter, that left the field in rough shape to start the 2014 season.  Around that time, the field started having issues with a splotchy neon-green type of grass called poa.  Generally, that is kept under control with regular maintenance, but with the tight turnaround in the winter before the 2014 season, it progressively got worse.  Not as strong as the surrounding bluegrass, poa isn’t just an eyesore, but also a safety concern because it can cause slippage on the field.

Farnes and Real Salt Lake had little choice but to open the season on the existing grass because of RSL’s appearance in CONCACAF Champions League’s quarterfinals.  With the possibility of a Champions League run lasting until late April and MLS taking a two-week break between matches in June for the start of Copa America, May 1 was the perfect date to start the process of renovation.

In the meantime, Farnes is beating a path back and forth from his office to the field as each step in the arduous process is completed.  This is his first time undertaking this process and he admits there are some nerves involved, although he remains confident because of conversations he has had with other grounds crews around the league and the staff at Valley Crest where the new sod was farmed.

“Yeah … Super nervous.  But the good thing about this company is they did the original stadium.  They did our practice field.  So I’m confident in these guys,” Farnes said.  “I’m out here … just pacing.”

For RSL's history at Rio Tinto Stadium, click here.