COLUMBUS – Getting the pitch ready for a match during a Midwestern winter might seem like a daunting task. But for the Columbus Crew, it’s business as usual.
For the third straight year and fourth time in the past decade, Crew Stadium will host a mid-winter match when the home side faces Real Salt Lake on Tuesday in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
“It’s nothing really new, although you expect the unexpected,” director of stadium grounds Brett Tanner said. “It’s Columbus and the weather is always changing.”
Temperatures that peaked in the teens last week skyrocketed to more than 60 degrees Thursday. Several weather services are predicting a more typical high of 31 degrees on Tuesday.
No snow is predicted and the remnants of constant snowfall from the past two months have all melted away in Crew Stadium.
Tanner said the field still has some frozen spots beneath the surface but is playable, and both teams may train there Sunday. If not, the fields at the Obetz practice facility are ready as well.
As to how the Crew Stadium grass will play Tuesday, “It will probably be bumpy,” Tanner said.
“I want it to be the best it can but we have to take a step back and make sure it’s safe first and not over-manage it because we have the whole summer ahead of us," he added. “(The players) will probably say it’s bumpy, (but) the field should be thawed enough to wear studs."
Tanner and grounds staff members Ray White and Ben Jackson were honored last month with the 2010 SportsTurf Professional Soccer Field of the Year award by the SportsTurf Managers Association.
“I wish I could do more to make it better now,” Tanner said. “We’re doing the best with what we’ve got.”
He and vice president of operations Scott DeBolt decided it was best not to tarp the field this winter because removal of a heavy snow might have damaged the covers.
However, grow tarps that keep insulating heat on the grass will be installed next week and remain there until just before the March 26 home opener.
The procedure is nothing new.
Crew Stadium was the site for a World Cup qualifier in Feb. 2001 when the U.S. men defeated Mexico 2-0 in 28-degree conditions.
The Crew also hosted Mexican side Toluca in a CCL quarterfinal last March. There were 20 inches of snow on the ground a week prior, but it was gone by the time the teams played to 2-2 tie in 50-degree temperatures.
DeBolt said the stadium is ready for most anything – the restrooms are heated and the water pipes have been tested.
“My biggest concern is some sort of ice storm,” he said. “With the temperatures we’re having now and through the weekend even if we get a dusting of snow a lot of it is going to melt on impact.”