If you've been at or seen Rio Tinto Stadium from afar this season, you've certainly seen something unusual: Patchy, blotchy, miserable-looking grass.
In the latest episode of official RSL podcast On Frame, broadcast on ESPN 700 and available for download, Trey Fitz-Gerald, vice president of media and communications at Real Salt Lake, gave a pretty clear explanation for the state of the pitch.
"Nobody at Real Salt Lake feels like the field is acceptable," he said in the latest episode. "It is, however, a consequence of a conscious decision."
That decision was made by Jason Kreis, Garth Lagerwey, and the grounds crew. A decision, made in the build-up to the second leg of the Western Conference Final against Portland Timbers: practice at Rio Tinto Stadium instead of the thrashed practice field, America First Field, which had taken a beating throughout the long season and doesn't have undersoil heating.
But practicing at Rio Tinto Stadium required plowing snow from the field. Undersoil heating, for all its conveniences, won't melt snow. It doesn't got hot enough, and if it did, the effect would be even more detrimental.
The risks were known going into the decision.
"Not only could it potentially damage the surface, but it allows the cold air, the frozen air, the frozen ice and snow to get down into the roots, kill some roots, cause others to go dormant for longer," Fitz-Gerald said. "What you’re seeing now is a field that has a hard time bouncing back," he said. "Kansas City has the same issue."
It's easy to blame high schoolers playing rugby (yes, that happened) or American football (something that's happened before, certainly) or even ownership (a stretch, to be sure) for the continued state of the pitch, but the answer is actually pretty clear. While we didn't win the MLS Cup, we gave ourselves the best preparation we could.
The field isn't quite back to normal yet, and Fitz-Gerald doesn't think it will be until July — with the break in June for World Cup action being vital.
"It was a weird winter, because it wasn’t overly cold, but it also wasn’t warm," he said. "So having the grow tarps on for three months still didn’t bounce the grass back like it normally would in an off-season."
While Sporting Kansas City have decided to re-lay their pitch, that just wasn't something Real Salt Lake wanted to do.
"Re-sodding is not an option," he said. "Sodding creates seams. Seams cause the ball to not roll evenly. (...) From July 1 on, we all expect the Rio Tinto pitch to be back at its world class standards."