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Behind the scenes at Rio Tinto: New pitch coming in 2016

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Rio Tinto's going to look fresh for 2016, with the grounds crew planning to lay a new pitch for the first time at the stadium.

Dan Farnes, Director of Fields and Grounds for RSL and Sports Turf Managers Association member, confirmed that Rio Tinto Stadium will be getting new turf for the 2016 MLS season.

"It's pretty exciting," he told RSL Soapbox during a walk through of the facilities.

The turf that is currently at the stadium was installed in 2008 when the stadium was opened.  This will be a huge improvement for an already high level stadium.

"When turf is first installed it is laser leveled, but after time there are areas that sink," Farnes said about issues of an aging field.

Another issue with the eight year old pitch are patches of vivid, neon-esque grass known as poa annua.  This invasive weed is known to grow in turf that has been stressed and/or damaged.  This phenomenon is relatively new to Rio Tinto and stems from stress received during Real Salt Lake's 2013 MLS Cup run.

In 2013, then-head coach Jason Kreis wanted the squad to train at Rio Tinto before the final in Kansas City.  To accomplish this, the grounds crew had to (snow) plow the pitch which caused irreversible damage to the turf.  "The next spring [2014], 70 percent of the turf was dead," Farnes said.

The grounds crew attempted to reseed and repair the field but poa annua is a byproduct of such repairs.  The weed seed is found in small quantities in replacement seed and soon took hold in Rio Tinto.

"Before 2014, we [the grounds crew] could walk around the field and find small patches of poa annua growing and cut it out.  After 2014, the grass became too abundant and [in areas] too large."

The average life of a sports pitch is about 7 to 10, years so this will be a big improvement for an already top-level stadium.  The turf is going to be shipped in from Graff's Turf Farm, Inc. in Colorado. Working with the MLS to schedule installation, they'll replace 4 inches of the sand base, new and more efficient sprinkler heads will be installed, and the field will be laser-leveled once again.

"It's a pretty big deal," Farnes reiterated. "And I think fans should be excited to see it."