TORONTO — Tired of playing on a "cow pasture," Toronto FC plans to lay a new grass surface at BMO Field later this month.
The existing pitch has suffered through a long, severe winter. Its condition was not helped by an unforgiving, crowded schedule that saw Toronto begin CONCACAF Champions League play in late February.
Head groundskeeper Robert Heggie says the combination took its toll on the grass, which has been cutting up during play.
The new pitch will be installed after the May 26 Toronto FC 2 game. The senior side does not play at home again until June 13 when D.C. United visits. The Argos CFL home opener is June 23.
"Basically after the resod, we have five weeks with one interruption," said Heggie.
Toronto put in a new grass field after BMO Field hosted the Centennial Classic outdoor hockey game in January 2017.
After last December’s MLS Cup, club officials debated whether to install a new surface but elected to wait out of the concern that it might not take over the winter.
"We weren’t sure how far along and how good the surface would have been a few weeks later," said Heggie. "So it was kind of the devil you know versus the devil you don’t."
So the replacement grass pitch was left in Burford, Ont. The existing surface, meanwhile, took a beating from Mother Nature.
"Basically you saw a green field but it didn’t have any root structure," said team president Bill Manning.
The TFC boss says it has made life difficult for his players.
"You have a player like Sebastian Giovinco and the analogy I use is he’s a Ferrari. But if you put a Ferrari on a muddy or shoddy field, it’s not going to drive so well."
"In hindsight we put down the (new) turf right after MLS Cup (last December) … In some ways our guys have been playing on a little bit of a cow pasture," he added. "And it’s been very difficult. Mother Nature was not kind to us this winter."
The new grass will be the fifth in eight years at BMO Field, which has undergone considerable construction to expand and improve the original venue that opened in 2007 with artificial turf.
The plan from now on is to lay a new surface at the end of every season.
Toronto is also going to have another look at the kind of hybrid turf used by teams like the Green Bay Packers. With about five per cent of the surface synthetic, that type of surface offers more durability.
"As we go into the off-season, we may very well go that direction," Manning said.
Even though BMO Field has underground heating, an inflatable cover and grow-lamps, that isn’t enough to preserve grass in the depth of a Toronto winter.
"That’s the burden of being a successful club. When you have an 11-month season, it’s tough," said Heggie, who was named Sports Turf Manager of the Year in 2015 by Sports Turf Canada.
"We do our best," he added. "Usually we pull off some miracles. But Mother Nature wins. She’s always the judge, jury and executioner at the end of the day."