Grass is greener on the in­side

FO­CUS ON: SOC­CER Im­pact will host Ital­ian club AC Mi­lan on nat­u­ral turf at Olympic Sta­dium next week

Montreal Gazette - - Sports - RANDY PHILLIPS THE GAZETTE rphillips@thegazette.canwest.com

There hasn’t been real grass in­side Olympic Sta­dium since the 1976 Olympics, but that’s about to change.

The Im­pact and cel­e­brated Ital­ian soc­cer club AC Mi­lan will be kick­ing about on the nat­u­ral stuff when they meet in an in­ter­na­tional friendly Wed­nes­day night be­fore an ex­pected crowd of more than 40,000 at the Big O.

“From what I un­der­stand, this is a first, es­pe­cially for an indoor fa­cil­ity like this one,” Im­pact vice-pres­i­dent Richard Le­gen­dre said yes­ter­day as he watched work crews put down the re­main­der of 95,000 square feet of grass.

“There’s a 41⁄ 2-inch thick sand base and 21⁄ of inches of

2 grass on top of that,” Le­gen­dre added. “It’s a lot bet­ter than play­ing on ar­ti­fi­cial turf put di­rectly on the con­crete sur­face.”

Le­gen­dre said a grass field was one of the “deal break­ers” in get­ting AC Mi­lan of Ital­ian Serie A to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to Mon­treal on its cur­rent North Amer­i­can tour.

And it will be an his­toric night for the Im­pact as it plays host to one of the most pres­ti­gious clubs in the world for the first time in the fran­chise’s 17-year his­tory.

Ar­guably more so than last year, when Mon­treal met Mex­i­can cham­pion Santos La­guna in a CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal game in Fe­bru­ary be­fore 55,571 at Olympic Sta­dium, when the teams played on a syn­thetic sur­face.

As­so­ci­azione Cal­cio Mi­lan has won 18 UEFA and FIFA in­ter­na­tional ti­tles, and is tied with Ar­gentina’s Club Atletico Boca Ju­niors for the most. AC Mi­lan has also won a record four world ti­tles, the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Cup three times, and the FIFA Club World Cup once.

Given the vis­i­tors’ lofty sta­tus, the de­ci­sion was made to use Olympic Sta­dium rather than Saputo Sta­dium, where the Im­pact will face the Carolina Rail Hawks in USSF D2 Pro League ac­tion to­mor­row at 2 p.m.

Olympic Sta­dium had grass when it opened for the 1976 sum­mer Games, and it still holds the record for at­ten­dance for a soc­cer game when nearly 72,000 saw East Ger­many de­feat Poland 3-1 win in the Olympic gold-medal fi­nal.

The Big O sur­face was changed to As­tro­Turf in 1977, when the Alou­ettes de­feated the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos 41-6 in the Grey Cup on a frigid Nov. 27, with the game be­com­ing known as the Ice Bowl.

Sixty-five truck­loads of sand were brought into the sta­dium dur­ing the past few days. Work crews were ex­pected to fin­ish lay­ing mas­sive rolls of sod from Bastien & Sons Sod Farms in Ter­re­bonne by the end of the day yes­ter­day.

Im­pact pres­i­dent Joey Saputo called on Roch Poulin, su­per­in­ten­dent at the St. Raphael Golf Club in Île Bizard, which the Saputo fam- ily owns. Poulin is the man re­spon­si­ble for the ex­cel­lent field con­di­tions at Saputo Sta­dium and was asked to see if it would be pos­si­ble to build a grass field in­doors at the Olympic Sta­dium.

“Roch was in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the guy who did the turf at the Ge­or­gia Dome, where they had done some­thing sim­i­lar last year,” Saputo said. “They were able to ad­vise Roch on how to work it out, and we ac­tu­ally tested it with a small patch in the sta­dium and it held.”

Grass was brought into the Ge­or­gia Dome in At­lanta last year for a June 24 soc­cer match be­tween Mex­ico and Venezuela, and again July 22 when Club Amer­ica faced AC Mi­lan as part of the World Foot­ball Chal­lenge. In that in­stance, 4-by-8-foot grass sec­tions were in­stalled over a layer of plas­tic and lay­ers of ply­wood on top of the Dome’s Field­Turf sur­face.

“The trick to do­ing it here and mak­ing it work is that you shouldn’t wa­ter it, be­cause there’s enough hu­mid­ity, enough ven­ti­la­tion,” Saputo said. “It will be rolled and have a chance to set­tle and take over the next few days be­fore the game. The guys feel it will hold.”

Saputo said the cost to in­stall the grass field was “over $100,000” but the sod, which the club has had for two years as a backup to re­pair any im­per­fec­tions at Saputo Sta­dium, will be re­moved at the end of the next week and laid down per­ma­nently as part of ren­o­va­tions to the team’s prac­tice field at Olympic Park.

Tick­ets for Wed­nes­day’s game, priced at $22, $40, $55, $70 and $110 (which in­cludes ac­cess to AC Mi­lan’s prac­tice Tues­day at Saputo Sta­dium) are still avail­able, ei­ther through ad­mis­sion.com or at the Olympic Sta­dium and Saputo Sta­dium ticket of­fices.

MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER THE GAZETTE

Work­ers in­stall 95,000 square feet of thick grass at Olympic Sta­dium yes­ter­day for in­ter­na­tional friendly on Wed­nes­day.

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