Grass is greener on the inside
FOCUS ON: SOCCER Impact will host Italian club AC Milan on natural turf at Olympic Stadium next week
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.
Workers install 95,000 square feet of thick grass at Olympic Stadium yesterday for international friendly on Wednesday.