Mex­ico’s Azteca turf a topic Mon­day night

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Car­los Ro­driguez As­so­ci­ated Press

MEX­ICO CITY >> Mex­ico City’s Azteca Sta­dium is look­ing to put its best face for­ward Mon­day night when it hosts a reg­u­lar-sea­son matchup be­tween the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los An­ge­les Chargers, after last sea­son’s NFL game had to be moved to the L.A. Coli­seum in a ma­jor black eye for the arena and the league.

Poor field con­di­tions forced the last-minute change of venue, which prompted head­lines like “Colos­sal Shame” from the Mex­i­can sports news­pa­per Record and oth­ers, and since then league and sta­dium of­fi­cials have taken steps to en­sure the mar­quee event comes off with­out a hitch in one of the NFL’s most im­por­tant over­seas mar­kets.

The hy­brid turf that never quite took in Azteca has been swapped out for nat­u­ral grass. Women’s soc­cer league matches were moved to a dif­fer­ent venue, and fewer events in gen­eral have been sched­uled for the 84,000seat Azteca. Last year, con­certs in the days lead­ing up to the sched­uled game be­tween the Chiefs and the Los An­ge­les Rams con­trib­uted to the ragged field con­di­tions.

This year, the most re­cent soc­cer game in Azteca took place Nov. 2, giv­ing groundskee­p­ers time to en­sure the field is tip-top.

“The field is in very good con­di­tion,” said Ar­turo Olivé, di­rec­tor of the NFL’s of­fice in Mex­ico. “It looks spec­tac­u­lar, and we are very

happy with the great work that has been car­ried out.”

Start­ing in Jan­uary, Olivé said, the league has been send­ing mon­i­tors to Mex­ico to avoid a re­peat of 2018’s de­ba­cle, and he has been mak­ing weekly vis­its to the sta­dium to file progress re­ports.

“The NFL peo­ple did not come to judge what was be­ing done, but rather as part of a work­ing team con­tribut­ing so­lu­tions,” Olivé said.

Last Novem­ber’s fi­asco was also a ma­jor headache for Tele­visa, the largest broad­caster in Latin Amer­ica, which owns the sta­dium.

Of­fi­cials hired World Sports So­lu­tions In­ter­na­tional, which pre­pared fields for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, to re­store Azteca’s hy­brid sur­face to nat­u­ral grass.

Re­nato Luis Lau­rentti, who is re­spon­si­ble for the up­grades, said this week that the field was fer­til­ized and ir­ri­gated with orange juice, vi­ta­mins, car­bo­hy­drates and pro­teins. Im­ages pub­lished by the com­pany on so­cial media showed the grass ap­par­ently in per­fect shape.

Mon­day will mark the fourth reg­u­lar-sea­son NFL game played at Azteca, which un­der­went a ren­o­va­tion in 2016 partly with the league in mind. Ca­pac­ity was re­duced from over 100,000 pre­vi­ously, and locker rooms de­signed to ac­com­mo­date NFL teams were added.

The 49ers and Car­di­nals faced off here in 2005, fol­lowed by the Raiders and Tex­ans in 2016 and the Pa­tri­ots and Raiders in 2017. Before that it hosted sev­eral pre­sea­son games as well.

It will be the Chargers’ first visit to Mex­ico, where ac­cord­ing to the league’s lo­cal of­fice the team has a strong fol­low­ing — mostly in the north­ern city of Ti­juana just across the bor­der from San Diego, which the Chargers long called home before mov­ing to Los An­ge­les after the 2016 sea­son.

The push to keep play

CHRIS­TIAN PALMA - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An aerial view of the Azteca Sta­dium in Mex­ico City, Satur­day, Nov. 16, 2019, where the Kansas City Chiefs and Los An­ge­les Rams will face off for a reg­u­lar-sea­son Mon­day Night Foot­ball game.

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