Everyone loves a good soccer pitch. It is the first thing that we see when we enter the stadium to watch a match and where we get our first bit of nerves if we are about to start play.
It is something soccer fans see countless times on a given week. It is an old friend, a trusted ally, and at times our favorite place to be.
But before every game starts there’s countless hours of work, preparation, and effort placed to get a pitch in top shape. So how is it done?
I had a chance to speak with Dan Bergstrom, the Head Sports Turf Manager at BBVA Compass Stadium. BBVA Compass is the home of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League, and will be playing host to the 2016 College Cup this weekend.
Dan is also currently on the Board for the Sports Turf Managers Association whose mission concerns “advances professionalism in sports field management and safety through education, awareness programs, and industry development”.
Prior to his work with the Dynamo and Dash Dan served as the Senior Director of Major League Field Operations for the Houston Astros.
Why make the move from Major League Baseball to Major League Soccer? Were you ever a fan of the game or are you a late bloomer to the beautiful game?
Dan Bergstrom: Oh I have enjoyed soccer for many years. I worked at the University of Kentucky for several years in the 1990s and I took care of the fields for all of the varsity sports, which of course included men’s and women’s soccer. So I am very familiar with the game.
With baseball and soccer being played on two different types of surfaces do you change your approach to maintaining the field ahead of gameday?
Yeah from a technical standpoint of course it is different but the big picture is that we want to deliver a championship-level surface for either sport. We want the surface to be true and consistent and aesthetically pleasing and a surface that the players are happy to play on. Of course baseball is a lot more of a day-to-day routine whereas soccer is maybe one or two matches a week.
So with soccer we have more time for detail and repair work in between the matches. But baseball is more preparing the infield, the outfield, the pitching surfaces, and the home plate surfaces. Soccer is more of a turf-grass routine where have some time in between matches to recover the surface.
Do you ever talk to the players or coaching staff about pitch conditions? Is it possible to always create a pitch that is to their liking?
Absolutely. It takes time to build that relationship and develop that trust level where the coaches and players know that the surface is going to be great every time that they come out. But once the sports turf manager and the coaches and the players get to that point it is usually a great thing and a great relationship.
What is your average day like on gameday? How early do you have to make it to the park?
For soccer, we normally get to the park around 7 or 8 in the morning for a night game. We just put in a brand new surface here and there is a lot of detail work to keep up with. But we typically start work between 7 to 8 am all the way until the end of the game at around 10 or 11 o’clock at night. So it is a pretty long day on gameday for us.
BBVA Compass Stadium hosted the NWSL Championship in October. How big of a challenge is it to get a pitch ready for a game of that level on such short notice?
Yeah as I mentioned what we try to do day in and day out is try and keep the surface and conditions at a championship level so whatever event comes in here knows they are going to have a good surface.
Of course the specific situation with the NWSL was that it was played the night after another game so we definitely had a long night of field repair between those two matches and an early morning to ensure was in good shape in a doubleheader situation.
Obviously there is a similar situation unfolding this weekend with the College Cup. It really must be around the clock work for your staff over the next couple of days, right?
Absolutely. We have already have mowed the field and rolled it, we will be working on details and getting the field painted over the next couple of days.
What have been some of the differences that you have noticed between the impact that a game of baseball can have on a field versus a soccer match?
Soccer is much closer to American football where you have players making hard cuts and turns. Baseball isn’t necessarily that way in the grass. Occasionally it can be that way on certain plays but soccer is much more aggressive on the turf.
We need to have the turf in a much stronger condition for soccer so it can be a surface with good traction.
You are a Board Member of the Sports Turf Managers Association. Could you talk a little bit more about what the STMA does, your members, and some of the efforts your group is working on to expand your outreach?
I have been a member of STMA for more than 20 years, going back to when I was in college. STMA has been my primary resource and is also the primary resource for all sports turf managers in the United States and in some cases worldwide.
It is the central source to gather and share information about maintaining sports fields at all different levels. Whether you in the professional sports situation, a high school situation, a college situation, or a city parks situation all of these people have a need to continue to increase their knowledge base and apply that knowledge to their fields.
We are now at more than 2600 members now, having started out at under 100 members back in the 1980s and 1990s. It has really grown, the professionalism of our people has really grown. We are starting to see that trickle up to the top leadership of sports organizations that are seeing the value of our Certified Sports Turf Manager (CSFM) program, and how a CSFM can positively impact an organization. So STMA has been a great resource, a great organization, and continues to grow.
Big final question time: is soccer played on a field or a pitch?
[Laughs] I definitely use both interchangeably.