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Austin FC Verde Takes on New Meaning with Pitch Installation

Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum might not roll off the tongue as easily as the names Rodney Redes or Cecilio Dominguez, but it’s a name Austin FC fans will want to know and celebrate as the Club moves closer to its 2021 kickoff. 

Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum is the type of grass that Austin FC groundskeeping crews installed last week at the Club’s still-under-construction stadium. The three-night operation brought verde to the stadium floor the same week workers started installing bright green seats in the stadium, making for a key milestone as the stadium is readied for MLS match play. 

But it was actually the second phase of the operation for Austin FC Senior Director of Grounds Weston Appelfeller. On Oct. 1, Appelfeller and his crew oversaw the installation of the same Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum at St. David’s Performance Center, where first-team players will train during the inaugural 2020 season and beyond. 

“We wanted them to be able to train on the same field that they would play,” Appelfeller noted. The Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum that was laid down in both the stadium and the two first-team training fields at St. David’s Performance Center was grown at West Coast Turf’s Scottsdale, Arizona farm, starting six months ago. The sod rolls were then trucked to Austin, making about a 36-hour journey to their new home.

The Academy training fields at St. David’s Performance Center will utilize Texas-grown TifTuf Bermuda grass from Tri-Tex Grass in Brazos Point (between Waco and Fort Worth), planned for installation this week. 

The case for Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum

According to Appelfeller, Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum was selected for properties befitting a stadium with a large, shade-producing canopy, which limits the amount of sunlight that gets to the surface. In investigating what grass to go with, he reached out to his counterparts at sports teams working in retractable domed stadiums to get their input. 

“Talking with the people that have had natural grass under retractable domes, like the Houston Astros, the Miami Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks … they’ve all had this grass at one point in time. All the people at those facilities told me that this was by far the best option that they found to work in the shade.” 

Appelfeller notes that it has other factors going in its favor as well. 

“It can be cut extremely short, which is one of the most important things for a tight playing surface,” an appealing feature for Head Coach Josh Wolff when Appelfeller sought his input. “He wanted something that's reliable, that plays the same each week, week in and week out, and which could provide a smooth playing surface that the ball could move across relatively quickly.” 

The grass is durable as well. Appelfeller notes, “It’s extremely strong, and it roots together very quickly. It's got a really dense root system which allows us to maintain it through times of drought, with wear and tear, and feel comfortable with it. It also has a lot of leaf blade tissues which makes able to take up more sunlight. That means it can maximize the sunlight in the stadium to operate at its full potential.” 

This will be the first time Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum will be used in an MLS stadium, though, as Pardeep Cattry noted in her MLSSoccer.com feature on the Austin FC turf installation, it will also be utilized in Qatar’s stadiums for World Cup 2022. 

A Veteran Groundskeeper Oversees His First Installation 

Appelfeller brings significant turf management experience to Austin FC. After graduating from Ohio State University with a B.S. in Turf Grass Science in 2006, he became grounds manager for the Boston Red Sox, then moving to the Philadelphia Union before a seven-year stint as Columbus Crew’s SC Senior Director of Grounds. Yet, with Austin FC, he’s experiencing a notable milestone with his first-ever field installation. 

“The most shocking thing to me in all this,” he observed, “is that I’ve sat in all these meetings for the last 20 months, where we talked about how the stadium is going to look and feel. But actually standing in the stadium where the goal line’s going to be, realizing that there’s going to be grass growing at the north and south ends directly under the roof, and getting the full grasp of what that canopy feels like from field level, and how massive it is … it’s kind of jaw-dropping!” 

Apfelfeller said installation at the stadium went well, and though the week’s cold front wasn’t a welcome companion as the grass starts to root, his team was prepared for it. He’s also encouraged by what he’s seeing at St. David’s Performance Center. It’s had a nearly three-week head start on the stadium grass, and is now fully rooted. 

The grass is suited to warm-weather climates and has a comparatively short dormancy period compared to other grasses, which bodes well for a verde playing surface come spring.

“It's going to take some time to get established and get going, and we need it to root more than we need it to look good right now,” Apfelfeller notes. ‘It’s definitely started to root here, which is great. We're seeing positives with it down now. We're not necessarily worried about the aesthetics of what it looks like right now; we're more focused on what's happening underneath the grass.”