Heavy Rain Highlights Success of Field Improvements

When Saturday morning storms broughs 1.4 inches of rain on March 23—right in the middle of Spring Youth Soccer Weekend #1—the 20 native soil natural fields of Maryland SoccerPlex were undaunted thanks to a $2.1 million investment and advancement in a recently completed drainage projected completed during the off-season in December 2023 after more than 10 years of work. The project was supported by GreenOne Industries in Parker, Colo., Landscapes Unlimited in Lincoln, Neb., and Hummer Turfgrass Systems of Manheim, Pa. 

Maryland SoccerPlex boasts some of the highest quality natural grass fields in the country using the most cutting-edge technologyoverhead view of soccer fields and environmentally sound practices to maintain more than 50 acres of high-level, high-use turf. This most recent improvement to drainage aimed to decrease the number of cancellations due to the weather. 

“We have more than 12,000 games scheduled on our fields each year. When we have to cancel, that trickle-down effects hundreds of players and guests to our facility. This effort allows us to provide safe playing surfaces for our athletes in a way that also protects our investment in our fields,” said Matt Libber, executive director for the Maryland SoccerPlex. 

Prior to this project, SoccerPlex Stadium was the only natural grass field with drainage and sand soil vs. the native soil of the other 20 natural grass fields. Native soil natural grass fields only drain and dry via surface runoff, as native (existing) soil does not drain quickly on its own. The project added drainage and 6 inches of sand soil to two fields, then moved to install a unique sand-slit drainage system to the other 18 native soil fields. Only disturbing 3% of the field surface, sand-slit drainage greatly increases infiltration and eliminates standing water. To fill the sand slits, 35 miles of drainage pipe and 5,000 tons of sand were installed across the park. The fields then periodically have sand added to the surface via a maintenance practice known as topdressing. The sand not only improves drainage, but also creates a softer surface to increase safety and increase playability (ball roll and footing). 

a soccer field being mowedIn addition to allowing play to continue on the fields, the improvements greatly reduce grass damage that typically happens on a wet field surface, reducing the need for increased field maintenance after a wet weekend. 

Sand-slit drainage is part of a Facility Improvement Plan adopted by the Maryland Soccer Foundation (MSF) board of directors in 2013. The board’s goal was to increase field use and decrease or eliminate rain cancellations while being efficient and impactful with each dollar. The SoccerPlex SportsTurf Team has worked to reach those goals field-by-field between SoccerPlex’s major events, which require all 24 fields to be available. At no point was a field able to be out of play for more than eight weeks, and at no point could more than two fields be offline at the same time during spring or fall. Ultimately the average time offline, for fraze mowing, drainage work and regrowing the grass, was six weeks. During this 10-plus-year period, three directors of Sports Turf and Grounds pushed the initiative forward. Jerad Minnick both started and ended the project. Ryan Bjorn, now field superintendent at Gillette Stadium, and Mitch Litz, now director of sports turf for FC Cincinnati, both carried it forward as well, working through what many would consider near impossible timetables and expectations. 

“Ultimately we could not reach the goals of this project without the support from some terrific contractors and partners,” said Jerad Minnick, SoccerPlex director of SportsTurf & Grounds. “When we started this in 2013, GreenOne Industries was the only contractor with the specialized equipment for the unique approach we wanted to utilize. We are so thankful that Leroy Butler and his GreenOne team were willing to come to the East Coast to help get us started.” 

Landscapes Unlimited also supported the work off and on throughout. In 2016, SoccerPlex formed an alliance with Hummer Turfgrass Systems that supercharged the progress of the project. Recently in an interview about SoccerPlex’s relationship with Hummer Turfgrass Systems Minnick said, “we couldn’t do what we do and produce some of the best field conditions in the world with some of the most traffic of any natural grass facility without partners like Hummer.” 

“The SoccerPlex project is an excellent example of creative collaboration, industry expertise and the power of sharing an aligned mission to deliver top-notch solutions that stand the test of time,” says Matt Wimer, president of Hummer Turfgrass Systems. 

The Maryland SoccerPlex is ready to host an expected 1.3 million visitors this year for an array of different sports including youth, college and professional soccer, lacrosse, flag football, and college and professional rugby. These visitors will get to experience the high-quality playing surfaces that SoccerPlex is known for as well as the many different programs and services the Maryland SoccerPlex has to offer.