Maryland SoccerPlex

The SoccerPlex field staff: from left, Jerad Minnick, Joel Cruz, Efrain Tantavilca, Elmis Lemus-Godoy, Matt Carroll, William Godoy and John Torres.

1. What is your job?
I’m sports field manager for the Maryland Soccer Foundation (MSF), which funds the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Md. I’m responsible for the 22 fields and the grounds of the 162-acre park, including the turf, trees and landscape features. My crew also teams with the operations staff on the maintenance of the Maryland SoccerPlex Stadium, parking lots, walking paths and the restroom facilities that serve the fields.

2. How did your career path prepare you for the current position?
I grew up on a farm in Chillicothe, Mo., and mowed lawns and worked on a golf course while in high school. I entered the turf program at the University of Missouri planning on golf course management. My internship with Trevor Vance of the Kansas City Royals the summer after my sophomore year changed my direction. I worked for the Royals during the summers and full time for six years following graduation. That prepared me for the head position with the Major League Soccer (MLS) team, the Kansas City Wizards. That included building the team’s four-field practice facility in Swope Park and the extensive research in order to independently develop the unique grass infield design for the convertible baseball/soccer field of CommunityAmerica Ballpark. After two years of managing the heavy traffic on those fields in the always-changing weather of the Midwest’s transition zone, I moved to the new challenge here in February 2009.

3. What types of fields are included within the Maryland SoccerPlex?
All of our fields are maintained at a professional level. Eighteen are coarse, sandy-clay native soil that, if dry, can take about an inch of rain without problems. They were seeded with a blend of Kentucky bluegrasses and were overseeded with blue and perennial ryegrasses. Our stadium field profile is 90 percent sand and 10 percent peat, with turf grids incorporated for stability, and with subsurface drainage in a herringbone pattern. All of these fields can be played at a maximum of 117 yards by 80 yards. They’re arranged in “rolling clusters” of four or five along the natural hilly landscape with five stations serving the inground irrigation systems.

Three synthetic fields were installed two years ago. They’re an independent system purchased directly from the factory and installed on-site by DOC Sports Surface Contractors. They’re 115 yards by 75 yards, with 100 percent crumb rubber infill.

Our indoor facility features 10 basketball courts. Two synthetic fields, a shorter fiber without the infill, are placed and removed by the installer as needed for winter play.

pregame syringe is just one step in the preparation of the SoccerPlex Stadium field for the D.C. United match with the Rochester Rhinos.

4. What groups use your fields and how is that use allocated?
Maureen and John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Communications, formed MSF and were joined by a core group of nine local soccer clubs to bring the complex to completion. MSF teamed in a public-private partnership with the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) Montgomery County Parks in South Germantown Park to build the facility. Those clubs are all current users with preset allocations. The complex has its own soccer league, serving youth through adults, to keep a consistent flow of income into the facility.

Field users range from 3-year-olds to the pros. For league play, we lay out and maintain three different sizes: full-size, half-field across and 40 by 50 yards. We’re maxed out with our core play on Saturday and Sunday in the spring and fall, running from sunup to sundown, with around 25 hours of use per week for each native soil, natural grass field. League play ends the second week of June and starts again the second week of August.

In addition, we host 14 major soccer tournaments that take over our entire facility from Thursday or Friday through Sunday. We also host two of the largest lacrosse tournaments for top-level youth in the U.S., one in June and one in July. We also hold three or four weeklong summer camps each week during the 10-week summer period.

We’re the home of the Hendricks’ owned Washington Freedom, a member of the new Women’s Professional Soccer league that is the same level as MLS.

Our stadium also has hosted a U.S. Olympic qualifier, MLS Open Cup matches, a CONCACAF Champions League match, the ACC Men’s Soccer Championships, USL and USL W League matches, training sessions for international teams and the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. We draw participants from multiple ethnicities and groups worldwide. We had seven nationally televised events in 2009, increasing our exposure and attracting more users to our fields.

5. How is your staff allocated?
Matt Carroll, lead assistant, focuses on the day-to-day operations. John Torres, second assistant, concentrates more on the main field maintenance activities. Our four crew members carry out the mowing and painting. Staff time is our limiting factor. We’re exploring internships and other creative ways to add people. We concentrate on efficiency, effectiveness, positive thinking and creative problem-solving strategies.

6. How do you lay out the typical annual field management program?
My year-round program is focused on maintaining an extremely high level of field quality to meet the expectation of full turf coverage. I concentrate first on giving the soil what it needs and then on keeping the plant in good health, rather than forcing constant growth. A healthy plant will suffer less from heavy use so it doesn’t require as much to recover. It’s an ever-evolving program, incorporating lots of soil and tissue testing, and working closely with the Floratine Products Group local representative Sean Fifer and their consultant, Dr. Tom Watschke, professor emeritus of turfgrass science from Penn State.

We also work closely with the local John Deere Landscapes representatives and John Deere equipment distributor, Finch, Inc. We use four fairway mowers: two of the new John Deere 7500s, a John Deere 3225 and a Toro 5200. Extra time is spent keeping the reels sharpened to maintain the turf at 7/8-inch during our peak growing season. We run a full range of aerifiers, including a John Deere 1500 Aercore, Wiedemann deep-tine, AerWay and various spike and slicing units.

Our field size allows us to change configurations, so every two to four weeks we measure to reconfigure and repaint, eliminating wear patterns rather than repairing them. Even with heavy use, we’ve needed no sod work due to managing the traffic by resizing fields.

7. How has the addition of synthetic fields affected your program?
We use our synthetic fields as a tool to more effectively manage traffic. We schedule them for continual use during large tournaments, for clinics, must-play events during wet weather, winter play, summer camps and for adult short-field play during the week following a lacrosse tournament to give our natural grass fields recovery time.

John Torres (in tractor) tackles deep-tine aeration.

8. What are the biggest challenges on your fields and how do you approach those challenges?
Lacrosse is extremely damaging, not only around the goals, but in the entire center area between the two creases. During the lacrosse tournaments, each field hosts eight games a day, four days in a row. We topdress the goal mouths heavily to protect the crown of the plant and wash out the sand. We topdress and reconfigure our stadium field each night, using removable paint. This year, we also had a high-profile soccer game each night on our stadium field during the lacrosse tournaments. Using these proactive procedures, we avoided sod work, and our field looked and played great for the following D.C. United game.

9. What’s the best tip on field management you’ve learned from someone else?
I’ve learned so much from others, but the best tip came from working with Trevor Vance. He never got upset, no matter what the situation. He’d just say, “This isn’t what we expected, but we’re going to fix it and move on from here.”

10. What advice do you want to pass along to other sports field managers?
Be proactive, always learning and evolving as you incorporate the technologies of turfgrass science with the needs of the environment. And, remember, there’s no substitute for hard work.