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Sandy • Dan Farnes paced around the concrete exterior to the field he tended to season after season. It's now temporarily home to the bulldozers that push the remaining mounds of dirt, clearing way for the second field installation in Rio Tinto Stadium's eight-year history.
Farnes, the director of fields and grounds for RSL, points to the last remnant of the original pitch: A rectangular chunk surrounding the irrigation control boxes. The bluegrass turf being ripped out, the bulldozers slowly motoring along, the splotches of construction-work orange, all spell the reason for RSL's five-week-long road trip starting this weekend against the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City, Colo.
Replacing a bluegrass field every 8 to 10 years is standard, Farnes explained. The replacement process was accelerated in recent years after the quality of the field hit a rough patch in early 2014. Patches of neon-green grass known as poa were laid to help the field recover. But the poa patches installed were not nearly as strong as the standard bluegrass.
Farnes said if a player planted to make a simple cut on poa, they'd likely lose their footing immediately. Looking ahead, Farnes noticed Major League Soccer's two-week break for the upcoming Copa America Centenario in June. He pitched an idea that RSL and MLS to load up its early-season schedule with more home games than usual to set up a five-game road trip that is bookended by the Copa America break giving them seven weeks to rip out, smooth out and install a brand new field.
MLS gave the green light.
"We're really confident that it will be good to go," Farnes said. "Five weeks of grow-in is great to have, plus we're getting thicker sod. It's not just stuff you can go to Home Depot."
The new sod arrives from Colorado next Wednesday, Farnes said. The installation shouldn't take longer than 48 hours. The timeline should allow the grounds crew to start mowing two weeks after installation and possibly start aerating three weeks in.
So for the next seven weeks, RSL will be bouncing back and forth between Sandy and its various road trips around the country the longest road trip in club history while Farnes and his group prep to unveil their new pitch against the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers on June 18.
"It's still prime conditions for grass to be growing," Farnes said.
When Aaron Maund limped off the field Saturday night in the 35th minute, off went RSL's stabilizer in central defense. The 25-year-old center back had started 24 of the previous 25 matches dating back to 2015. The second-degree hamstring strain Maund suffered in RSL's 2-1 win against Houston will keep him out an estimated 2 to 3 weeks.
Which pits 35-year-old veteran Jamison Olave with 19-year-old youngster Justen Glad to kick off RSL's lengthy road trip. When Olave replaced Maund against the Dynamo, it signaled the first time Olave and Glad had ever been paired together as center backs.
"What I just want to see is a budding relationship going on," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "Not just while they're playing, but while they're communicating in training sessions, after training, because those are big things that lead into games is knowing each other a little bit better and that will have to happen over the next few weeks."
RSL striker Joao Plata (hip flexor strain) trained fully Tuesday and seems on track to return Saturday against the Rapids.
Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids
P Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • KMYU