TORONTO — BMO Field, forced into action in February because of the CONCACAF Champions league, is getting a new grass surface this summer.
And the plan is to lay a new surface at the end of the year from now on.
Toronto FC is taking advantage of a break in the MLS schedule in June, due in part to the World Cup, to lay down the new grass. The league champion hosts FC Dallas on May 25, plays the next three games on the road and doesn’t return home again until July 1 when the New York Red Bulls come to town.
The CFL Argos’ first home game is June 23 against Calgary.
Bill Manning, president of both Toronto FC and the Argonauts, said given the 2018 home season started Feb. 27 with a round-of-16 CONCACAF Champions League match, the timing wasn’t right to lay the new surface earlier.
Winter and the early start have taken a toll on the existing turf, which looked ugly for last week’s game against Mexican champion Tigres.
“Probably the worst it’s been in the history of BMO Field,” said Manning.
With the opening in the schedule and the fact that TFC has a spare field in Hamilton because it did not resod in 2017, the time was right to replace the grass this summer.
“We just knew that we’d want a fresh surface before the Argos got there so that we could make our way all the way to the playoffs and not have field issues,” said head groundskeeper Robert Heggie.
The new grass will be the fifth in eight years at BMO Field, which has undergone considerable construction to expand and improve the original venue that opened in 2007.
When it comes to the grass, TFC has been a victim of its own success.
“The problem is when you do so well, you start in February and you go until December. Neither of which are ideal for natural grass surfaces,” said Heggie.
In prepping the surface for those playoff games, Heggie’s groundskeeping crew is essentially going against nature.
“And when you’ve given them that perfect surface or as close as you can to a perfect surface Dec. 9, you’re increasing your chances of problems through the winter because you’re throwing off the natural processes.”
Going forward, the plan is to rip out the field at the end of each season, let the soil temperature drop and then bring in a dormant field and let it sit all winter before initiating growth in late January to get it ready for February.
That reduces winter damage “because it went to bed properly,” said Heggie.
“You can’t fool the existing plant into going to sleep quick enough. So the only way we can do it is bring in a plant that’s already sleeping,” he added
Even though BMO Field has underground heating, inflatable cover and grow-lamps, that isn’t enough to preserve grass in the depth of a Toronto winter.
In Heggie’s words, “You’ve got this plant that’s just stressing out underneath the tarp the whole time.”