Here’s a sentence that will terrify all my LAFC co-workers. I’m going to tell a story from the office Christmas party.
As we gathered at Banc of California Stadium to celebrate the holidays and the end of the Club’s inaugural season, no expense was spared. Free food, drinks, games, a life-sized foosball table complete with John Thorrington in goal - yup, that happened - we spent the night enjoying each other’s company in the spirit of the season.
But while the food and drink flowed and everyone took the chance to relax a bit with some well-deserved recreational time, there was just one star of the party. A star every single person that night couldn’t help but gravitate towards. A star that on numerous occasions, groups of party-goers returned to throughout the night.
Of course, I’m referring to the pitch at Banc of California Stadium. That big, beautiful 115x75 yards of immaculate grass that I, too, found myself admiring on more than one occasion even as it lay dormant, empty, and lit only by the ambient lighting around Banc of California Stadium that night.
The first thing you need to know about the pitch, it’s sacred.
Travel to hallowed grounds around the world: Azteca, Camp Nou, Old Trafford, San Siro. They’ll allow you to tour the entire stadium. Walk into the dressing room even. But the pitch is roped off.
Like I said, it’s sacred.
But in case you weren’t convinced, the pitch at Banc of California Stadium uses Latitude 36 Bermudagrass. The Banc is the only stadium utilizing that turf type in the state. Not to mention the only turf type, that I know of, with its own website.
According to the aforementioned website, Latitude 36 “offers high traffic tolerance and exceptional visual appeal” and has “finer texture than NorthBridge Bermuda” - take that, NorthBridge!
Keeping the Banc of California Stadium pitch forever ready for its closeup (the pitch did play center stage for quite a few nationally televised broadcasts in 2018 with more to come in 2019) are head groundskeeper Gio Murillo and his crew of three: superintendent Dan Strey, groundsman Tyler VandenAkker, and groundsman Edy Christopher.
To give you an idea of the care that goes into the pitch, Murillo and his colleagues walk the field two to three times a day, examining root growth, top growth, and keeping a close eye out for abnormalities on the pitch that could lead to disease. They keep the pitch a svelte three-eighths of an inch in the summer and a rugged half inch in the fall.
On matchday, the work continues. Lines are painted to precise perfection, goals assembled, and the pitch gets a healthy watering before warmups and once more before kickoff to ensure the slick movement of the ball across the surface of the pitch - I've been around Bob Bradley when he complains about slow pitches and it’s not pretty, this is not a task to be taken lightly, think Leonardo da Vinci putting a final layer on varnish on a masterpiece.
The work doesn’t end after kickoff though. Waiting in the wings of Banc of California Stadium, Gio and his men keep an eye on ball roll and the hardness of the pitch. If the pitch is too hard, players’ bodies wear down quicker, which can lead to injuries. Too soft, it’s tough to get footing and the pitch deteriorates. Either way, at halftime they replace any divots and water the pitch once more – gotta have that ball whipping around the pitch in both halves.
And that level of care goes on all 12 months of the year. Which is why 50 days after LAFC’s final match of 2018 and 74 days before it kicks off the 2019 season against Sporting KC, the pitch still looks like a work of art.
So what does it all mean, now that I’ve inundated you with more knowledge of a playing surface than you’ve ever had or wanted? I think what I’m trying to get across here is March 3 can’t get here soon enough.
I miss the pitch already.