This story is written by new IMS contributor, Chris Martz from Atlanta, Georgia.
When the Atlanta Silverbacks announced their return to professional soccer last November, many challenges faced the dormant franchise. After not fielding a team for two seasons, the Silverbacks had to start from scratch in almost every aspect of building a professional sports team.
One obstacle that was not present was finding a venue for the team. Atlanta Silverbacks Park has been the team’s home since 2006, replacing the antiquated DeKalb Memorial Stadium. The centerpiece of the park is Silverbacks Stadium, originally known as ReMax Greater Atlanta Stadium.
With a seating capacity of 5,000, the stadium opened to league play in June of 2006. Curiously, before construction for the stadium’s seating, the field that would eventually become the Silverbacks’ playing surface was natural grass.
When the Silverbacks began USL-1 play in the stadium, FieldTurf had replaced the natural grass to the surprise of many fans. In addition to the stadium, the two neighboring fields were also FieldTurf, leaving not a blade of natural grass on any playing surface at the park.
“With the use that our fields get, grass is not an option,” said Atlanta Silverbacks President Michael Oki. “When Silverbacks Park was originally built the field was a grass field and due to drainage and maintenance issues we quickly realized that grass would not be a viable option.”
The original playing surface was laid in 2006, when the stadium opened for professional play. Despite having a warranty of eight years, by the time the Silverbacks were to return to the field in 2011, the FieldTurf in the stadium had experienced rapid deterioration. Many factors contributed to this, including a flood in September of 2009 that completely inundated the park.
“The flood had a moderate effect, as it did put a lot of debris and silt on the field,” said Oki. “However, the field had already been slated to be replaced due to the turf having warranty issues with the fibers. The fibers in the original turf were defective and not holding up properly.”
Luckily for the NASL, the Silverbacks front office had been in discussions to replace the playing surface in the stadium long before the professional team announced its return. “The surface was already slated to be replaced prior to the return of the Pro team,” Oki said. “It was something that we had been discussing with FieldTurf for over a year.”
Atlanta opened the 2011 season with three consecutive home games with a trip to play Tampa Bay one week later. Between their April 23rd game against Fort Lauderdale and their May 7th game against Edmonton, TurfDogs, the same company that installed the original FieldTurf, installed the new surface.
The difference is easily discernible, as the fibers resemble natural grass much more closely. In addition, the infill, comprised of a layer of rubber pellets on top of sand, is much more malleable. Once the surface is played on a little more, the rubber pellets should settle a bit to more closely resemble natural grass.
In the two games since replacing the turf, the Silverbacks have failed to score in both games, while conceding two goals, both to Edmonton in a 2-0 loss on May 7. As only one of two teams in the NASL that uses an artificial surface at their home stadium (Edmonton being the other,) Atlanta has a distinct home-field advantage.
In addition, the new playing surface will help keep Silverbacks Park as one of the top soccer destinations in Atlanta for years to come.