Irrigation technology at new national soccer facility in KC

Construction continues in Kansas City of the new US National Training and Coaching Development Center (NTCDC) and Sporting KC’s new MLS practice facility. NTCDC fulfills a vision shared by Sporting Club, US Soccer and Children’s Mercy to build a first-class environment to develop elite players, coaches and referees of all ages. The facility will be the training home of Sporting Kansas City, and it will also accommodate the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center as well as the US Soccer National Coaching Education Center.

Erick Landis, Director of Turf for Sporting KC, answered some questions about the new facility in August:

Why was Kansas City chosen for this new national training facility? Our ownership group is very fond of the game. Their goals aren’t just to win an MLS Cup; they want to win the World Cup for the US. That starts from within; development and training and providing a state of the art facility for our US teams and coaches to accompany that. This facility will have a “Superpitch” (three full-size soccer fields side by side), two artificial practice fields, and a FIFA-regulation sand soccer pitch.

David Ficklin, our VP of Development, has done a great job with this place. He has involved me heavily on field construction decisions and its technology.

Are the fields newly built? What are details regarding why a certain grass variety, rootzone, drainage system, etc., was chosen? The NTC Superpitch totals 7 acres with a rootzone that is a 9 inches of 90/10 mix with reed sedge peat, built with good drainage. The turfgrass is a sprigged Northbridge bermudagrass base with an HGT bluegrass overseed, aka “bluemuda.” The fields are growing rapidly [as of Aug 15]. We used a “sod to sprig” method. This is, in my opinion, a faster way to sprig. Instead of transporting the sprigs that start composting in the truck, the sod is delivered and essentially diced up in the machine and spread/crimped in, on site. I believe the plant is less stressed and establishes faster than the normal sprigging process.

Why bluemuda? Our cold tolerant bermudas are now being grown more and more North, and warm tolerant bluegrasses are extending farther South. Kansas City is a prime market to have these grasses grow symbiotically with each other. Both growing with rhizomes to fill-in areas should help eliminate more overseeding.

As this Superpitch will mainly serve as Sporting’s first team training facility, I wanted to replicate the stadium as best as I could to give as much consistency as possible for the players. We also have re-built a training field at Swope Park with a Northbridge bermuda and will use the same maintenance practices as the new fields and stadium up there. This is so now our USL and academy teams will also be getting the same field as the stadium. And, if our team wants to ever use the Swope Park training facility, they can.

What are the features and benefits of the new irrigation system? For irrigation we have a Toro Lynx control, remote gateway 2-way decoder system with hdpe piping. The sprinklers are INFINITY 35 heads, with built-in valves and a stealth turf cup. That probably sounds like a different language to most. I did research on many professional sports fields and it seems everyone is essentially using the same block valve system where each valve controls five or six heads and hardly any have individual control.

This controller is a computer system program that lets you have complete control of your watering schedule and each head individually. The 2-way decoder system will save on copper cost for wire and is a much easier install for the irrigation company. This eliminates taking a single wire from the gateway to each head. They can be spliced congruently from one head to the next.

When the system is running the whole field is turned on “electrically” but tells a single decoder to actually run. The remote gateway is a great tool that connects the field to the computer by radio (without wires). Looking to the future, if we ever wanted to update the stadium field on the same system, we could just add a remote gateway and use the same computer. We have 120 individual sprinkler heads (40 per field) on the Superpitch. Each has an individual valve that is electrically controlled by the 2-way wire. This allows each head to be run individually. So when I see one dry spot on the field, I can water that one dry spot and not have to turn on six other heads.

The majority of stadium fields have smaller sprinkler heads (1-inch diameter) on a grid system throughout the field. This is for player safety so that no one will trip in these smaller holes where the sprinklers are located on the field. We have eliminated this by burying the heads 2 inches down in the rootzone and adding a “stealth cap” turf cup on top. This turf cup is put on top of the riser of the head, and is walled with a thin silicone shell that will give to a player foot or divot. This allows us to grow turf with 2 inches of soil inside and let it root eliminating the normal “hole” of a sprinkler head.

How much activity is expected as far as events, including matches and practices? We have a built a 12-field youth soccer complex located close to the NTCDC. The Wyandotte Sporting Fields have eight artificial fields and four with natural grass and native soil. These fields will be on a majority organic-based fertilizer program. While looking for irrigation systems for these fields, we found a Canadian based company called InteliRain. Calgary is strict on water usage, and this is why the system was created, to save water consumption. After spending a couple days seeing the system live, I started debating my normal thinking of irrigation. Instead of adjusting the head on the head, the computer controls it and a magnet on the head knowing which degree it is spraying. Also, being able to adjust its throw length to each degree eliminates the need for overlapping. With this system we will be able to water in squares, or whatever shape is necessary. This is possible because of a pressure-regulating valve that works congruently with head and computer.

When adjusting psi coming out of the nozzle I was concerned about droplet size. A nozzle has been created that expands and contracts to adjust with amount of pressure and flow coming out head to give the correct droplet size. These sprinklers have a Wind Shift technology from InteliRain and are able to adjust up to 15% psi depending on wind direction and speed. Again, this system is giving me complete control. For example, if I want to re-seed or re-sod a 6-yard box, I can set a program with the closest two heads to just water the 6-yard box, while at night continuing its normal throw for the entire field.

Another project that I am very excited about is at the two new facilities we are seeding and maintaining about 40 acres of native plants of Kansas and Missouri. I have joined the Native Plant Initiative of Kansas City to learn more about the importance of having the native plants and make valuable connections with extremely knowledgeable people for maintenance of these areas. Once established I plan on building walking/jogging paths for the players, coaches, and parents at the NTC and WSF.

I would like to thank my team: Casey Montgomery, Alex Peters, Jeff Lenihan, Josh Tvrdik, Spencer King, Joe Robertson, and my two summer interns, Alexander Lutz and Jackson Kramer. I see bright futures for the entire crew. Thanks also to Cam Cote from InteliRain, Jason Kanak, David Ficklin, and the Sporting Kansas City ownership.