Penn State Alum Talks About Snow Challenges on Athletic Fields

February 25, 2014 in Alumni

Redbull_arena-1Soccer players can be among the most fickle of professional athletes. Things have to be just so, from the cut of their uniforms to the look and feel of their cleats. But what really gets their attention, their extreme, undivided attention, is the condition of the playing surface.

Dan Shemesh, the director of grounds for the Red Bulls at their stadium in Harrison, N.J., and their training center in Hanover, N.J., has also worked with the Phillies and the Eagles in Philadelphia and the Patriots and the Revolution in New England. Through cold and warm weather, rain and snow, grass and artificial turf, he said, many of the athletes he encounters do not care much about the condition of the material underfoot. That category, however, does not include soccer players.

“It’s not even close how much they are obsessed with the grass,” Shemesh said Sunday in a telephone interview as his grounds crew was in the process of removing more than a foot of snow from the field at Red Bull Arena. “The only complaint I ever heard from a football player was from David Akers in Philadelphia. He was the most critical. The kickers like the synthetic stuff. Soccer players just hate it.”

But now Shemesh, 33, faces a challenge he has seldom encountered in his career, which he began by studying turf science and management at Penn State. (“Most guys went to work at golf courses,” he said. “I don’t care much for golf.”)

The challenge: preparing a grass field for the Red Bulls’ first home game of the Major League Soccer season, on March 15, after the field has been buried in ice and snow for more than a month. Over the weekend, Shemesh and his crew began to remove more than a foot of compacted snow. (At the training center in Hanover, one of its three fields is playable because of an underground heating system.)

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