FOOTBALL

Notre Dame Stadium to install natural grass for Liverpool FC's July soccer match

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame Stadium will revert to natural grass this summer for the first time since installing artificial turf in 2014.

The temporary change will precede ND’s hosting of Liverpool Football Club’s soccer friendly against Borussia Dortmund on July 19 (8 p.m. EDT).

Operational crews will collaborate to install the natural grass atop the stadium’s artificial turf. They will remove the natural grass following the match so the synthetic turf underneath can be restored.

Micki Kidder, ND’s vice president for university enterprises and events, expects the transformation to last one week.

“This is very common for these type of international friendlies,” Kidder said. “It’s what Liverpool and Dortmund are used to playing on. So it’s an important part of their experience. Many other stadiums have done similar processes.”

The University of Michigan provided a blueprint in 2014. That summer, Michigan Stadium hosted a soccer match between Real Madrid and Manchester United as part of the International Champions Cup tour. Michigan’s field installation required the same process Notre Dame Stadium will undergo.

Notre Dame contracted Bush Turf Farms, which oversaw Michigan’s operation. Kidder expects ND’s grounds, maintenance and facility crews to assist in the project.

“We’ve made sure to invest in that research process and understand that in a way that provides them the competitive playing field that they are expecting.” Kidder said. “But also protects the turf here at Notre Dame Stadium.”

For Michigan’s field installation, Bush unloaded 30 truckloads of sod over a protective cover stretched across the artificial turf. They painted and designed the pitch and maintained it via cutting and watering the grass. Bush removed the field following the match and repurposed some of the natural grass, according to MLive.

Phil Babb played in his share of repurposed playing surfaces. He competed for Liverpool from 1994-2000 and now serves as a representative for the Premier League club.

“It used to break up back in the day. It doesn’t now,” Babb said of the field installations. “The playing surface won’t be an issue whatsoever.”

Notre Dame Stadium will be the first of three U.S. venues to host Liverpool this summer. Manager Jurgen Klopp’s club will also compete in Boston’s Fenway Park (July 21 vs. Sevilla FC) and New York’s Yankee Stadium (July 24 vs. Sporting CP) as part of its preseason tour.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Alisson and Sadio Mané and Dortmund’s Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Jadon Sancho are among players fans will hope to see.

“The rosters have not been finalized or communicated to us yet,” Kidder said.

Whether top players on both clubs participate full-tilt remains unknown. Babb anticipates it won’t look like a preseason match, though.

“People will say it’s a friendly. But it’s not,” Babb said. “Because they are training hard for the Premier League season. The modern day game determines that you have to train hard. You have to push yourself.

“So it’s not going to be an easy stroll in the park. This is going to be high level, high intensity, competitive game of football. Borussia Dortmund will be the same.”

Kidder said Notre Dame Stadium played host for over 700,000 guests across various events in the last year. That includes Notre Dame’s home football games, October’s Garth Brooks concert and January’s NHL Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.

Next Saturday, Notre Dame Stadium will host “Storm the Stadium” — an event commemorating the United States military and veterans. July’s match marks the first competitive soccer match held at the stadium in its 90-year history.

“We expect nothing but a smashing success with the Liverpool game,” Kidder said. “We hope and expect to continue to invite more guests in the future to a variety of events such as we’ve had in the past few months.”

The general public may purchase tickets for Liverpool’s match against Dortmund on April 26 (10 a.m. EDT). Ticket prices are expected to range from $50-600. Gates will open two hours prior to the match. Metal detectors and the clear bag policy will be in effect.

“I mean, 77,000 fans, that’s always special,” Babb said. ”But it’s a great stadium. “Obviously no roof, that’s going to be intriguing to them. But once they cross the white line, it’s a game of soccer. They will put on a good show. That’s what it’s all about.”

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Cardiff City’s Bruno Ecuele Manga, right, battle for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match at The Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, Sunday.