LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After a long, secluded COVID closure, it's Game Week for Louisville City Football Club, and for Louisville, with the club set to christen its $65 million new home, Lynn Family Stadium, on Sunday before a national television audience and a limited number of fans.
Stadium safety will get lots of attention, along with the facility's bells and whistles, along with the general return of sports in the city. But if you're looking for something the players likely appreciate the most, you don't need to look around -- you need only look down.
After 5 years in Louisville Slugger Field, a patchwork of temporary sod and permanent grass and even gravel in some places, the pristine pitch at Lynn Family Stadium has been a welcome landing ground for the club.
After the team's first full scrimmage at its new stadium last week, LouCity FC captain Luke Spencer came up to coach John Hackworth and said, "It's so nice to have a true bounce, all over the field."
The baseball stadium was a good home. You can't knock a venue where you put together championship seasons. But its smaller field -- 105 yards long by 75 yards wide (a full 15 yards shorter and 5 yards more narrow than regulation) -- was a factor, and the surface was notoriously slippery.
"You never knew where the ball was going sometimes," Hackworth said. "It was different on different areas of the field. That was what we had to deal with."
Some clubs in the league said it was an advantage for LouCity. Certainly, the home team had a better knowledge of the field's idiosyncrasies.
But the smaller dimensions weren't necessarily working to the team's benefit. And while the larger home pitch will take some getting used to, players think it will benefit their style, in the end.
"It's a lot bigger than Slugger, and plays a lot truer than the baseball field," midfielder Niall McCabe said. "It's perfect. It's something that we've always preferred to play on, anyway. People always said, 'Well, you had an advantage at Slugger,' and stuff like that. But the type of football we like to play, it doesn't lend itself to a small field. We like it when it's big and open and expansive. And it suits our game more than the tight, compact Slugger. And you throw on top of it the turf aspect of it, it was tough at times. So having this, playing on it a couple of times already, it's perfect. It's absolutely what you want."
There were times at the baseball stadium, like when Oscar Jiminez would line up for a corner kick on the first base line, that he could start by standing in gravel, be on temporary turf with his first step and wind up taking his kick on actual grass.
"We would joke with Oscar all the time about how difficult that was, but he was still one of the best in the business at it," Hackworth said. ". . . But here, the surface is immaculate, and that bounce that soccer players love and enjoy, and that feel, it's true all over the place, and it doesn't change."
There are players, Hackworth said, who have been talking to him about playing in this stadium since he arrived to coach the team -- two summers ago.
For players, there are plenty of amenities, including a new locker room -- though more are on the way when the club's nearby training facility is completed next year.
But the simple grass beneath their feet will be one of the key pleasures. Hackworth fought hard for natural grass, and the blanket of Tampa 31 Bermuda overseeded with rye, grown by Grassmasters in Patoka, Ind., and protected in cold weather by an underheating element, is the result of that.
"There's a lot of things that I don't care about, but when it came about the surface and the size of the surface, I was very bullish about what I thought we needed to do here," he said. ". . . Soccer was meant to be played on grass."
Put it all together, and it really is a field of dreams for players.
"It's hard to imagine that something like this could've been possible," said McCabe, who has been with the club from Day 1. "I knew they wanted to get their own stadium. But I didn't know the extent of how good it would be. I was thinking more cookie-cutter, high school type thing. But to have something like this is phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal."
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