Though it’s currently just a flattened mass of mud with construction gear on the side, the practice field at the University’s new soccer complex is expected to be ready for use Monday after a lengthy delay, Athletic Department officials said.
A second field, intended for games and originally scheduled to be finished for the Aug. 16 season opener, should be ready by the men’s soccer team’s Oct. 1 matchup with Notre Dame.
“We’re just waiting patiently for it,” senior tri-captain Daniel Gray said. “We’ve been waiting for it since I’ve been here, basically, so a little longer isn’t hurting anybody.”
Construction on the new indoor football practice facility, which is replacing the old soccer field, began before the permits for the new soccer complex were approved, leaving both the men’s and women’s teams without a home field.
Both squads have hosted games at Eastern Michigan and Saline High School, while practicing at Mitchell Field and the Ray Fisher Stadium outfield.
Though in the background of the athletic-campus overhaul, the soccer complex’s construction has been a difficult process, particularly because it’s being built on three wetlands sites.
And in order to develop those sites, the University has had to apply for special permits, reorient its plans and delay construction.
The Athletic Department first applied for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permits in the spring, but the MDEQ asked Michigan to redesign its three-field plan when the wetland sites were discovered to be bigger than originally estimated.
Walking through the area, which is surrounded by commercial buildings, the Varsity Tennis Center and the Michigan Golf Course, Wolverine men’s soccer coach Steve Burns said he didn’t think the law, which is intended to save vast areas of wetlands, should apply to this situation.
“This whole wetland issue in my mind is: I go out there and I walk around and it’s bone dry and there’s not an ounce of water,” said Burns, who’s been very involved in the new complex’s development. “But there’s some fire-bellied newt that lives out there that we got to look out for.”
In May, a new plan for two fields, one for practice and one for games, was resubmitted, and the permits were approved the last week of August. This prevented the pitches from being completed before the season.
The field will be slab-sodded, a 10-14 day process that is often used to repair grass athletic fields. It works the way it sounds: slabs of four-to-five-inch grass will be put down on the flattened mud in patches, rendering the field usable after a couple days.
Next year, the soccer pitches will be seeded. But with the season already underway, that three-month process would make it impossible for Michigan to host an actual home game.
And the home games are what the team is missing out on most as the construction progresses.
“We circled this game (against No. 15 Illinois-Chicago) on our calendar as a big game, and we were expecting to play under the lights on a new field and create a buzz, and suddenly it’s Friday at 5 p.m., seven miles off campus,” Burns said about playing at the light-less Eastern Michigan field this weekend.
On the other hand, practicing at Mitchell Field, home of intramural flag football, has barely affected the team, and many have taken a liking to it. The players practice in the afternoon, no longer forced to wake up at 7 a.m., and use two University vans to travel to and from practice.
In the shuffle of all the ongoing construction projects, however, the soccer complex may have gotten a bit lost behind the additions to the football facilities.
“We’ve been selling a stadium, selling a venue, for really, the last 10 recruiting classes,” Burns said. “(They) have heard about our vision for a stadium, and they’ve seen drawings of it. A lot of it has been smoke and mirrors.”
“Now we finally have something that’s a shovel in the ground.”