Coolray Field is preparing to serve a dual role in 2018, as it will host both the Gwinnett Stripers (Class AAA; International League) and USL’s Atlanta United 2.
Joining the USL this season as an expansion franchise, Atlanta United 2 is owned by MLS’s Atlanta United FC. The club will play its home games at Coolray Field, which has hosted the Stripers–who were known the Braves until rebranding in December–since its opening in 2009.
The beginning of the 2018 USL campaign is just weeks away, putting Atlanta United 2 closer to its March 24 regular-season debut at Coolray Field. Thus far, the team’s players have expressed their belief that Coolray Field will make for a fine professional soccer venue, while a plan has been put into place to allow the facility to make the transition between the two sports. More from the Gwinnett Daily Post:
His confidence is mirrored by Stripers Sports Turf Manager McClain Murphy — Mac, to his colleagues — who is ready to seize the novel challenge of converting the field.
“It’s different,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve ever done an outside event that wasn’t either baseball, softball or a concert. It’s a whole ‘nother dynamic, a whole ‘nother sport. I’m not familiar with it to the point I’ve never played. It’s going to be fun, though. It’s going to be unique for fans to come out, see the remnants of a baseball field and see a soccer field when they watch Atlanta United 2 play.”
ATL UTD 2 will play on 419 bermudagrass, the same grass the Stripers trample in the outfield at Coolray Field. Murphy and the turf management staff work with a Gwinnett County-based company called Precision Turf that will supply new rolls of sod for each conversion. The rolls of turf will be approximately 40 feet long and will cover any dirt on the infield, warning track and slivers of foul territory. The pitcher’s mound will be uninstalled for each ATL UTD 2 match. The mound is dug out, the hole is leveled with sand and sod is placed on top.
Turf management will grade the grass levels down to fractions of inches to accurately match the sod patches flush with the outfield grass for, ideally, a seamless a transition.
Coolray Field is not alone among USL-MiLB facilities, as similar arrangements were seen last year in Reno, Louisville, Tulsa and Harrisburg. Meanwhile, Atlanta and the USL’s three other expansion clubs for 2018–including Nashville SC, Las Vegas Lights FC, and Fresno FC–will play at minor league ballparks. Another addition to the USL/MiLB landscape comes in Tacoma, where both the Tacoma Rainiers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and Seattle Sounders 2 will play at Cheney Stadium. The USL club is pursuing its own soccer-specific stadium adjacent to Cheney Stadium, but is expected to play at the ballpark for at least the 2018 and 2019 seasons.