Despite initial concerns about field resodding, the Carolina RailHawks will host the popular July 4 game, and fourth- and fifth-round games of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, at WakeMed Soccer Park under an agreement announced Thursday by the team and Cary town officials.
Curt Johnson, president of the RailHawks, announced on Twitter that all RailHawks games will be played in the 10,000-seat stadium.
“Important! @RailHawksFC appreciates @TownofCary efforts 2 make stadium available 4 all @usopencup home games. Bring on @LAGalaxy & @MLS,” he tweeted.
There had been some concern about whether the RailHawks would be able to host the games after the Cary Town Council approved a request Jan. 28 to use WakeMed Soccer Park for the 2015 North American and the Caribbean Rugby Association Men’s and Women’s Sevens Championships. Although the schedule for the U.S. Open Cup hadn’t been released at the time, there was a strong possibility the field might not be ready in time for the soccer tournament.
Cary, which runs the stadium, had said it would resod the field after the rugby championships, which are June 11-14. But newly laid Bermuda grass needs about three weeks to take hold before it can be played on, which would have bumped up against a Cup game or the RailHawks’ popular regular-season NASL match on July 4.
This week, officials with the RailHawks and the town met to reach a plan for the games.
“It’s very good news,” said Doug McRainey, director of Cary’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.
The tournament, which runs May through July, features teams from all divisions of American soccer. Hosting Open Cup games at home are highly coveted. They offer lower-level clubs a chance to boost ticket sales by providing fans a glimpse of star-studded MLS teams such as the L.A. Galaxy, who the RailHawks beat last year.
Last year, because of pre-scheduled resodding, the RailHawks played their fifth-round Open Cup match against the Galaxy on a practice field in front of about 3,000 people instead of the larger stadium.
The Open Cup schedule released Wednesday shows fourth- and fifth-round games of the tournament are scheduled for June 16-17 and June 30-July 1, respectively.
The field inside the stadium is made up of rye grass for cold weather and Bermuda grass for warm weather. The town usually prefers to remove the rye grass in June and replace it with a new Bermuda field for the summer.
With the agreement, Cary put a field transition plan in place now so it will be ready for play, said Scott Hecht, Cary’s Public Works director.
“It does put a little risk into the look and quality of the field,” Hecht said of the strategy. “We’ll just need to pay a little more attention to it … and lay a tarp on it to keep it warm.”
Cary officials said they’re not worried about poor field conditions after the rugby tournament.
The rugby matches will be played under Olympic standards, meaning the games are shorter and feature fewer players on the field. Seven players on each team, rather than the traditional 15, will play two 10-minute halves in each game.
Each rugby match will feature 14 men on the field at a time, which is fewer than a traditional soccer game with 11 players per team.
“At the end of the day, it’s 14 men running around in cleats so we’re not anticipating more damage,” Hecht said of the rugby games. “If the turf is in sound condition, it’s going to be OK.”