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When Matt Bruderek, Inter Miami CF’s director of turfs and grounds, joined the club in October 2019, he knew the organization wanted its stadium and training facilities to be used by more than just the club’s MLS and USL League one teams.
And that’s certainly been the case.
In 2021 alone, Inter Miami’s training facility has been used for NFL and college recruiting combines, high school soccer games, Anguilla men’s national soccer team trainings ahead of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against the Dominican Republic in March — which was played at DRV PNK Stadium — and Philadelphia Union practices leading into the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League games versus Costa Rica.
Inter Miami’s Fort Lauderdale stadium hosted over a dozen Broward public high school graduations in early June and is set to be the site of international soccer competition once again, with the CONCACAF Gold Cup preliminary round taking place at DRV PNK Stadium from Friday through Tuesday, July 6.
It’ll mark the third time Inter Miami’s hosted international games, with the U.S. men’s national team training and hosting a friendly against El Salvador last December.
“It was always kind of told to me like that; they wanted to have the kind of facility that could be used for multiple things,” Bruderek said. “Ownership had that vision of ‘we want to be a spot in South Florida that can host anything’.
“As time goes on, we’re going to get that for sure.”
But even Bruderek didn’t imagine the challenges the last few months would bring for him and the groundskeeping crew he works with.
Bruderek, who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, first became interested in the groundskeeping profession while playing baseball at the University of Rhode Island, where the team also helped take care of the fields.
Quickly realizing that he didn’t enjoy being a communications major, Bruderek shifted his attention to horticulture and turf management before graduating with a degree in the field in 2008.
“I went in to try it,” Bruderek said, “and really loved it.”
After graduation, Bruderek worked for the Baltimore Orioles for a few years before moving to Florida to take an assistant position at UCF. He took the head groundskeeper position with Orlando City SC in 2014 before moving to South Florida five years later.
Including himself, Bruderek leads a five-person turf and grounds crew that includes Mike Abbott, Danny Bradley, John Haney and Trevor Ross, and all of their work has been needed more than usual because of the changes 2021 has brought.
CF Montréal have been using Inter Miami’s training facilities and playing home games at DRV PNK Stadium since the start of the 2021 MLS season in April due to the travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S. because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At first you’re kind of like ‘ugh, man’ because you’re just thinking of the extra work that needs to be put in to keep everything running,” Bruderek said. “But you feel for them, too. It’s going on two seasons now where they haven’t been able to play at home, they’re away from their families and they’re trying to do the best they can.
“When you’re thinking about it that way, you’re just trying to help them out, deal with it and keep up the best you can.
Even Inter Miami players wondered how Montréal’s move would impact them.
“The biggest thing we worried about was the stadium field,” Miami midfielder Victor Ulloa said. “We know we play on it, the USL team plays on it; now you bring in a third team and the conditions of the field — we were wondering how they were going to be.”
Sixteen matches have been played at DRV PNK Stadium since April 10: seven Fort Lauderdale CF games, five CF Montréal home matches and four Inter Miami home games.
Matt Bruderek, Inter Miami’s director of turfs and grounds, helping maintain the field in DRV PNK Stadium. (Inter Miami CF / Courtesy)
The stadium is coming off a three-game-in-four-day stretch from last week: CF Montréal versus D.C. United on Wednesday, Inter Miami versus Orlando City on Friday and Fort Lauderdale versus Toronto CF II on Saturday.
“The good thing about it is that we’ve been able to handle it,” Bruderek said. “The facility was built really well, so the fields hold up well to those things.”
With Ulloa saying the quality of the field in DRV PNK Stadium staying the same despite being used more often.
“Honestly, we have no complaints,” he said. “Even when it rains; we had the rain delay against CF Montreal [on May 12] and it was pouring bad. We were like ‘there’s no way the ball’s going to hold up and the field’s going to be puddled everywhere’. But we went out there and it was amazing. Props to Matt and his team.”
The real challenge for Bruderek and his crew has been managing the facility’s six grass practice fields, all of which get used daily and sometimes more than once between Fort Lauderdale CF, CF Montréal and Inter Miami training in the morning and Inter Miami’s academy teams practicing at night.
For Inter Miami’s groundskeeping crew, that means starts as early at 6 a.m. to make sure the fields are prepared for busy mornings with work that’s often not seen: mowing the grass, fixing divots, adjusting irrigation heads and fertilizing — especially before it rains.
“Someone’s always around,” Bruderek said. “It’s pretty much a seven-day a week job. We try to keep the normal day of shifts to the normal eight-hour day. We try to keep it kind of basic so on the weekends when we do have games and it’s a longer day, it’s not like it’s been a crazy week because the whole weeks been really busy as well.
“Our expectations of the field is always higher than everyone else’s,” Bruderek said. “What we’re doing is usually keeping up pretty good with what people wanted.”
Bruderek credits his crew’s ability to maintain the quality of Inter Miami’s fields despite how frequently they’re used to the greater investment MLS clubs have put into field management in recent years.
“It’s definitely gotten more intense. You see league-wide the different stadiums coming in now. These things have amazing technology in them now,” he said while mentioning grow lights, under-field heating systems and under-field cooling systems as tools that help him do his job.
“I’m not saying it wasn’t like that before, but it’s like every sport: one team builds a facility, the next team has to top it. It’s gotten things to really push forward in terms of the field technology as well.”
And for the players, Bruderek and Ulloa agreed that investment makes a difference.
“Clubs always put a big emphasis on having amazing facilities and fields, and just try to get any competitive advantage,” Ulloa said. “You’re always trying to look to win wherever you can. That starts with the field you play on.”
Added Bruderek: “You see when bigger players come over here, that’s what they care about. They care about that more than majority of stuff people think they care about because that’s what they’re playing on and what their legs are running on every day. For the league, it’s important because it’s really important to players.”