CF Monterrey’s Carlos Castillo and Mayra Silva set the standard for the modern day grounds manager.
A mid-season transition from cool season grass to warm season grass, a high volume of pitch usages, and a weather phenomenon called ‘La Niña’ to make pitch management at ‘El Gigante de Acero’ even more challenging. Luckily, the stadium pitch lies in the capable hands of Carlos and Mayra, agronomical engineers at Club de Fútbol Monterrey, exemplary grounds managers within the Mexican league.
“In addition to the stadium pitch, our team is also responsible for the training facilities (El Barrial), and a 23-acre environmental zone that belongs to the club, Carlos adds. Sustainability is an important topic for the club, so as a grounds team we need to be aware of our impact on the environment and regulate our water and electricity consumption for instance, to contribute to the club’s sustainability goals.”
But first and foremost, the goal is to maintain a high quality grass playing surface. Not an easy task if you take into account that the stadium pitch is not only used by the CF Monterrey men’s team.
“From January until April, we’ve had 24 events on the pitch, excluding training sessions. ‘Rayados’ (the men’s team, competing in the Primera División de México), ‘Rayadas’ (the women’s team, competing in the Primera División de México Femenil), and ‘Raya2’ (the reserve team, competing in the Liga de Expansión de México) all play their matches at the stadium. This gives us very little time to recover the grass from wear and tear. Another challenge is the shade. The stadium construction casts a shadow on the south-west side of the pitch, all throughout the year. So we needed an alternative light source to get the grass growing.”
The grow lights are fundamental to maintain a consistent, high quality pitch. Especially in April, when the stadium pitch annually transitions from cool season grass to warm season grass, during the soccer season.
“April is a critical situation for us, switching from cool season Perennial Rye grass to warm season Bermuda grass. Carlos explains. Over the years, we’ve learned how to get through this transition as smoothly as possible. But even though we prepare for this moment the whole year, the weather conditions can always surprise you. As is the case this season. Because unlike previous years, temperatures are much lower; around 20 degrees Celsius, while last years it was about 10 degrees warmer. Because of the lower temperatures, we use our HPS lighting units and the LED440 grow lighting system that arrived in January to phase out the rye grass and boost the growth of the Bermuda grass.“
The remarkably low temperatures can be explained by a phenomenon called La Niña; a climate pattern that occurs irregularly and is characterised by cooler than average temperatures. In 2024, El Niño (La Niña’s counterpart) is expected to cause higher temperatures.
“The coming years we expect temperatures to rise again, so we can use the LED unit with the infrared switched off. That’s the benefit of LED technology; we can add heat if the situation calls for it, or keep it off and save money when heat is not necessary.
Overall we get good results with the LED440. The grass leaves were stronger and the high wear areas were recovering faster with LED technology, as compared to the HPS units. That’s our feeling, but we also like to back that feeling with data”
Over the years, grounds managers develop a sixth sense when it comes to the state of the pitch. But facts and figures come in handy when you’re talking with people that are not familiar with the grounds manager’s lingo. By collecting data, grounds managers can make a gut feeling understandable for ‘outsiders’, and talk facts and figures, instead of feelings and sensations. It makes it easier to have a conversation with a board member, Mayra explains.
“Data is key, absolutely. We do pitch quality tests every week and collect the data. We test the shear strength of the grass to establish traction, we do ball bounce and ball roll tests, we use the Clegg hammer to assess the hardness and firmness of the pitch, and we determine the infiltration rate. We can show the collected data to the board and explain what we’re doing in an objective way, without any interpretation.”
But that does not mean that a grounds manager’s instinct becomes obsolete.
“The green fingers of the grounds manager are absolutely needed. It’s impossible for us to just look at the data from home, without having a walk on the pitch. Sometimes you spot a yellow leaf, or you notice that the grass looks a bit different. We need to smell the grass, feel the grass, look at the grass, to get the best understanding of the state of the grass. So it’s a combination of data and a grounds manager’s gut feeling.”
As one of the FIFA 2026 World Cup hosting venues, the pitch management programme at Estadio BBVA Bancomer is often looked at as an example.
Carlos: “We have regular talks with the Mexican league to establish procedures to improve other stadium pitches throughout the country. The fact that we’re able to innovate, to lead, and to be a reference in Mexico is what makes working at CF Monterrey so exciting. It also means that we need to stay up to date with the latest innovations in the industry. Last year, I went to London. But I’ve also been to Qatar and the United States, and I joined the SGL Masterclass. It’s so valuable to exchange knowledge, learn new things and catch up with colleagues from around the world. And all that information is passed on within our team. That’s the way I believe we can improve and stay ahead of the game. In the future, Mayra will also have the chance to travel abroad.”
Mayra: “It’s great that I get to learn something new every day, see things I haven’t seen the day before. We do our job with passion, as a team, and our hard work is reflected in the quality of the stadium pitch. If I can make one change’ I’d love to have more women in the industry! Of course, I feel the support from Carlos and the team, and we’ve just added another female colleague to our team, but it would be nice to see more women at other clubs as well.”
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