By any standard, Matt Bruderek is an authority on playing surfaces. The groundskeeper for the Inter Miami football club has worked in major league soccer (MLS) for nine seasons and in groundskeeping for 17 years. He knows how to keep a baseball diamond's infield and outfield pristine, how high to cut the grass so a soccer team feels most comfortable and how to read the weather to decide what to do and when to do it.
Yet even after nearly two decades of working to make sure the teams he works with play on the best field possible, Bruderek feels he still has more expertise to gain.
"The amount of knowledge you learn throughout those years is truly remarkable. The mentors and people in the turf industry are such a tremendous help, and you pick up tips and tricks and learn through trial and error," he said. "At the end of the day, you're working with a living thing, and whenever you think you are an expert, it'll humble you really quick!"
Sometimes, part of expertise is knowing when to admit you're not in control, but with the knowledge he has accumulated, Bruderek knows which variables of groundskeeping he can control and how to improvise when necessary.
The ultimate variable in his work is Mother Nature, which drives Bruderek's risk analysis and risk management. The weather forecast and his own knowledge of weather patterns dictate whether the grounds crew can mow, plant, edge, paint, maintain or do any number of tasks they must do to keep the stadium's field and training surfaces at Inter Miami's complex in good condition for the players and coaching staff.
"Every day, the weather decides how I plan out our schedule. If we're expecting rain at 1 p.m., we must get the important things done ASAP. If it's been 2 weeks without rain and it's windy, I know I have to run sprinklers during the day and have to plan to work around those times," said Bruderek, who also noted that lightning requires his team to stay safely inside until the storm clears, which can knock him off track for the week. "In Florida, especially in summer, every decision you make is a risk. Rain can always come from seemingly nowhere and really change your plans."
It hasn't always been about managing the South Florida sun for Bruderek. While studying at the University of Rhode Island, he won a groundskeeping internship by contacting Nicole Sherry, the head groundskeeper of the Baltimore Orioles. She took him on the grounds crew of the historic Camden Yards, where he fine-tuned his expertise by maintaining the turf and the clay infield where most players ran their hardest.
Even though Bruderek's time in the northeastern US formed the bulk of his knowledge, when Bruderek moved to Florida, he knew that those experiences had given him the expertise he needed to excel in the Sunshine State.
"The climates of Rhode Island and Miami are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but learning and understanding plant disease, plant biology, soil science, math, etc., translates to any climate and is the core of your understanding of how to keep grass happy and healthy. I feel I had great professors and advisors that got my foundation started," Bruderek said.
Inter Miami's relationship with Gallagher is built on some of those same foundations, with Bruderek's groundskeeping department just one part of the business that must use its expertise to generate an effective risk management strategy.
Other departments, including those responsible for community relations and even the team on the field, are putting their expertise in action to connect with a market in love with soccer but entering just its third season with an MLS club to support.
"The team does a great job incorporating the local flair and South Florida vibe into every match day and making the team become part of the fabric of the area," Bruderek said. "The Inter Miami CF Foundation has been doing amazing work around the community. The Inter Miami Academy programs start at U-12 and supply these athletes with the best from an early age to help develop them as soccer players and strengthen the ties between the club and the community." The idea is to have kids playing on the fields Bruderek and his crew maintain for their first Academy training at age 12, debuting for the first team on the lush grass of DRV PNK Stadium or the planned Miami Freedom Park when it opens.
In addition to working closely with the South Florida community, Bruderek also strives to create community within his own team, saying his favorite part of the job is more about the relationships formed than the soil samples taken.
"You truly have to be a team and care about each other. I think as a grounds staff, it isn't necessarily about winning or losing the game — of course we want to win — but being given a challenge and getting it done," he said. "For a big event or big game, I won't always remember what happened, but I remember the two weeks before the game where we came up with a plan, and we all did our part to execute it and have a successful event."
That's not to say that a groundskeeper doesn't play a part in the results. Especially in soccer, managers are very particular. After all, "The ball is on the ground for the majority of play," Bruderek said. While there are crosses and headers and other moments when the ball is in the air, few other sports have as much contact between the ball and the playing field.
Some managers want the grass to be watered at certain times to better execute their tactics, while others will prefer it dry. Other times, it may be beneficial for the grass to be a longer than usual to slow down the visitors' ball on the pitch.
Over the course of Inter Miami's MLS season, there are fewer game-to-game modifications, but the staff still is in constant communication with the coaching staff. The most important element of that communication is working out schedules, finding times when players won't be training or working individually so the grounds crew can do its work.
Like Gallagher, expertise is at the heart of everything Bruderek does with Inter Miami, making the club's field's look and play great despite one of the most challenging climates in MLS.