This weekend, the City of Las Vegas will host the Mayor's Cup — which is the largest and most competitive international youth soccer tournament in the world.
This year there are concerns the top-flight talent will play on second-rate fields.
Mayor's Cup promises high-level competition, college coaches looking for recruits and a chance to showcase our city to the youth soccer world.
According to the tournament website, games are played on "World-class fields constructed for soccer by the city of Las Vegas."
But 13 Investigates found that's hardly the case on some of the city's turf.
"When it gets this thin, the product is just beat to death and it's just time for a replacement. This is dangerous right here," said Joe Wadkins, who goes by JW, after walking one of the turf fields at Kellogg Zaher Soccer Complex on Washington Avenue and Buffalo Drive.
JW is considered one of the leading synthetic turf experts across the globe.
We asked him to check out City of Las Vegas athletic fields at several complexes around the valley, including Kellogg Zaher, which is one of the locations where Mayor's Cup games are played.
"The material has no more strength. It's below a half-inch thick and you've lost all your infill, which allows you to simulate natural grass."
Goal boxes on fields six and seven have damaged areas where the compacted rock and soil sub-base is hard as concrete.
"As a keeper — or a goalie — he's constantly in it. And especially during practice, it's dive, dive, dive, dive, dive, dive for hours," said Channelle Beller. Her son Jay grew up on Las Vegas soccer fields.
We first spoke to them about turf field conditions in 2019 when Jay told us, "I think it should be better quality stuff for the people sliding and diving on it because they're always on it."
"We should have safe places for our children to play," Channelle said.
In addition to the goal boxes, penalty kick spots are tearing too.
And on Kellogg Zaher field two, a thick, slick spot from an old spill has left a slippery area on the playing surface that coaches have been cautioning their players to avoid for at least a year.
"Definitely lack of maintenance," said JW. "Definitely."
And it's not just at Kellogg Zaher or just on fields involved in tournament play.
13 Investigates recorded video on Sept. 23 at Ed Fountain, a City of Las Vegas park on Decatur Boulevard and Vegas Drive.
On field one, there is a large divot right in front of the goal where the turf is torn up and coming apart.
The hole, which exposes compacted dirt and rock, sinks down a few inches from turf level.
There's a similar hole at the opposing goal on field one, in front of a goal on field two, and at penalty kick spots on both fields.
We showed our video to Melanie Stafford, executive director of Nevada Youth Soccer.
"We're grateful for our relationship with the city, but injury across the board is what that says to me. It's a big red flag in my eyes."
Even bigger given how many kids use the city's turf fields.
"The youth teams use it five to six days out of the week," said Stafford.
The city has many natural grass fields, but for seeding and regrowth, "They're closed for a majority of the year, and they're closed for practice," Stafford said.
So local clubs are crammed into a few facilities.
"I understand we live in the desert and that grass is very expensive to maintain. But what's more expensive to maintain, your health or a field?" wonders Channelle Beller.
Too few turf fields mean soccer clubs compete for permitted space, and fields get much more use than they're meant to.
On field one at Ed Fountain, "The field, after seeing this, it needs to be shut down," said JW. "This is bad."
The city says it does "GMAX testing using in-house staff on an as-needed basis, generally once every one or two years per field."
A GMAX test measures the impact when an object hits the surface. The higher the GMAX number, the more serious an injury could be.
JW says several spots on the Ed Fountain and Kellogg Zaher fields would fail safety tests.
"You will definitely have a concussion landing on that."
It's clear the city has patched some of the problem areas in the past, but JW says the substandard fixes pose new hazards.
"This tells me they're not concerned for the safety of the players. That's for sure," he said. "This is a bad repair. This is where the goalie is standing all the time and it tears up the turf if it's not maintained properly."
No one from the city would go on camera to discuss the fields, but they did answer our questions. They say, "The fields are regularly maintained, but there are times when they are damaged and need to be repaired."
JW says the small patch repairs they're doing, where a new piece is attached to old turf, create tripping hazards and potential for toe, ankle and knee injuries.
As for routine maintenance, JW says, "It has to be maintained monthly."
The city does maintenance four times a year, using an outside contractor.
"Should conditions ever be allowed to get to this point?" Spears asked Melanie Stafford of the state soccer association.
"Those are definitely extreme conditions. I would say that this should have been flagged a while ago or as soon as it started showing up."
Though the damage at both parks has been evident for months, the city claims it just learned of the issues earlier this month.
When we started asking about it, the city closed the four fields in question, saying repairs will be completed by the end of this week.
Fields six and seven at Kellogg Zaher were both installed in the summer of 2013. That means they are officially out of warranty. And in the world of artificial turf, end of warranty equals the end of life.
But the city doesn't plan to replace them until Sept. 2023.
JW says the Ed Fountain soccer fields, installed in Winter 2013 and warrantied for eight years, need a new timeline.
"These have to be replaced right away."
But the city says that won't happen until 2023 either, explaining, "The city has to prioritize its capital improvement projects annually as the budget for our facilities only goes so far."
The replacement cost for each field is about $375,000.
The city has had eight years to budget for that, as well as a recent influx of cash: $130 million from the American Rescue Plan with $65.3 million received so far.
To date, the city says, "There are no expenditures or obligations to report for these funds."
And that's on top of the $119 million the city got in 2020 through the CARES act. Most of it was spent on salaries.
A city spreadsheet shows $101,435 was set aside for parks program equipment.
"It's not being reflected in the care of the turf at this point," said Stafford.
We exposed dangerous conditions and improper maintenance on turf fields that were several years out of warranty.
We also collected data from the City of Henderson and Clark County about their artificial turf fields.
The City of Henderson has two fields that use synthetic turf, both at Heritage Park located at 350 S. Racetrack Rd.
- Installed March 2012
- Brand is A-Turf, A-Turf Mono
- Warranty period is 8 years
- Park Maintenance picks up trash after every game/practice; uses power brush to fluff up the turf on a monthly basis; water cannons irrigate fields after weekend tournaments and/or every month
- Testing completed in March 2012 before any practices or games were played
The two synthetic turf fields installed at Heritage Park in 2012 have been identified for replacement in the City's Capital Improvement Plan within the next five years, which is well past the end of their warrantied lifespan.
City of Henderson Senior Public Information Officer Kathleen Richards said, "These fields are marked for soccer and are less heavily used than our grass fields, which are more versatile for different types of sports and programming. The synthetic fields are inspected and groomed monthly and receive regular maintenance, in accordance with industry recommendations for extending the life cycle of synthetic turf fields. There is a GMAX test scheduled for the synthetic fields on Nov. 8."
13 Investigates confirmed there has been no GMAX testing since the fields were installed nine years ago. Only after our inquiry did Henderson tell us they had one coming up soon.
"I would add that the synthetic fields require less maintenance and little water compared to grass fields. We have received positive feedback from patrons and are not aware of any injuries or issues with the fields," Richards said.
There are two synthetic turf multi-use fields at McCarran Marketplace Park and one synthetic turf multi-use field at Spring Mountain Youth Camp.
Spring Mountain Youth Camp (1-field; 80-yard football field with multi-use for soccer)
1. Field was installed Q2 of 2003
2. Company and brand name of turf: Turf Nation, “Intensity S4-R” turf with rubber infill
3. Warranty period provided by the company: 8-year manufacturer warranty
4. Maintenance schedule - twice a year
5. GMAX testing scheduled for 4th quarter 2021. Most recent GMAX test was performed October 2020.
McCarran Marketplace Park (2-fields; each 245’x385’; multi-use soccer/lacrosse fields)
1. Turf installed September 28, 2018
2. Company and brand name of turf: Sprinturf, Inc., Ultrablade
3. Warranty period provided by the company: 5-year manufacturer warranty
4. Maintenance schedule: twice a year
5. GMAX testing scheduled for 4th quarter 2021. The most recent GMAX test was performed in October 2020.