The Union announced Friday that they’ve moved three games of their USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel out of Talen Energy Stadium, and admitted along the way that the new pitch installed at the venue continues to have problems.
Bethlehem’s June 8 game vs. Nashville (6 p.m.) and June 15 game vs. St. Louis (8 p.m., previously scheduled for 7:30) have been moved to La Salle’s McCarthy Stadium. The June 22 game vs. Tampa Bay will also be moved to a venue that has not been determined yet.
A camp-out night planned for after Saturday’s Union-New York Red Bulls game (7:30 p.m., PHL17) has also been canceled.
Last November, the Union put in a new grass playing surface for the first time in nine years. It didn’t take root well, and clumps of sod have come up during games all year.
In late April, former Talen Energy Stadium general manager Jason Blumenfeld told The Inquirer that as the weather warmed up, he expected the problems to go away. Some new sod was also installed in the 18-yard boxes, which often take the most beating during games.
“We were fortunate to have the funds to invest in a new field, and now that the weather is where it needs to be, we’re confident that we’re going to continue to have a great field for many years to come,” said Blumenfeld, an employee of Comcast-Spectacor’s Spectra venue management arm. A few weeks later, he left the job for unrelated reasons to take charge of a Spectra-run indoor arena in Johnstown.
Meanwhile, the sod problems have not gone away, as Union chief business officer Tim McDermott conceded in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the field has not yet rooted and stabilized," McDermott said.
After Saturday night, the Union aren’t home again until July 6, save for a possible U.S. Open Cup game the week of June 17. That will give the field a long stretch without any use.
“We believe this is the best decision for the integrity of the playing surface,” McDermott said.
What about a temporary return to Bethlehem, or somewhere nearby, for Steel? The team had to move out of Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium due to a lack of floodlights there, but has been trying to play one or two day games there at some point.
McDermott said “venue availability and scheduling reasons prohibit us from playing the June 9 and June 15 matches” in the Lehigh Valley, but he didn’t say anything about the June 22 game.
“We have been vocal about our desire to play Steel FC matches in Bethlehem this season despite our overall restrictions in doing so on a full-time basis,” McDermott said. "We remain open to the possibility of future matches in Bethlehem this season, pending availability and USL approval.”