Talen Energy Stadium groundskeeper John Torres has long been known as one of the best in MLS. So it was no surprise that he was as annoyed as fans were when, during Saturday’s game, Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush lifted a doormat-sized piece of sod out of the ground to deal with uneven turf in his six-yard box.
That was the highest-profile incident of a string of problems with the playing surface at Chester this season. Fans have tweeted photos of divots or big clumps of sod coming up during multiple games.
Why has this been happening? In part, it’s because, after last season ended, the Union installed a new field in November for the first time in nine years. The old field was removed in mid-November and the new field was in place at the end of the month.
The installation came after an early autumn with a lot of rain, and heavy use from the Union, high school soccer games and other events. Torres said it was time for a new field anyway, as a three-inch layer of organic matter had built up in the grass and prevented water from getting all the way into the soil.
“Essentially, it was just a sponge,” Torres said. "It was pretty much a no-brainer why we had to resod the field.”
The new field, like the old field, is made of Kentucky bluegrass.
Torres said the soil temperature needs to be in the 50s for an extended period of time in order for new sod to fully take hold. Jason Blumenfeld, who has been Talen Energy Stadium’s general manager since 2016, said that didn’t happen this past winter. The venue also opened earlier in the year than it has before, to accommodate the U.S. women’s national team and the SheBelieves Cup in late February.
Blumenfeld strongly defended not using the lamps.
“We have one of the best groundskeepers in the league, and, for nine years, he’s been doing a fantastic job on our grounds, on grass in the Northeast,” he said. “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.”
Asked whether he might buy or rent lamps in the future, Blumenfeld answered: “Potentially. … If for some reason down the road we decide we need to, we’ll look into that."
Blumenfeld and Torres work for Spectra, the venue management firm owned by Comcast-Spectacor that is contracted by the Union to run the stadium.
“We’re confident, now that the weather is now where it should be, that you’re not going to see issues other than reoccurring [ones] that you see anytime when you’re playing on a natural living organism,” Blumenfeld said. “We’ll also look at some of the areas that got a little bit more worn down.”
Torres added that the goal mouths will get special attention. Those areas will be relaid this week with a thicker cut of sod.