CHESTER, Pa. — Talen Energy Stadium is no stranger to hosting a wide variety of events, but rarely does everything happen in such a tight stretch like it has over the last two weeks.
Starting on Memorial Day with the U.S. men’s national team friendly against Bolivia, the home of the Philadelphia Union hosted four soccer games in 12 days, the final one coming Friday against Toronto FC. The stadium also hosted the national collegiate rugby tournament last weekend.
“I would say in my eight years I’ve been here, it’s one of the top-three busiest stretches we’ve had,” groundskeeper John Torres said. “The U.S. men’s national team, obviously, we like to accommodate to the best of our abilities as far as field and facility. Spectra Venue Management, who I work for, worked tirelessly as a whole group and organization to get the facility ready.”
While Torres and his crew are used to dealing with soccer matches in quick succession, the addition of the rugby tournament complicated the challenge, especially with rugby taking over the two practice fields at the Power Training Complex outside the stadium.
“With the Union game right after [the USMNT game], we have everything set and ready to go,” Torres said. “When we were changing over to different sports, like rugby, we have a total field conversion we have to do, not only in the stadium, but on the practice fields.
“We had two rugby fields out (on the training complex) as well. It’s no easy task to convert, get 50-foot poles assembled and then a full field switch. So it takes six of us working 12- to 15-hour days to get this done, and my group of guys never complain. They love it just as much as me. They love what they do. So, it’s been an interesting two weeks, but this is what we’re made for. We relish in these challenges.”
With the Union still training in Chester before their departure to Atlanta last weekend, the grounds crew made sure everything stayed as normal as possible while the first team got its preparations in.
“Essentially, what we try to do is we try to minimize any type of rugby presence to the first team,” Torres said. “We try to accommodate that by the team training in the stadium while we’re preparing these fields, so that way they’re not playing on a rugby field. That’s the last thing we want the first team to be doing.”
When rugby concluded, the grounds crew made it feel like home once again for the Union when they returned to prepare for Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match with the Richmond Kickers.
“The same thing goes for afterward,” Torres said. “We want to have zero rugby appearance for these players. So, it’s more or less trying to [do that] at the last minute, which actually makes it a little inconvenient for us to be working from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., but that’s what we do for our team.”
While it may seem hard to get rest in such a busy stretch, Torres and his crew plan things as far out as they can in order to keep everyone fresh.
“Sleep has been good,” Torres said. “I can’t complain about that. My crew members help me with that, so whether it’s me going home to take some rest and them taking shifts — we all discuss that ahead of time. That way, we’re all kind of fresh.”
Preparation is a major facet of the job, as everything is taken into account when preparing the fields for the next event. Although the weather has been less than ideal in the Philadelphia area in the last month, Torres and Co. try to remain a step or two ahead of anything that may be thrown at them.
“The weather factor is obviously very important, but we try to prepare for that ahead of time,” Torres said. “We’re constantly looking at the weather daily and hourly and what the weather does determines what we need to do.
“If we need to aerate the fields, we’ll try to get that done days in advance if rain is coming. That obviously helps with drainage. We have to constantly be looking at the weather to prepare ourselves. The best part for us is to prepare the fields for what’s upcoming and it’s not really what we do after. It matters more what we do in preparation.”
When Friday’s MLS match between the Union and Toronto FC kicks off with the field once again in pristine condition, Torres and the grounds crew will have completed their goal. It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last busy stretch they encounter, but they embrace the challenge no matter which events occur at Talen Energy Stadium.
“This is why we always mark our calendars for these events,” Torres said. “Even though most of us here, we’re all soccer guys, we do relish all the conversions. And with rugby in the stadium, we have logos we have to paint, and we take pride in everything that we do, whether it’s rugby, lacrosse, concerts or whatever. That’s why we’re here.”