Commentary

Talen’s turf and the 2018 BSFC squad

Feature screen cap courtesy USLC

On April 20th something new happened at the soccer stadium under the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester. For the first time in its short history Keystone Sports and Entertainment presented a single-ticket soccer doubleheader.

At 1:00 PM that afternoon the Philadelphia Union tapped off against the Montreal Impact in a regular season Major League Soccer match-up, and won 3-0. Three hours later Bethlehem Steel FC tapped off against the United Soccer League Championship’s Indy Eleven and lost, also 3-0.

It was a real doubleheader in 1950s Major League Baseball’s use of the term. Fans stayed in the stadium between games and could use the same seats for both. Re-entry was allowed at one gate. (Think replenishing diapers and cigarettes.) It was a genuine BOGO.

A  “hole-y” teaching

The lesson of the double header is that the new turf laid down over the off-season is in trouble.

Between games, two gentlemen in suits looking remarkably like principal owner Jay Sugarman and chief business officer Tim McDermott appeared on the pitch. They walked the central channel from the River End towards the video board. They stopped periodically as the shorter man went to one knee to probe divots and comment.

When they got to the penalty box where Andre Blake had lain injured, the taller man spoke briefly with one of the grounds crew attempting repairs in preparation for the Bethlehem game. The conversation was brief.

All four teams suffered egregious turf slippage all afternoon. All this season at every break of all 9 home matches, the grounds crew has been out repairing divots, many of them seemingly the same ones from game to game. During a recent Union match, play was actually halted during a restart at the video board end while turf repair occurred at the other.

The condition of the pitch contrasts with one on which both the Union and the Steel have already played, Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

Children’s Mercy resembles a golf course’s putting green. According to the Swope Park video announcing team, it has miles of heating pipes underneath it and grow lights somewhere, in addition to tarps and the mandatory sprinkler system. Players did not get hurt slipping on it, nor was play affected. The money demanded by the mid-continent climate is well spent.

Future doubleheader lessons

Saturday’s doubleheader will be followed by a second on Decision Day 2019, the Philadelphia Union’s last game of the season October 6th and Bethlehem’s last home game. By then we should hope for further clarity about Bethlehem Steel’s 2020 future.

  • We will know whether Bethlehem found any willing hosts for two 2019 matches in the actual Lehigh Valley.
  • We may know whether the organization is going to improve the pitch’s turf-growing infrastructure to withstand the stresses of 34, or more, regular season  home matches (plus maybe U. S. Open Cup and playoffs), instead of merely 17.
  • And we should know whether a stadium has been found in the ABE area for 2020.
The only playoff advancers in organization history

These are landing spots of last season’s playoff advancers, the only ones ever to do so and  the last Bethlehem Steel FC players actually to play in the Lehigh Valley so far.

Only three are still with the club, James Chambers, Faris, and Michee Ngalina. A fourth, Ben Ofeimu, was on an amateur contract last season and only signed as a professional January 23, 2019.

Santi Moar, now 26, signed with USLC expansion side New Mexico United. The Spaniard has been named USLC Player of the Month for March, and then Player of the Week on April 16th. He scored four goals in March including a Goal of the Week, with an assist and seven “key” – shot-creating – passes, helping his side remain undefeated through its first five games. And then, after a scoreless draw, in the seventh match on April 13 he scored a natural hat trick — in the first half no less – to tie for the league lead in goals scored with seven.

Fellow attacking international, Canadian Chris Nanco, was also a marquee signing for an expansion team. The Hamilton Forge of the brand new, seven-team Canadian Premier League snapped him up. The Forge open play this Saturday April 27th hosting York 9 FC at Tim Horton’s field in Hamilton.

Remaining in the USLC are four more. Drew Skundrich and Matt Mahoney each  signed with the western conference’s Sacramento Republic FC. Mahoney has consistently made the 18 but has only one minute played. Skundrich has had five starts and one substitute appearance for a total of 418 minutes from all six of the Republic’s games.

Aidan Apodaca is a reserve forward with USLC’s Reno 1868 who has appeared thrice, starting once, for a total of 149 minutes. And A. J. Paterson is with USLC’s Charleston Battery as a left-footed defensive reserve. He has started twice, most recently at Talen against Bethlehem where he marked former teammate Michee Ngalina, and has played 166 minutes.

Omar Holness is in the sixth tier of the English system with Darlington. Antonio Lokwa is with F. C. Erewan (Yerevan) in Armenia. Prosper Chiluya returned to Kafue Celtic in Lusaka, Zambia and according to Twitter may have a broken jaw. Mike Catalano played in the Mexican equivalent of indoor soccer over the winter.

Brandon Aubrey retired and got married. We presume he is putting his Notre Dame computer science degree to good use somewhere.

Ethics require that PSP tip its cap, gladly, to former Steel communications man Tom Via for finding the last five above.

6 Comments

  1. Interesting timing for this article. Jonathan Tannenwald just posted on Philly.com that there will be added a stop by Premiere League Lacrosse on September 21 of this year. I recall that there was an announcement about the time that Earnie Stewart was leaving that outside, turf damaging activities would be limited on the Talen Energy Field. I still haven’t heard that the injury to Andre Blake was not due to the damage that the strip of turf ripped up by Montreal GK Bush moved. This is a real issue, and I think shortsighted. The Rugby Sevens are bad enough, and adding lacrosse for the potential play off run to the load on the turf makes little sense to me.

  2. I really am suprised by the pitch. I know they replaced it because it was old but it’s a shame it hasn’t grabbed hold of the base soil. I wonder if the suits walking the pitch are going to spring for the grow lights now…

  3. Tannenwald’s article: https://www.philly.com/soccer/philadelphia-union-field-problems-turf-sod-talen-energy-stadium-20190423.html
    .
    With the temperature above 50 they claim that the pitch will be OK by the next home game. We’ll see….

  4. The turf grass at Talen is Bermuda grass. Bermuda is a warm weather turf. After the last kick in 2018, they rolled up the old surface and laid new turf. Then it was covered for the winter. The field crew is absolutely correct that in the next couple of weeks the sod will begin to grow and take root into the base. By July, the turf should be in good shape and you wouldn’t know that it was just laid less than a year ago. There are no heating elements under the base at Talen as there are in KC. That would have made a huge difference in the condition of the turf on opening day.

    • I am surprised they state its Bluegrass. Bluegrass grows in clumps, not smoothly over ground. Leave it to me to be wrong, but I would not have chosen bluegrass for a professional soccer field.

      • Bluegrass is a pretty typical field topper across the league. Rye and Bermuda also make the mix depending on region.
        .
        Keep in mind this is a lawn that is being highly micromanaged, unlike my back yard…

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