Earnie Stewart - Philadelphia Union introductory press conference - 12/10/15

CHESTER, Pa.—Throughout its existence, Talen Energy Stadium (formerly known as PPL Park) has played host to several non-MLS events every year.


First-year Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart hopes that will stop.


In an impromptu gathering with reporters before Wednesday night’s 3-2 victory over Columbus Crew SC, Stewart said the playing condition of the field is paramount to the success of the franchise and the growth of soccer in the United States, even if that means cutting down on the revenue that comes from renting out the stadium during the MLS season.


“Everyone involved in soccer, we all have an obligation to get the best possible out of everything that goes around in soccer,” Stewart said. “Things that are very important are: 1) You have players; 2) You have a good ball; and 3) There is a good field. The combination of those three is so important to the product you want to put out on the field. If anything jeopardizes that, if you take one ingredient away, soccer becomes a lot less.


“We have a responsibility to make sure sure that soccer grows in the United States and if we can help each other getting there, it will be fantastic.”


Stewart’s comments came on the heels of the NCAA Division I Women's Lacross Championship Semifinal and Final being held in the stadium this past weekend, leading to the field being torn up in spots ahead of Wednesday’s game. Stewart credited groundskeeper John Torres for doing “an amazing job” to re-sod the pitch, but still said the lacrosse tourney was “difficult for me,” even going as far as apologizing to his coaches and players Tuesday.


“I didn’t have any say [in the event being here] but that does not mean that I do not feel responsible,” Stewart said. “I have to provide them with the best possible way of winning games and the best way to practice. I ask a lot of them. And once something jeopardizes the field or the balls or our way of training, that’s my responsibility.”


Aside from NCAA lacrosse, Talen Energy has hosted NCAA soccer, college football games, Ultimate frisbee, rock concerts, dog shows and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, which will return to the stadium this coming weekend for a sixth straight year.


Although the stadium is publicly owned and operated by Spectra – which is a separate entity from the club – Union PR confirmed that the team’s business executives have final say on which events are held in the stadium. But when asked if his philosophy might run counter to the business people and higher-ups in his own club, Stewart said it shouldn’t be a tough sell since the soccer-specific stadium was built in 2010 specifically to bring an MLS franchise to Philadelphia.


“As far as I know, this is a soccer organization,” Stewart said. “Otherwise, it should have been an entertainment company or something. I think it starts with soccer. That’s why they built this club.”


So does that mean he’s dead set against other events being held at Talen Energy Stadium?


“I’m always against it,” Stewart said. “No matter if it’s the next one, and the next one, or the next one. I have to stand up for my group, as the business side stands for their part. We’re going to have discussions, but I’ll always be against it.”


The Union sporting director did say that offseason events are fine and that kids playing mini-soccer games at halftime is “fantastic.” But he admitted that finding a middle ground when it comes to things like lacrosse or rugby is difficult from his perspective.


“You can have things but you can’t jeopardize the field,” Stewart said. “It’s difficult when you have a marching band, rugby or lacrosse – it wears and tears the field. I don’t know if there’s a middle ground, to tell you the truth. If you choose to be a soccer organization, that comes first and foremost – and every decision you make, I feel, has to be geared toward that.”