The Philadelphia Union’s landscaping ‘magician’ is facing his biggest challenge ever

Memorial Day weekend kicks off one of the toughest stretches groundskeeper John Torres has ever faced.

John Torres, head groundskeeper at Talen Energy Stadium

John Torres, head groundskeeper at Talen Energy Stadium

Kris Rhim / Billy Penn
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The home of the Philadelphia Union will be on the global stage next week, and its reputation rests solely on one man’s shoulders.

The U.S. Men’s National Team will take on Bolivia in an exhibition game at Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday, the Union plays the Chicago Fire at home on May 30 and the Collegiate Rugby Championship lands there from June 2-3.

John Torres is head groundskeeper at the arena — and he can take the pressure.

Under his watch, the Chester, Delaware County, playing field has has become known as one of the best in Major League Soccer. No surprise: Torres has been painting lines on fields, fertilizing and mowing grass longer than he can remember. He’s worked grass in London at Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal F.C. (one of the most popular clubs in the EPL), and at Mapfre Stadium in Ohio, among others.

His green thumb has even garnered him the nickname “the magician.” That started after he transformed a field in Clearwater, Fla. — where the Union practice in the offseason — from nearly unplayable to perfect.

“They were playing on recreational soccer fields,” Torres said. “The next year, they asked me to go down and fix it. When the team arrived, I was there and all the guys were saying how the field looked great. Then one of the guys on the training staff was like ‘John, you’re a magician!’”

The name stuck. Dwyane Briscoe, a member of Torres’ groundskeeping crew since 2015, knows it’s well deserved.

“He’s like a god on the field,” Briscoe told Billy Penn. “He just knows what he’s doing. He taught me everything and I’m still learning every day.”

The 18,000 seat Taken Energy Stadium

The 18,000 seat Talen Energy Stadium

Philadelphia Union

Torres and his crew spend 50-60 hours a week at times to ensure they examine every inch of the field and have the perfect pitch. Field condition may be even more important than any player, Torres believes. If the pitch is filled with divots, is patchy or has long grass, it can greatly hinder a team’s playing style.

Many of the skills Torres uses today were picked up during his time with Arsenal in Europe, he said.

“One of the things I learned was from Steve Braddock, the heads groundskeeper [for Arsenal],” Torres recalled. “He had a passion for turf management that was second to none for maintaining fields. In order to achieve greatness, as far as playing surface, you had to be dedicated.”

Another thing Torres picked up overseas was the use of walking mowers instead of ride-on mowers.

A ride-on mower could cover the two-acre field at Talen Energy Stadium in 45 minutes. Torres, however, usually has two workers use walking mowers, which takes around two to three hours to finish. He prefers this method because it gives the field a smoother surface, better look and sets the standard high.

Starting this weekend, Torres will have to live up to that standard and work some of his best magic, as he is facing his biggest challenge yet.

“The one thing that is going to change, is that we are going to have a shorter amount of time to do our work,” said Torres. “So we’re going to try to get it done right after the whistle blows on Monday and same thing with the Union game on Wednesday.“

Despite the tight turnaround and big audience, the rep of Talen Energy Stadium should be fine, because of its groundskeeper’s commitment.

“Everyday I wake up, the first thing I think about is managing this field,” Torres said. “This is my life.”