OBETZ, Ohio — Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers was hired months before the first match in Crew Stadium nearly 11 years ago, so he’s just as fervent as the soccer followers are about protecting the pitch.
So when he heard that organizers for USA 7’s Rugby Collegiate Championship Invitational wanted Crew Stadium for its inaugural event McCullers knew what the fans’ response would be: “Uh, oh. There goes the field.”
“That was my immediate reaction, too,” McCullers said Wednesday.
The sport --which will be added to the Summer Olympics in 2016 along with golf-- is a smaller version of traditional rugby, with seven players compared to 15 and games consist of two seven-minute halves.
It was announced Tuesday that there will be 38 matches held June 4-6 in Crew Stadium.
“Our grounds crew researched the event,” McCullers said. “The Rugby 7’s doesn’t really impact the field too much. They talked to a lot of people. Plus the time frame when it’s coming in relative to the World Cup break, if we have any issues we’ll have time to address them. We went to them and asked their expert opinion and they gave it the green light.”
Midfielder Duncan Oughton played some regular rugby growing up in New Zealand and followed the country All Blacks national team. He likes the mini version, too.
“It’s a little more freewheeling. It’s a good time,” he said.
When the Crew hosted a pair of scrimmages against college teams Friday, the end lines were moved south to avoid the normal goal boxes that are well worn. The sidelines were also shifted east.
“Our groundskeepers are pretty much up to speed where the wear areas are and what the potential impact is,” McCullers said.
He won’t, however, say for sure there won’t be remnants of the rugby lines when the Crew hosts D.C. United on June 26, but he thinks the chances are slim.
“I hate to guarantee things I don’t know, but we have plenty of time to grow the grass out and have the field ready for the 26th,” he said.
The stadium will have its usual complement of high school football games in the fall as well as the Rock on the Range music festival May 22-23. That prevented the Crew from bidding for a women’s national team match. The U.S. will instead play Germany at Cleveland Browns Stadium on May 22.
“I’d like to get the women’s national team back in here soon; it’s been awhile since we’ve had them,” McCullers said.
Crew Stadium was the site for several Women’s World Cup games in 2003.
There could be one or two more non-soccer events announced for the stadium, but there won’t be any friendlies because of the Crew’s participation in the CONCACAF Champions League.
He also hopes work starts next month on a $5 million project to improve parking conditions at the stadium.
“We’re going to pave the East Preferred lot,” he said. “We’re going to pave the South Preferred lots and improve the drainage and grading in as much space as we can with the money left.”