BMO Field has been the cornerstone of MLS success for Toronto FC

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - History shows for Toronto FC that if you build it, they really will come. BMO Field will be jammed once again for every game of the MLS team's third season.
Season tickets are capped at 16,000 with another 14,000 on the waiting list. Every game will be on TV and this season there's even a radio deal.
''I get asked this question all the time. 'Did you ever expect it to be so successful out of the gate?''' says Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and CEO for Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment. ''The answer is 'No, we didn't actually.'
''We believed that soccer was going to succeed in this market, we knew there's lots of soccer fans. The question was would they buy into Major League Soccer? We didn't really know that.''
The 20,000-seat BMO Field has been the cornerstone of Toronto FC's success. The Vancouver Whitecaps, awarded an MLS franchise on Wednesday, could learn from TFC's beginnings.
''One of the keys to success here has been having a soccer-specific stadium, no question about it,'' Anselmi acknowledged.
At $62.9 million, it is a no-frills venue. But it is designed for soccer, has a good location on the Toronto waterfront and there are some nice touches that dress up the blue-collar TFC home.
The north end is essentially one big watering hole/patio - the summer's ''best bar,'' according to Anselmi. The giant Maple Leaf logo on the seats in the middle of the east stand adds to the stadium's Canadian flavour, as does the panorama of Lake Ontario to the south and the Toronto skyline to the east.
Offering ethnic food at the concession stands is also appreciated by the TFC faithful. It's something a little different.
But the fans make the atmosphere. In the southeast end, the Red Patch Boys - Toronto FC's supporters' club - make the fan engine tick every home game. The RPB charter sums it up when it says: ''We are the voice in the stands filled with passion, pride and purpose for every minute of every game.''
Opposing players disappear in a sea of streamers when they try to take a corner kick in front of the diehards supporters. And when the game enters the 24th minute, they always make a point of singing the praises of towering striker Danny Dichio's first ever goal for the club.
The support may be par for the course in other soccer strongholds. But it is unique in North America among MLS homes.
That atmosphere helps make up for the spartan stadium's shortcomings.
Umbrellas aren't allowed and the concourses are tight, so expect very tight quarters at halftime if the skies open and spectators flee their seats. Plus more than a few male fans also have come to regret that extra beer at the sight of washroom lineups.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, while acknowledging the star power of David Beckham would go down well in celebrity-driven North America, knew MLS needed proper venues to succeed.
While Beckham may provide a boost, Blatter said MLS also had to work on its stadium situation so it can avoid playing second fiddle to NFL stadiums.
''It's only when they have their own stadia that they can reorganize their league . . . in order to offer the world of football places or jobs to play,'' Blatter said during a visit to Toronto in May 2007.
Toronto fans have been denied seeing Beckham on the pitch when the Galaxy visit. But they still pack the joint.
Off the field, Toronto FC made smart choices in Mo Johnston as inaugural coach/general manager and Jim Brennan as the first player signed. The charismatic Scot and cheery Toronto defender-midfielder made for a good team, selling the franchise off the pitch.
Johnston's early mission statement was simple, according to Anselmi.
''The most important criteria in him being the GM of this team was that we don't have to win out of the gate, we don't have to try and be good right away, we need to do it right for the long haul.''

Organizations: Major League Soccer, Toronto FC, BMO Field Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment FIFA NFL

Geographic location: TORONTO, North America, Maple Leaf Lake Ontario

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