Finally they've put us out of our misery, Toronto FC announced yesterday that the March 7th home leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarter final will be played at the Rogers Centre rather than BMO Field. Arguments either way have been made plenty of times over the last two months (two months they dragged this out, two months!) since that big win over Dallas, so I won't get into all that again, I would have preferred BMO, but the Skydome it is, so let's look at specifics.
I'll get into the whole potential big event, and ticket pricing aspect of it after the jump, but I always say the on the pitch stuff is what's really important, so let's start there, with the pitch. It's been confirmed that the game will be played on fieldturf rather than trucking in a temporary grass pitch. It's not ideal by any means, but it's the same for both teams, let's just hope we don't get any injuries and that any of the freaky bounces work in our favour.
Another issue here is that of precedent setting. The MLS season seems to be starting earlier and earlier, so without a big season opening road trip, there's going to consistently be games in Toronto in March. All Bmo's cold weather issues aren't going to just fix themselves, so is this something we could be seeing a lot more of in the future what with team and dome all part of the same company now? If this goes well, could it be an annual thing to have the home opener at the dome, a big event to generate pre-season buzz and get TFC's name out there among the city's sports fans?
Talking of home openers, anyone get the feeling this could turn out a bit like that other grand Toronto skydome tradition, the Blue Jays home opener. With regular baseball fans leaving plenty of available seats, that seems to have developed into a bit of a one-off party, which often seems too degenerate into a drunken brawl fest in the cheap seats. It generally gets a quick tut-tut from the media before everyone agrees it's just boys being boys and has no wider ramifications for the sport or the BlueJays. If something similar happens, will TFC and football fans get the same benefit of the doubt, or will there be all sorts of "it was just a matter of time, they're all hooligans" reactions.
The chances of something like that happening are the downside of a very positive part of the news, the ticket pricing. Details haven't been officially announced, but reports suggest that upper bowl tickets are at $10 which should help entice a lot of the more casual fans to come along, fill the stadium and give it a genuine big event feel. Supporters section tickets for $19 also seems like a good deal, but the best part of that is that there will be a 'supporter's section', fittingly enough in the South end of the stadium, behind one of the goals. Hopefully the ticket sales can be handled similarly to the recent Canada games with the Supporter's Groups themselves being given control of those sections. If so, with the extra room and the advantage of a roof, it could get very good, and might be the shot in the arm needed to rejuvenate the whole 'authentic football experience' after 5 morale sapping years have reduced it to a shell of it's former self.
So, depending on how well they co-operate with Supporter's groups, and how they market it from here on in, MLSE has done it's bit to try and get a big crowd out and fill the dome rather than have it be grimly empty, now it's up to us. I'll happily shill for Canada games, and have done a few times, but generally don't like to try and do MLSE's work and push TFC on people. This has a special event, one-off kind of feel to it though, and most importantly is actually for something important, not a friendly, so I'll make an exception.
James wrote earlier this week about the hope for a more involved football community and this is just the sort of thing that can act as a rallying point to build that community. So let's put cynicism, any preference for BMO and dislike of MLSE to one side for a moment and use the opportunity to sell our sport and more importantly our team.
Blog, tweet, comment, badger your friends, get as many people there as you can. This isn't a big event where TFC are just the unimportant opposition against some superstar team going through the motions (unless Beckham's still around , or maybe Ronadinho, in which case that will just be a whole new reason to get as many actual TFC fans out there as possible). This is a proper game, with something important on the line, that's actually about TFC. Wouldn't it be nice to say the city's biggest soccer event of the year was actually about our team? Let's make it happen, and then let's hope we get the chance to do it all over again a few weeks later for the semi final.