Toronto FC's home address hasn't changed, but as Michael Bradley pointed out at training on Thursday, BMO Field feels like a whole new stadium. The once hastily built venue has received an $150 million dollar facelift and is now among the best in the league.
Finally, Toronto FC has a home stadium that matches their lofty ambition as a club. It is a stage where superstars like Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore will be able to shine brightly. For many who have supported the club through thick and thin Saturday's home opener will be a dream come true.
But let's not forget that this dream comes with a price, namely a new housemate. The Toronto Argonauts will be starting preseason at BMO Field on June 11 and with that will come a number of questions as to how the two teams can co-exist. It's a question that certainly won't be answered today, but will be on the minds of some supporters as they survey the renovations.
The original policy was to keep the two teams as separate as possible. It is something that former MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke preached throughout the process of renovating BMO Field. Early signs in the process were positive. The Toronto FC and Toronto Argonauts schedules were diligently created to ensure proper spacing between soccer and football games.
"We spent a lot of time looking at the scheduling and trying to make sure that it is not an Argos game followed by a TFC game," said Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney, who says he's not concerned about BMO Field's new tenant. "It's a TFC game followed by an Argos game followed by days of recovery, followed by another TFC game."
The separation between the two teams, however, may not be as wide as once thought. Leiweke once boldly, too boldly, stated that Toronto FC supporters would not even notice the Argos at all when they showed up for Toronto FC game days. Maybe that would be true if he was still around.
But Kurt Larson of the Toronto Sun is reporting that some minor Toronto Argonauts signage will be going up in the stadium, with more possible for next year. It's a minor thing, surely, but enough to upset some faithful who want nothing to do with any blue on game days.
More concerning is another bit of information dropped by Larson on Thursday suggested that remains of CFL lines may be visible during TFC gamedays. This was one of the leading concerns voiced by Toronto FC supporters when it was confirmed that the Argos were coming to BMO Field.
As a result, some die hard fans really deserve a pass when it comes to their "tin-foil hat" theories, and for not being universally excited about today's home opener. The feeling is that if there have been some broken promises along the way that maybe the club won't hold true on their biggest item: the field quality.
That's really what it comes down to, whether or not the field can support two teams. The blue, lines and otherwise can be lived with, even if it is done begrudgingly. But Toronto FC supporters won't accept a field that isn't up to standard, nor should they.
Only time will tell whether or not the playing surface can support two teams. It is, however, the one area that MLSE has not changed its tone. While Toronto FC management doesn't necessarily deserve the benefit of the doubt, this current regime has been clearly different. They have listened to the fans: getting rid of midseason friendlies, adding MLS veterans and building the team into something worth cheering about.
MLSE hasn't changed its tone on the field quality, either. They have invested countless hours of research, purchased grow lights for the stadium and invested in a world class grounds crew. It can't be said that they don't care.
"The field crew here is amazing, I was here a week ago and the field looks amazing compared to what it looked like even a week ago," said Vanney at training on Thursday. "I know they are fully capable of rehabbing and maintaining game after game, week after week."
While he is considerably more optimistic than some supporters about the prospects of the field, he knows that the real test for that grounds crew comes later in the year.
"As of now I have no concerns, hit me later on in the year and hopefully I'll say the same things," he said.
For now, Toronto FC supporters should enjoy the stadium as best they can, and it really is something to behold. So far, MLSE has kept their core promise, and as long as that holds the stadium renovation was worth its price tag.