On February 27, soccer will return to BMO Field and a small but vocal minority of Toronto FC fans feel like they are being left out in the cold.
Despite concerns about inclement winter weather, TFC management have made it clear that all CONCACAF Champions League matches will be played at the open air lakeshore stadium. Some supporters have voiced the feeling that this will make for a poor fan experience, and potentially put a chill on the usually rampant atmosphere.
Toronto opens up the quarterfinal round of the tournament against the Colorado Rapids on the road on February 20, before returning home a week later. February temperatures historically average a low of -6.3 degrees Celsius (20.66 Fahrenheit) in Toronto. Add in the fact that the game will be played at 8 p.m. by windy Lake Ontario and fans are right to think conditions could be miserable.
However, mother nature is the only drawback to this decision, which is ultimately the right one for the club. BMO Field is Toronto FC’s fortress, and it will take more than winter weather to neutralize their home field advantage.
It goes without saying that Toronto have a level of comfort playing at BMO Field that they would not at other venues. It is their house, where they have won MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and six Voyageurs Cups. Those memories are all tied to the stadium.
Toronto FC only lost twice at home in all competitions in 2017. Their best performance of the year, and in club history, came during their coldest game, the below freezing MLS Cup final on December 9.
In fact, the cold might even be an advantage for Toronto FC. Not so much against Colorado, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park won’t be much warmer for the away leg. But should Toronto make the quarterfinals, no Central American opponent is going to want to play an early March match in Toronto.
Injury is always a concern when the weather gets colder. But Toronto FC will be well-prepared for this game, courtesy of a special training camp in Mexico.
The alternative to playing at BMO Field would be moving the game to the dome-covered Rogers Centre. Toronto FC has done this in the past, most successfully when 50,000 people attended a 2-2 Champions League draw between Toronto and LA Galaxy in March of 2012.
But the viability of this isn’t even clear considering renovations that have been made to the stadium to optimize it for the Toronto Blue Jays. It would also mean playing the game on a temporary turf surface, which is probably just as uncomfortable as the cold will be for the players, if not more.
The surface at BMO Field was exceptional throughout the year courtesy of a BMO Field grounds crew. There is no reason to think it won’t be pristine for this match. The heating underneath the pitch will melt snow that tries to settle on the grass as well.
The Rogers Centre also just isn’t the attraction that it was back in 2012. A newly renovated BMO Field no longer has less than twice the capacity of The Dome, so while a Rogers Centre crowd would still be bigger it wouldn’t necessarily be better.
So get your extra layers ready to go, and don’t plan on sitting still much, because whether you like it or not February soccer is coming to BMO Field. It may not be an ideal scenario, but it is the best option.