TORONTO, Canada—“Sports, in general, I would say is not the same without fans. For being on the field, it’s not the same without fans: the game is so much slower. The fans bring—that energy is real. It’s a real thing that all sports need and are missing...”
That quote is from Toronto FC midfielder Nick DeLeon speaking to media on Friday when asked about the effect fans can have on a match. Candid, but why the foreign topic?
Well, for the first time since March 7, 2020—the only other time this season—the Reds are going to be backed by a home crowd on Sunday as 5,000 fans are permitted to attend the club’s regular-season ‘home’ finale at their home away from home, Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, when expansion side Inter Miami CF stroll into town.
“For us to get some fans on Sunday, I couldn’t be any happier, and I’m looking forward to it,” continued DeLeon. “Like I said, I think it’s hand-in-hand. Fans are crucial, crucial to the environment of the game and the product on the field.”
“I guess from a pure soccer perspective, take the health scenario out of it, it’ll be nice to just have something that resembles energy in the stadium,” said head coach Greg Vanney. “Obviously, we’ve had that against us...”
Having to play in front of booing away crowds hasn’t been uncommon for Vanney’s side this season. Other MLS clubs have been allowing limited fans into stadiums since the start of Phase Two of the league’s return-to-play plan, including Canada’s own Montreal Impact. Remember Jozy Altidore’s iconic celebration almost two months ago, silencing the sparse group of Impact fans in attendance at The Stade Saptuo after netting a late winner?
The difference that home supporters can make is something that the TFC coach noted in their recent trip to Philadelphia (and so did we as the TSN cameras had plenty of opportunity to showcase some of the cheering Union faithful at Subaru Park.)
“I think (having fans) brought some energy to the players on the opposite side, but it was also just to hear people shouting against us,” explained Vanney. “... Because of the nature of how silent the games have been, it’s nice to kind of have some atmosphere—some energy that’s in the stadium.”
While it obviously won’t be a packed stadium, in terms of just how much of a difference those at ‘The Rent’ can make on Sunday, the Toronto FC head coach believes that it’ll be significant as the club hopes to steer their ship right and snap a rare two-game losing skid.
“The quantity of people is going to be small, but I can tell you that going from zero to a couple of thousand ... I think it’ll be a huge shift in just in the energy in what’s going on in the day,” said Vanney. “From a pure soccer perspective, it’ll be nice to have people there.
“From a health perspective, I just hope everybody follows whatever guidelines are there and stays healthy and safe and makes good smart decisions.”