TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC are taking the term ‘winning environment’ to a whole new level.
With the club still unsure where it will begin next season due to ongoing border restrictions and public safety measures in Canada, Toronto FC President Bill Manning confirmed to the Toronto Sun what many of us already knew: TFC will likely set up shop somewhere in the United States to kick off the 2021 MLS Regular Season.
But where exactly still needs to be determined.
According to a report out of The Tampa Bay Times on Thursday, Toronto FC and CF Montreal are considering starting the year out of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida—home of the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is unclear if the two rival clubs would share the facility or only one would relocate.
“(Tampa) is one of the areas we’re looking at, certainly,” Manning told the Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery. “I spoke to (Raptors president) Masai Ujiri (on Tuesday) just to see he how he was doing down in Tampa and what they have (the Raptors) been experiencing and what they’ve been doing. His people and my people are actually connecting and they’ve done a few different things with the team, which has been really cool in terms of some functions outside of training and so on. We’re going to take some notes on what they’re doing and that’s the cool thing about MLSE, we can lean on each other.”
MLSE-owned Toronto Raptors are already playing out of Tampa, with the team committing on Thursday to play the remainder of their 2021 season out of Amalie Arena. Toronto FC, however, are keeping the door open for other options, including a potential return home to BMO Field in 2021.
In addition to Tampa, Manning said that the club is considering various possibilities for starting the year, including locations in the U.S. south and in the U.S. northeast, adding that whatever facility and city TFC selects, there has to be a provision place that allows the Reds to vacate the place with 48 hours notice. In other words, if TFC gets permission to return to Toronto and play home games at BMO Field, they’ll be able to do so at their discretion without facing any sort of penalty.
The 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium used to be home to MLS’s Tampa Bay Mutiny before the club folded in 2001. It has played host to several U.S. national team soccer matches since then, as well as the most recent Super Bowl. The MLS season is slated to start mid-April and could run until December, which could create potential scheduling conflicts with the Bucs and other college football teams that occupy the stadium later in the year.
Last season, TFC finished out their campaign in East Hartford, Connecticut playing out of Rentschler Field, a situation that many of the TFC players were unhappy with. With weather in the area less than ideal during this time of the year, odds of the team returning to Connecticut are slim-to-none. But having gone through that process before, however, Manning believes the experience will at least help his team understand what to expect in 2021.
“Of our current player pool, for the most part guys are excited to get working again and get back training again and I do think because we did it last year there’s an understanding that this is what we’re going to have to do,” Manning said. “We don’t have control over obviously the borders. But I think that as an organization (the players) know we’re going to do whatever it takes to make them comfortable, make sure their families are comfortable here. Some of our players had spouses and families join them down in Hartford (last season) and we’ll look at that as well.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure our players are in a good place and that they feel everything is taken care of so they can focus on playing.”
According to Manning, TFC will partake in training camp at the BMO Field Training Grounds in the bubble or on the heated field outside. That is expected to get underway sometime later this month. The MLS season kicks off on April 17, with Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 matches slated to begin the week of April 6.
Before any of that, Toronto FC still need to settle the 2020 Canadian Championship Final with Forge FC, with the winner booking their spot into the 2021 CCL. A date for that match has still yet to be determined.