Toronto FC has not lost a single home match this season. It also hasn’t won one, or drawn one. That’s because seven matches into its MLS season, TFC hasn’t played at BMO Field, something that finally changes this Sunday against Houston.
The scheduling quirk is the result of the major changes Toronto FC’s home has undergone over the last six months, work that’s left the venue unplayable. The $120 million in renovations include expanding capacity by 8,200 seats to 30,000, but instead of finding another home in the interim — like Rogers Centre, the home of the Toronto Blue Jays and where TFC has played before — the Reds opted to start with nothing but away matches. For the first two months of the season, Toronto’s been on tour.
That start could be seen as a type of karma – recompense for one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of what’s become a perpetually disappointing franchise. Toronto entered the league in 2007 and quickly cultivated one of the league’s best crowds, but on the field, the team was dreadful from day one. Last season was supposed to change that, as the Reds spent big on England international Jermain Defoe, and U.S. linchpin Michael Bradley and, but even they couldn’t turn things around. Mismanagement and poor roster balance saw the Reds miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season. In exchange for the disappointment, and the soccer gods cursed Toronto with two months on the road.
With that curse finally fading, we can assess the damage. What’s been the cost of Toronto’s lengthy road spell on the road? The Reds currently sit at 3-4-0 on the season – a decent but, on the surface, unspectacular mark. That’s especially true when you consider the star power on the team, with Bradley returning and former Juventus attacker Sebastian Giovinco (top) and U.S. international Jozy Altidore (above) added this winter. At first glance, TFC have been a disappointment, but dig a bit further and you see something that’s quietly impressive. Toronto’s managed to survive it’s difficult start.
The Reds sit fifth in the Eastern Conference, which would put them in the playoffs for the first time. Despite living out of suitcases, the team also has a better points per game rate (1.29) than a year ago (1.21), and that’s with 75 percent of its remaining matches to be played at home. But when you consider how bad history says things could be for Toronto FC, they might as well throw a parade at BMO Field.
Three teams have started seasons with long road trips while waiting for stadiums to be built. The Galaxy was first in 2003, and it didn’t manage a single win as the StubHub Center was under construction. The Chicago Fire won just two matches in a nine-match road stretch to start 2006, and in 2011, Sporting Kansas City won just one of 10 matches while starting the season on the road. Toronto FC didn’t just survive their season-opening road trip, they had the best one in MLS history.
History only gives TFC more reason to be excited, too. That Galaxy team played well enough at home down the stretch to make the playoffs. The Fire did the same, and Sporting stormed all the way back to first place in the Eastern Conference. In that light, Toronto’s karma looks like a gift.
And as bad as starting the season on the road is, the return to a gleaming new stadium and ensuing glut of home matches are a recipe for success. Toronto has already taken care of the hard part of its schedule better than any team before it, and if it can match those other teams’ home successes, it’ll do more than make the playoffs. It will be an MLS Cup contender, something that isn’t supposed to happen at TFC (and certainly not this season).
Toronto FC is going to have a hell of a home field advantage, too. In addition to its shiny new suites and delicious-looking food, the new BMO Field will be the biggest soccer-specific stadium in MLS.. That means a fan base that was once the best in the league won’t just have an exciting team to inspire its noise. Now that noise will be louder than ever, and a year from now, the crowd will be even larger. BMO will expand again, get a little bigger and have a roof covering three stands, making it one of the most impressive venues in MLS.
History says that Toronto FC will screw things up, and the club’s ownership deciding to undergo renovations that would drag into the season should have been the TFC gaffe we’ve become accustomed to. But the Reds haven’t just avoided the seemingly inevitable destruction, they’ve thrived, if only relatively. They’re in a great place and, with a strong squad on hand and actually look on track for the playoffs.
Now it’s just about maintaining that track, building upon this decent start and doing what no other Toronto FC team has ever done before. Then again, getting past the hard part of the season only to collapse? That would be pretty TFC.