CBC Sports Online's soccer expert, John Molinaro, takes you inside the world of soccer and offers his insights about the action on the pitch and in the front office.
Still no goals, but Toronto FC is a hit
Monday, April 30, 2007 | 10:08 AM ET
Toronto FC is still looking for its first win and first goal in franchise history following its 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Wizards Saturday in the club's home opener.
The real story from Saturday's game, though, was not that the club was shut out for the fourth time to start the season, but instead the electric and festive atmosphere created by the 20,148 fans who packed BMO Field.
Anyone who thought Toronto would not support a Major League Soccer franchise – and I must confess that I had my doubts – had to have been impressed by the amazing pageantry of songs, chants, scarves waiving in the air, and drums hammering out a rhythmic beat from the terraces.
BMO Field was a cauldron of hysteria – even the Kansas City players admitted they felt intimidated – and the atmosphere inside the stadium made hardened European soccer snobs (of which I am a chartered member) realize that the ambience of a Premiership or Serie A game can, in fact, be reproduced on this side of the Atlantic.
Toronto fans also made a lasting impression on MLS commissioner Don Garber.
"We don't have too many stadiums that rock like this one. We don't have too many teams who have supporters groups that fill an entire end-zone. ... That's a pretty electric environment out there," Graber told reporters in the press box at halftime.
Toronto coach Mo Johnston was also overwhelmed with the support, saying he "felt [the] fans we're like a 12th man," sentiments that were echoed by midfielder Ronnie O'Brien.
"The fans today were amazing. All the players, including the Kansas City players, were talking about it," the Irishman told CBC Sports Online after the game. "I've been in this league a few years now and it's not often you get a moment where the hairs on the back of your neck stand up."
Indeed. At times during the game I felt as though I was at Rome's Stadio Olimpico watching the derby between Lazio and Roma and not sitting in a press box in Toronto. And when the fans began singing, with great wit and humour, "All we are saying is give us a goal," I could have sworn I was standing in the Kop at Anfield.
For 90 minutes on Saturday, anyone could have easily mistaken BMO Field for the San Siro, or La Bombonera, or Celtic Park, or Old Trafford. And that’s what will keep the fans coming back: the club’s ability to duplicate the experience of watching a big European game, even if the product on the field isn’t anywhere near that level.
Last month in this space, I said it was premature to call Toronto FC an unmitigated success, as some had in light of the club's record season ticket sales.
"Toronto sports fans are a fickle bunch – they’ll only support a winning team and will only attend games if it ’s a first-rate quality product," I wrote.
Toronto FC won't have a winning team this year. Far from it.
But even though the club will continue to lose and MLS isn't quite the Premiership or Serie A, Toronto FC will be one of the best supported teams in the city, if this past Saturday was any indication.
Big-time soccer has arrived in Toronto. Take note.
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About the Author
John F. Molinaro is a reporter for CBC Sport Online whose chief love is international soccer. John served as senior editor of Sports Online's Euro 2004 website, which helped him win a CBC.ca Award of Excellence, and was the driving force behind our coverage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He holds an honours BA in sociology from York University and a print journalism diploma from Sheridan College, and is also the author of The Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time (Stewart House, 2002).
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