April 2, 2007 MLS talks up success of expansion Toronto FC (from Canadian Press)

POSTED ON: 02/04/07
MLS talks up success of expansion Toronto FC
NEIL DAVIDSON
Canadian Press

Major League Soccer talked up its newest team Monday, praising Toronto FC's ownership and its fans for making the expansion team an off-field success before the first ball is kicked for real.

Toronto FC opens its debut season Saturday in Carson, Calif., against Chivas USA. With 14,000 season tickets sold, Toronto leads the league surpassing even the Los Angeles Galaxy, the future home of former England captain David Beckham.

"Without doubt there's more buzz and anticipation with this team than any other in our history," commissioner Don Garber told a conference call Monday.

Toronto also marks the first time that a new MLS team has opened in a new stadium. The fledgling team will play at the 20,000-capacity BMO Field, a $62-million venue looking over Lake Ontario.

The commissioner credited Toronto FC's owners for the team's fast start.

"We have not yet really seen an organization quite like Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment," Garber said.

"They are very focused, they're very committed. They make good decisions. They put tremendous resources against this project. And that's led to just great promotion and great excitement.

"I don't expect we're going to sell out every game and I don't expect Toronto FC to be as popular as the Maple Leafs or as the Raptors but in a short period of time we've established a nice position for ourselves that we want to continue to build on."

Garber said his cause for optimism was also prompted by the signing of coach Mo Johnston, some good soccer decisions and a "truly international multi-ethnic market that has all the ingredients of being a good soccer market."

"But we haven't kicked the first ball yet, haven't played the first game in the new stadium, so we're excited but still have lots of time in front of us before we're ready to say we've achieved everything we set out to achieve," he cautioned.

Toronto FC has capped season tickets sales, to allow for individual ticket sales and mini-packages.

Toronto's home opener is April 28 against the Kansas City Wizards.

Deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis says Toronto's nucleus of Canadian talent may be a double-edged sword. The players have experience together from the national team. But they will also be called away when Canada looks to assemble its team, as in this summer's Gold Cup.

"It'll be interesting to see how it plays out," he said.

The recent history of MLS expansion teams is bleak right out of the gates.

Chivas USA went 4-22-6 in its first year in 2005 while Real Salt Lake was only slightly better at 5-22-5.

Garber promised fans will like what they see.

"It is going to be the most entertaining soccer that they can see live in Toronto because there are no other Division I soccer teams. It's not the Premier League and it's not the Bundesliga but it is a very very high-level product of the game that has a wide variety of players who compete for their national teams. I think people are going to be very, very pleasantly surprised . . . as to the high level of competition."

Toronto is the league's 13th franchise and Garber says the league's goal is to expand to 16 teams by 2010. Interested markets include Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Jose, San Diego, St. Louis and the Pacific Northwest.

Garber said he hoped to finalize plans for the 14th team in the next six months.

Notes: As part of the league's "Game First" program, MLS teams will line up side by side in the tunnel, as in Europe, before taking the field. They will come out to an "MLS anthem," recorded last month in Prague with an American conductor at the helm. ... The MLS is following other jurisdictions in relying on the referee to stop play if a player is injured, rather than have players kick the ball out of bounds. Referees have also been encouraged to book players who ask to have opponents booked or who feign injury. ... The league says it is not worried that only three teams so far have used the so-called Designated Player rule to sign marquee players (David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy; Claudio Reyna, New York Red Bulls; and Cuauhtemoc Blanco Bravo, Chicago Fire). Said Garber: "I would rather have fewer and have them work than have a whole lot of them and find out that it's an unwise use of our resources."

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