April 16, 2007 Story on Toronto's BMO field (from Globe and Mail)

POSTED ON: 16/04/07
Toronto stadium's new turf defended

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

TORONTO The Los Angeles Galaxy have nothing to fear about sending Major League Soccer's premier investment, David Beckham, out to play on the artificial surface of Toronto's BMO Field on Aug. 5, the new stadium's officials say.

"I don't think people who speak that way understand the latest generation of FieldTurf," said Marc Petitpas, general manager of both the soccer complex and the Ricoh Coliseum for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

"This has been engineered to feel exactly like a natural field underfoot. It grabs the spikes like a regular surface. The plastic 'grass' fibres have a deep infill of silica sand and rubber between them. Each square foot has about 10 pounds of the infill to keep it in place, and a grooming machine flips and tosses the fill so it stays comfortable and doesn't clump up. There are no seams up and down the field. They're long pieces going all the way across.

"Athletes won't get friction burns. Their shoes will respond just as they do on natural turf. It drains well; water will never pool up.

"Players who have practised on it, love it. We've had nothing but positive feedback."

A hint that the Galaxy had questions about sending Beckham to work his football magic on artificial surface appeared on the weekend in a Chicago newspaper, but no one with the Los Angeles team backed the suggestion.

The story didn't draw much attention, but Petitpas was well aware of it as he ushered media around the new 20,000 seat stadium (which accommodates 28,000 when the field is covered for concert seats).

"He's got nothing to worry about on this field, and there will be a full house here to welcome him," the GM said. "We sold out our full complement of season tickets [14,000], then the half-season packages and group sales brought that up to 17,000, and now there are about 3,000 singles that are hard to find for any game."

Beckham, the former captain of England's soccer team and a megastar celebrity, if no longer a dominating sports hero, was signed to a five-year contract worth a total of $250-million (U.S.) by the Galaxy in January. Only $50-million is guaranteed for his on-field play, and the bulk of his salary is related to promotional work he will do for the team, its sponsors and the league.

It's not likely he will be a no-show for his Canadian debut against Toronto FC.

The match will be one of two Canadian visits for Beckham this season, as the Galaxy will also play an exhibition game against the United Soccer Leagues' First Division champion Vancouver Whitecaps. The game, to be held at B.C. Place Stadium, will be played on Oct. 3.

Beckham, 31, leaves Spain's Real Madrid at the end of June.

Playing in North America won't be the same frenzied experience a famous footballer has in Europe, but the BMO Field digs are state of the art for this continent. The Toronto FC dressing room, for instance, has two deep spa-size whirlpool baths, a large lounge with a wide-screen TV, kitchen, medical area and separate offices, dressing rooms and showers for coaches and the team manager.

Rookie Maurice Edu's red-white-and-black No. 6 shirt was already hanging in a corner stall Monday. The team also has a warm-up room, with a swatch of about 30 feet by 50 feet where players can warm up their legs for the feel of the field.

The $63-million facility, built with heavy taxpayer subsidies, will also be a national soccer centre and be available 50 per cent of the year for community use, "at a price competitive with what teams would pay at an Ontario soccer centre about $150 to $165 an hour," Petitpas said.

The field will be covered by an all-weather bubble from November to March, with the playing surface divided in three for six-on-six games. There are a total of 11 dressing rooms under the stadium stands.

Stadium officials will open the gates to season-ticket holders for an April 25 away game, letting them watch Toronto FC play the Kansas City Wizards on screen while they use a $12 voucher to sample a unique mix of stadium foods.

It won't be the standard hot dog and pop, but dishes that reflect some of the city's international makeup: Roti and Jamaican patties, Portuguese flatbread sandwiches, Scotch eggs and fish and chips.

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