April 27, 2007 Toronto FC new BMO Field homefield advantage (from Globe and Mail)

POSTED ON: 27/04/07

Toronto FC looks for boost from home crowd

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

TORONTO Toronto FC played the first three games of the Major League Soccer season away from what could be its secret weapon the friendly confines of BMO Field.

The team has had many changes among its players and roster in the opening months and it is apparent that the gelling process is still under way but today brings what could be its biggest change of all so far this season: a change of venue.

Toronto FC will play its first home game today, the first game to be played in the new soccer-specific stadium at Exhibition Place.

And today might give a glint of a hint about how much the fact that the compact 20,000-seat stadium will be crammed to its limits will help the expansion team.

Toronto FC players are excited about the prospect of playing in front of a packed home stadium.

They feel it can make a difference in a season in which they have neither won nor scored a goal in their first three games.

The opponent will be the Kansas City Wizards, who defeated visiting Toronto 3-0 on Wednesday at Arrowhead Stadium, where a crowd of more than 7,000 was lost in the vastness of a stadium that can hold more than 80,000.

Today's atmosphere promises to be much different.

"It's going to be exciting," Toronto and Canadian national goalkeeper Greg Sutton said yesterday after practice at BMO Field.

"We're going to have 20,000 people in here screaming for us, which is going to give us that extra motivation to continue to push and play to the best of our ability.

"Right now, we need a little bit of extra help, we need to get off this losing skid and start winning some games. It's a thrill to be home. It's been a long preseason and long three-game road trip."

According to Sutton, there might be some emotion shown among the players wearing the Toronto colours today.

"Especially for the Canadian players," the Hamilton native said.

"I think that having the opportunity to play in our own country at a level like Major League Soccer is exciting. It's a time that we've all been waiting for and it's finally come. It's awesome for us and it's awesome for the generation that's up and coming."

"It's been a long time coming," defender Marco Reda of Woodbridge, Ont., said in agreement.

"I think it will be an awesome atmosphere. I think the people of Toronto have been dying for this day as well as we have."

Striker Danny Dichio, who was signed from England's Preston North End last week, was impressed when he heard season-ticket sales for BMO Field had been cut off after hitting the 14,000 mark. He said the club he just left was averaging about 14,000 to 15,000.

"There's going to be a fantastic atmosphere for the opening game," Dichio said, adding he likes the setup for the players at BMO Field. "Much better than where I was."

Forward Alecko Eskandarian said the atmosphere between a vast stadium that can swallow up a crowd of 10,000 or 20,000 and still look empty is "very different" from a smaller one such as BMO Field, which should be filled to the brim.

"If you're the home team and you're going to have the atmosphere like we're hoping to have here, it definitely will make a difference for the players, you definitely notice," he said.

While a player doesn't necessarily hear the crowd during intense action, Eskandarian said, "you definitely hear the energy."

"Coming here at home we'll have that 12th man, obviously, with 20,000 in the stadium," said Toronto head coach Mo Johnston, who played for the Wizards for six years.

There will be some changes in today's starting lineup.

Dichio will start and is expected to add a physical presence.

He did not play in Kansas City on Wednesday because of visa problems.

Midfielder Ronnie O'Brien, who has not played because of a knee injury, will be on the bench, but will see action.

Midfielder Maurice Edu, who played his first game of the season on Wednesday after sitting out with a pelvis injury, will start in his normal position in the middle and that will push Paulo Nagamura to the right side.

Andrew Boyens will start in place of Reda at the back.

"We're at home for a four-game stretch, [and] we're looking forward to it," Johnston said.

"If you can't play in front of 20,000, then you shouldn't be here."

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