In only its fifth season in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC has taken the crowded Toronto sporting scene by storm. Owned and operated by sports giant Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), Toronto FC has seen unprecedented success at the gate and on television. In what was once thought to be a dead sport in Toronto, life has been recreated, capturing the interest of the vastly international city of Toronto.
Home for the Reds is BMO Field. Owned by the City of Toronto and operated by MLSE, BMO Field is located at Exhibition Place. What is significant about this location is that it is the former site of Exhibition Stadium; the original home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Also serving as the National Soccer Centre, BMO Field is a soccer-specific stadium that has seen such success that in its short lifespan, it has already been expanded by 2,500 seats.
Simply put, Toronto FC has very little history. What it lacks in history, it makes up for with some of the greatest fans in sports today!
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Wow! BMO Field blew me away with all of the options. All of the staples are here. Hot dogs, burgers and fries are available throughout the stadium. Also available in many stands are wings, pulled pork sandwiches, wraps, and chicken fingers. Some of the great unique items are Smoke's Poutinerie, specializing in various poutine concoctions. The Smoke's truck is found in the beer garden.
Also worth a look is the Mr. Greek stand, providing souvlaki. When catching a Toronto FC game, make sure you stop at the Real Sports BBQ Pit. Super friendly staff welcome you, and the fixins' there are to die for. It is fair to say that this stand is on the pricey side, but really worth it. I went with the "Triple Threat," which featured brisket, pulled pork, and Canadian Bacon. At $10 this marvel was expensive, but totally awesome!!
Carlsburg has pouring rights at BMO and their signage is everywhere. A 14 oz. draught will run you $7 and a 20 oz. draught will run you $11. Other alcoholic beverages are also available at other stands.
BMO Field is quite simple; Wrought iron gates between sandstone brick pillars on the outside; simple seating bowl on the inside. Most of the seats are hard plastic buckets on metal benches, which are not a positive, but get the job done. A recent addition that the locals are excited about is the new natural turf on the pitch. Outside the stadium, there is an inflatable area for the kids to participate in a variety of soccer related activities.
Since there has been such a short history for TFC, there is not a ton of extra atmosphere added to the stadium. Significant for a franchise of such a short life is the Wall of Honour featuring the retired numbers of Jim Brennan and Danny Dichio. Brennan was a Canadian soccer player and the first TFC captain. Dichio was a staple for TFC and scored the first TFC goal ever.
The video board is solid and the sound system is pretty good. The steel drum band plays in the south end. The view of the CN Tower and downtown Toronto is beautiful as well. The biggest drawback of BMO Field is a result of its location. Being so close to Lake Ontario, BMO Field is suspect to some nasty weather at times. This was something the Toronto Blue Jays found out when they were in this location and led, in part, to the building of the SkyDome.
BMO Field is located just west of the heart of downtown Toronto at Exhibition Place. The Ex hosts events all year round including various conventions and home shows, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the Canadian National Exhibition and the Honda Indy Toronto. Across the street is Ontario Place. A couple clicks up Lakeshore are the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre.
If you head the other way on Lakeshore you reach the beach. Needless to say there are numerous options in this part of Toronto. On the day of this review there was a Blue Jay game in the afternoon, a Maple Leafs game at night, and just following the soccer was a Toronto Marlies game at nearby Ricoh Coliseum. There are many restaurant options further downtown, but right after the game you may want to head north and try the Brazen Head Irish Pub.
The TFC experience is made by the fans. It starts on the outside of the stadium where some of the supporter groups can be found tailgating in the parking lot. It is these supporter groups that give the game some extra colour and character.
The south end of BMO Field is for supporter sections. If you are looking for a nice relaxing game where you enjoy your seat, make sure you steer clear of the south end. Whether it is the Red Patch Boys of Section 112 or Tribal Rhythm Nation of Section 118 or any of the other sections, the south end is where the party is at. Singing throughout the entire game with different songs at different times, the supporters create an atmosphere that is fun. Each supporter section has its own banner at field level and songs and chants with scarves flying throughout the match.
The rest of the fans are knowledgeable and supportive of the Reds. In their short existence, TFC has been either 2nd or 3rd in MLS attendance, coming close to capacity for the entire season. On the date that I visited, the 19,000 strong showed their team spirit. Special mention has to go to TFC fan Dawn, who helped me through all of the intricacies that make TFC special. The only negative that the Toronto fans have is that they are late arriving and don't normally make it to their seats for the beginning of the match.
Downtown Toronto can be a bit tricky. Traffic can be heavy and the Gardiner Expressway, which is the highway that travels through downtown Toronto, is usually slow. There is plenty of parking, but with all of the events that are at Exhibition Place, make sure you check the website for parking advisories.
If public transit is more your cup of tea, you can take either the TTC Street Car or the GO Transit Train and be dropped at the Ex. At $10 a return trip on the GO, you may want to choose the parking option which is only $13.
Washrooms are ample and corridors are wide, making gameday enjoyable.
Tickets for Toronto FC matches can run from $27 to $127. This is definitely at the high end of the MLS scale. Concessions are also at the high end. Parking is reasonable for Toronto at $13. Put it all together, and it leads to an average return on investment. The crowd and the energy throughout the stadium make this worth a visit.
1. Who needs an anthem singer? In something I've never seen before, "O Canada" is not sung by a school or a celebrity, but by 20,000 fans holding their scarves high in the air. They actually turn the sound down so the crowd can sing loud!
2. Possibly the coolest song ever is the Danny Dichio song. It is sung at every TFC game and begins at the 23.14 mark of the game. It was at 23.14 when Danny Dichio scored the first ever goal for Toronto FC and has been a staple since.
3. Doubleheader! After the TFC game, I caught the Toronto Marlies game, and did not pay any more for parking.
In their short life on the Toronto sporting scene, Toronto FC has caught the imagination of the local sports fan. They have become a model franchise in the MLS and have left the dubious legacy of the NASL and Toronto Blizzard neatly in the rear-view mirror. Admittedly, I am not a huge soccer fan. However, this visit to Toronto FC was most enjoyable and worth a visit if you are in the area; especially if you are a soccer fan.
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