TORONTO – At last, the Reds are coming home.
After hitting the road for their first seven games of the MLS season, Toronto FC will finally play its home opener on Sunday when they host the Houston Dynamo in what should be a sellout crowd of 31,000 at the newly renovated BMO Field.
Construction on BMO Field over the past few months, which included adding an upper tier to the East stand, forced TFC to play a gruelling road stretch that saw the team go a respectful 3-4-0, including posting back-to-back clean sheet wins to end their travels.
TFC trained at the refurbished BMO Field for the first time on Friday morning following a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included designated players Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, as well as MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke.
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The new and improved BMO Field received good grades from the players and coaching staff.
“It’s beautiful. I can’t wait until Sunday to see the stadium full of supporters,” Giovinco said through an interpreter.
He later added: “Playing seven road games, it wasn’t easy. But now we’re finally home and we’ll try our best to take full advantage of it.”
Of all the work that’s been done on the stadium, the East stand impressed coach Greg Vanney the most.
“You look across now (from inside the players’ tunnel) and it’s such an impressive stand, with the two stories,” Vanney stated. “It just looks like a wall and I can’t wait to see it full of people. It’s going to be impressive.”
Bradley said he wished they could play tomorrow, because he doesn’t want to wait until Sunday. He also stressed it’s up to the players to make BMO Field a fortress.
“We have to use the energy and enthusiasm, and really push things to get on top of the other team. Close down and chase, and play it forward and get shots on goal—all things that are going to excite the fans even more,” Bradley offered.
“If we can over the course of this season make this a place where every team comes through here leaves with a feeling like they never want to come back, I think that’ll go a long way.”
Vanney echoed his captain’s sentiments,
“Ultimately, we have a lot to prove to our fans. That’s the key here,” Vanney said. “At the end of the day it comes down to are we going to be an exciting team to watch, and are we going to uphold our end on the field and get results on the field, and make our fans proud.”
After winning its season opener in Vancouver, the Reds lost their next four games and failed to keep a clean sheet through their first five matches. But back-to-back shutout wins, which saw the Reds focus on team defending and being hard to break down, has led to bit of a rebirth.
Fans expecting TFC to abandon this approach for a more attack-minded philosophy in the home opener will likely be disappointed.
“We learned a little bit about ourselves in what our defensive shape can be like and protecting the space behind us. We can be both very dangerous in the counter attack but we’ve always proven earlier in the year we can be dangerous if we have to play in possession,” Vanney said.
“We just have to make sure that when we’re in possession we protect ourselves from those moments of transition. Our mindset has changed from the early games where we were giving way things in transition. We do a better job of slowing the ball down and reorganizing our lines, and not giving up space behind us.”
Houston, 2-4-4, has struggled this season under new manager Owen Coyle, who replaced long-time coach Dominic Kinnear. The Dynamo are winless in their last four matches (with two draws), they gave up four goals in back-to-back contests against Dallas and Kansas City, and they currently sit in second-last place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I don’t know if they’ve regressed. To me, they look like a group that’s trying to figure out exactly what their identity is,” Vanney offered. “They’ve had different line-ups, and different guys playing in different positions.”
Vanney confirmed that goalkeeper Joe Bendik (foot) is questionable for Sunday, while right fullback Mark Bloom (quad strain) is unlikely. Defenders Steven Caldwell and Clement Simonin have both been ruled out through injury.
Vanney said he expects Bendik to be available for selection for the second leg of next week’s Amway Canadian Championship semifinal vs. the Montreal Impact. Toronto lost the first leg 1-0 in Montreal this past Wednesday.