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TFC WROTE THE BOOK ON MAKING HOME GAMES AN OCCASION
March 24, 2009, 8:28 PM
Filed under: North End Elite, Red Patch Boys, Toronto FC, Usector

Soccer supporters in Seattle may give the fervent Toronto FC fans a run for their money this season in the MLS when it comes to home atmosphere, says league commissioner Don Garber.

”I believe they will,” Garber said when the question was posed during a conference call Tuesday. ”But listen, Toronto has set the stage. Their fans are incredibly passionate. Toronto FC fans have proven to the MLS family that you can create a dynamic, exciting environment in your stadium for a home game and it’s what soccer ought to be.

”We didn’t necessarily have that in many of our stadiums and Toronto is writing the book. They’ll travel 1,200 people to Columbus at their game this weekend, as they did the first year.”

The expansion Sounders’ opening game last Thursday drew 32,000 at Qwest Field, with what Garber called ”the feel of a super big-time event.”

”I’ve been in the sports business for almost 30 years, involved in producing the Super Bowl for many of those years and countless other events. And I’ve got to tell you that was one of the most spectacular sporting events that I’ve ever been to. It brought tears to my eye, literally.”

Seattle is the league’s 15th franchise. Philadelphia enters in 2010 followed in 2011 by Vancouver and Portland, who each paid a US$35-million franchise fee.

Garber called the Seattle debut ”surprising to us, I’d even say shocking to us,” adding he believed the Sounders could have sold out all 60,000 seats if they had opened up the whole stadium.

”Everybody was clad in their team colours and waving the scarf. I think they learned that from the Toronto FC fans as well,” he said.

”I think the ground has been set by Toronto and I’m hoping that fans in Seattle and Philadelphia and Vancouver and Portland will take it to a higher level. As importantly, I hope that all these new teams can show some of our current fans what it takes to be a true MLS fan of your local team.”

Garber singled out Toronto FC again, saying the passion of its fan base ”really proves that North Americans will connect themselves to a local team, given the right brand, if you put them in the right stadium, and in many ways, you hope and dream to have the right product on the field.

”We’ve got most if not all of that, certainly not quite the product (on the field) the way we want it to be in Toronto, but you’ve got everything else working there. That’s in essence is what Seattle is trying to replicate, and certainly Vancouver and Portland is as well.”

Toronto, in its third season, sells out every game at 20,000-capacity BMO Field. The team, owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, has capped season tickets at 16,000 and has a waiting list of 14,000.

The Vancouver franchise has already sold out its first 5,000 season ticket deposits at a league-record pace.

”It’s really incredible what’s going on up there,” Garber said.

Garber said the addition of Vancouver will require further discussions of the league’s rule on ”home-grown” players. MLS officials will sit down with the Canadian Soccer Association, in consultation with Toronto and Vancouver, ”and determine whether or not the current rules we have make sense.

”My guess is they probably don’t and we’ll have to adjust them, no different than we continue to adjust our rules with U.S. Soccer as we’ve expanded.”

Ottawa, which was ignored in the recent round of expansion, will have to wait until 2012 for its next shot at entering the league.

The commissioner welcomed a questioner from Vancouver, who noted that _ unlike Ottawa _ soccer and CFL interests had been able to work together on the stadium front in Vancouver.

”I’ve been waiting for that question for a month now,” Garber said dryly.

Competing stadium projects have muddied the waters in Ottawa.

NOTES – Seattle forward Fredy Montero was named MLS player of the week after recording two goals and an assist in the Sounders’ 3-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls. The 21-year old MLS rookie from Campo de la Cruz, Colombia, is on loan from Deportivo Cali. Garber credited a former league intern from Argentina who is now scouting in South America for the league. ”He found Fredy,” the commissioner said…. Garber noted 22 goals had been scored the opening weekend of the season, for a record average of 3.14 per game. .. Given the growing support for the sport in Canada, Garber wondered what would happen if Canada’s national team was competitive when it came to World Cup qualifying.

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