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Battle of who has most passionate fans
April 3, 2009, 12:03 PM
Filed under: Seattle Sounders FC, TFC Supporters, Toronto FC

With a 2-0 record and an average home crowd of more than 30,000 supporters per game, Seattle Sounders FC have taken MLS by storm thus far in their first season. But while Toronto FC greatly respects the Sounders’ accomplishments on the field, the Reds don’t quite buy into the hype that Seattle is now the hottest soccer market in the league.

After all, it was Toronto’s fan support that generated headlines during the Reds’ expansion season in 2007, and with Sounders FC coming to town on Saturday for TFC’s home opener, head coach John Carver thinks that the BMO Field fans will show that they can top any level of support from the Pacific Northwest.

“The commissioner threw the gauntlet down to our fans saying how good the atmosphere was in Seattle,” Carver said on Monday. “It was great in Seattle, but that was [a case of getting] bums on seats. We’ve got fans who sing and are right behind the team. There’s a difference between getting people through the door and getting the crowd supporting the team. I’m looking forward to Saturday and [Seattle] see what a real atmosphere is like.”

While Saturday’s match already seems to be turning into a battle of who has the most passionate fans in MLS, the stakes on the pitch will be even higher. The Reds also enter the game on a roll after picking up four points from two road contests — a 3-2 victory in the season opener in Kansas City and a 1-1 draw last week in Columbus.

Saturday’s game at BMO Field is the only match on this weekend’s MLS schedule that features two unbeaten teams, so both sides knows that a win would help them lay claim to early-season supremacy.

“You’ve got guys coming in who are playing well, who deservedly have six points,” Carver said. “Although they’re classed as an expansion team, they’re not really. They’ve got a top coach in Sigi [Schmid] who has them well-organized. … They’re coming in here on a high and it’s set up for a nice game.”

This is the first time in TFC’s three seasons that the club has been undefeated heading into the home opener, and the fast start has created an even bigger buzz than usual around Toronto.

“I’m really looking forward to this one,” said captain Jim Brennan, a veteran of all three TFC home openers. “We’ve had high expectations this season. The squad is completely different from the ones in the first year and last year and I know the fans will be up for this one.”

The road results add even more weight to TFC’s home schedule, as the thought before the season was that TFC would need to perform away from BMO Field in order to have a chance of making the MLS Cup Playoffs. Now, however, the pressure has somewhat shifted, and the onus is on the Reds to match or better their impressive 6-2-7 home record from last season. Just two teams (playoff-bound Houston and Real Salt Lake) had fewer home defeats then TFC did last season.

So the Reds know a few things about being a new club that wins at home, and now they hope that they can pass a taste of the expansion road-result blues onto the Sounders.

“Teams around here always seem to do well at home,” Brennan said. “We’ll see how they are on the road. It’s very difficult on the road in this league and we’re dangerous at home, so it should be a good test.”

Brennan and the rest of the TFC back line will no doubt have their attention focused on Seattle’s top scoring threat, Fredy Montero. The Colombian striker has collected three goals in the Sounders’ first two games to take the early lead in the MLS Golden Boot race. Brennan believes that the road atmosphere may have a particular effect on Montero given that it will be the forward’s first MLS away game.

“He’s a good player, he’s scoring a lot of goals and he seems to be on form,” Brennan said. “But as I said, we’ve got to see how he does on the road when he’s out of that comfort zone. We’ve got good players here, we’ll be watching him and marking him.”

While Montero has carried the Seattle attack, Sounders FC have been no less impressive on the other side of the field. U.S. goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller has recorded two clean sheets in his first two career MLS starts, picking up seven saves and showing the form that made him a fixture on the U.S. national team and in Europe’s top leagues over the past two decades.

“He’s an experienced goalkeeper,” said TFC striker Chad Barrett. “He’s going to fight that line, he knows when to come out, when to stay. He’s a very smart ‘keeper. … To have your first away game be up here in Toronto, he’s going to be really tested and I think he knows that.”

The Reds will have all hands on deck in their attempt to break Keller’s shutout streak, as midfielders Amado Guevara and Carl Robinson are expected back from international duty. As well, Barrett is looking for his first goal of 2009 as he looks to rebound from what he considered to be a sub-par performance last week in Columbus.

“I just had a bad game, to be honest,” Barrett said. “My touch wasn’t there, my touch was affecting my work ethic which it shouldn’t have been, but I’ve got my head on straight again.

“I’ve been in this league long enough, I’ve had my droughts, I’ve had my scoring streaks. It all comes in streaks. Once I get one, a bunch will follow.”

Saturday’s game will be Barrett’s first home opener as a member of TFC, as he joined the team in a midseason trade last season. Barrett played at BMO Field as a visitor as a member of the Chicago Fire in 2007, and thus he knows full well that Sounders FC will quickly realize that they’re a long way from the Emerald City.

“They’ve got a great fanbase out there but I don’t think it’s anything compared to what Toronto fans bring,” Barrett said. “This was my most hated crowd to come to as an away player, but now that they’re on my side it’s awesome. I think the Seattle players that have been here, they’re dreading coming to Toronto.”

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