You’re familiar, of course, with the concept of home-field advantages in sports.
Well, the chaps who run Toronto FC feel that, when they play at BMO Field — as they will tomorrow for the first time in the 2008 regular season — they transcend mere home-field advantages.
They believe they have a home-fortress advantage.
“Because of the fanatical fans we have,” new Toronto FC coach John Carver says, “we can make (BMO Field) a fortress.”
By definition, a fortress is a place of exceptional security; a location where a stronghold can be maintained.
That didn’t exactly seem to be the case in 2007, when the first non-American team in Major League Soccer history struggled in its inaugural season, finishing with a 6-17 record — 15 points in arrears of the playoff spots — and setting a league record for most consecutive goalless minutes. And there were injuries galore, too.
Still, to suggest Toronto FC was anything other than a smashing success at BMO Field would be inaccurate. Each game on Toronto’s home pitch — er, fortress — was sold out.
“And the atmosphere was second to none,” Mo Johnston, the club’s manager and director of soccer, told Metro in an interview. “It’s the best you’ll see in the MLS. The fans are so passionate. They’re singing all the time. They’re into it. What we have here is something special.”
And, according to Johnston, enthusiasm combined with manpower improvements should transform Toronto into a genuine contender this season.
“We’re streets ahead of where we were last year,” he asserted. “We’ve made changes and we’re stronger.”
One of those changes involved Johnston himself. He coached Toronto FC last year, but was re-assigned in the off-season to the front office and is calling shots as the de facto general manager. Johnston said it was too difficult for him last season to focus on on-field activities and recruitments simultaneously, so he began to pursue Carver, a 43-year-old former player with Newcastle United and Cardiff City. Carver established a reputation for being a no-nonsense coach in the United Kingdom after his playing days.
And his approach was evident early this year, when he angrily told reporters he was “shocked and angered” by Toronto FC’s performance in an exhibition game.
Another significant change was the recent acquisition of Amado Guevara, a 31-year-old midfielder renowned for setting up goals. Toronto FC was lacking woefully in this area last season. Johnston is confident Guevara will help the likes of Jeff Cunningham, a pure scorer whose late goal in Los Angeles last Sunday gave Toronto a 3-2 victory and a 1-2 regular-season record.
Cunningham was plagued by injuries last season, but Johnston believes new conditioning coach Paul Winsper, also out of Newcastle United, will help Toronto players stay healthier.
Johnston also likes what he’s seen so far from the team’s Canadian goaltender, Greg Sutton.
“With what we have in our locker room now,” Johnston says, “our objective of getting to the playoffs is quite achievable, I’m sure.”