Toronto F.C.

Toronto F.C. became the first Canadian Major League Soccer franchise in 2007 after professional sports and real estate firm Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment stumped up a CA$10 million expansion fee to join. The Reds began play under the stewardship of former Scotland striker Maurice Johnston and with the backing of raucous sellout crowds at its new purpose-built BMO Field stadium.

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BMO Field/Ian Thomson

The first five games set a woeful blueprint that dogged much of TFC’s first decade. It took 384 minutes for the team to score its first goal thanks to Danny Dichio. The ex-QPR striker also became the first Toronto player to be sent off shortly afterward as the Reds secured its first points with a 3-1 win over Chicago Fire.

Failure to reach the MLS playoffs in the first four years saw Dutchman Aron Winter installed as head coach for the 2011 season under the recommendation of Jürgen Klinsmann. Veteran German midfielder Torsten Frings arrived as a designated player as Toronto assembled one of the league’s highest paid squads. Results still proved elusive. Winter was dismissed during a dismal 2012 campaign that ended with a 14-game winless streak and weary fans donning paper bags over their heads at games.

Toronto found further funds in 2014 to sign Spurs striker Jermain Defoe and U.S. international Michael Bradley. Defoe, partly persuaded by famed Toronto rapper Drake, was reputed to be on a four-year contract worth £90,000 a week. England manager Roy Hodgson duly discarded Defoe from his World Cup plans and form dissipated shortly afterward. Toronto missed the playoffs again and Defoe returned home after a swap deal for Sunderland’s misfiring U.S. striker Jozy Altidore.

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BMO Field/Ian Thomson

The same week that Defoe set off for the Stadium of Light in January 2015, TFC made the signing that reversed eight years of failure and fan disgruntlement. Just turning 28, Italian international Sebastian Giovinco was at the peak of his powers, despite having fallen out of favor slightly at Juventus. But the Turin-born creative midfielder had represented Italy at every level from under-16s up, including 23 games for the Azzurri. This was a class act looking to further his career at, with and for Toronto F.C..

Then the highest paid player in MLS, Giovinco made an instant difference to TFC fortunes. Goals and assists came thick and fast, the previously lumbering Altidore also benefiting from the Italian’s selfless slide-rule passing. Giovinco could score, too, such as his nine-minute hat trick at New York City F.C..

If anything typified Giovinco, it was his mazy goal to beat New York Red Bulls in October 2015. Not only did this Goal of the Year nomination gain TFC a first ever MLS playoff place and but it was scored by someone who had been playing for Italy 4,000 miles away in Rome only 24 hours previously.

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Toronto F.C. HQ/Ian Thomson

Although Toronto was beaten by bitter rivals Montreal in the first 401 Derby at the playoff stage, Giovinco scooped up a host of annual awards, not least equal top goalscorer, top assist provider and 2015 MVP.

Gaining revenge at Montreal early in the 2016 campaign by scoring the only two goals of the game, Giovinco became TFC’s all-time top scorer in MLS with 28 goals in 40 games. Average crowds at BMO Field crept ever closer to its new 30,000-plus capacity.

Adding a first Canadian Championship for four years, in October 2016, TFC gained a playoff place for the second consecutive year, before dispatching New York City 7-0 over two legs, an MLS postseason record aggregate tally.

With an Eastern Conference Final set up beautifully between Toronto and Montreal, the script is screaming for a first Canadian champion of MLS in 2016. The only question is… which one?

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BMO Field/Ian Thomson

Stadium

BMO Field is located within Toronto’s Exhibition Place district, about two miles west of downtown on the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

Here once stood the Exhibition Stadium, home of Toronto Blizzard in the NASL days. Demolished in 1999, it was known for the wind and snow that used to blow in off the lake. They didn’t call the soccer team Blizzard for nothing.

With baseball, gridiron football and basketball moved to Toronto’s downtown SkyDome, now called Rogers Centre, it was agreed that a new arena being built on the site of the old Exhibition Stadium should be soccer-specific.

Part-funded by two levels of government and the City of Toronto, BMO Field is overseen by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment of Toronto Maple Leafs fame. Originally, CFL team the Toronto Argonauts had proposed a new stadium here but Canada’s bid to host the 2007 U-20 World Cup swayed the authorities to go with soccer.

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BMO Field/Ian Thomson

MLSE, keen on a soccer franchise, as well as contributing CA$8 million toward construction, paid CA$10 for the naming rights, sold on to Bank of Montreal (‘BOM’) for nearly three times that amount.

With work started in March 2006, in May Toronto F.C. was named as the first Canadian team in MLS.

Unveiled in April 2007 with a TFC defeat against Kansas City Wizards, officially opened that May, BMO Field was referred to as ‘National Soccer Stadium’ for its role as main venue for the U-20 World Cup that summer. With crowds at a then near-capacity 20,195 and an artificial surface, the new arena proved the perfect stage for tournament MVP Sergio Agüero and fellow 2014 World Cup star Ángel Di María, winners with Argentina. Later TFC lynchpins Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore scored vital goals for U.S.A..

Despite poor form from its home team, BMO Field averaged a 20,000-plus attendance for its first five years as an MLS stadium, 16,000 of these season-ticket holders. Fan groups such as Red Patch Boys, U-Sector and Original 109 created a real soccer atmosphere.

After a natural grass field was laid in 2010, a further CA$120 million renovation between 2014-16 saw an extra tier added to the East Stand and roof added, plus the pitch reconfigured for gridiron football.

Capacity has risen to an official 30,228, perfect for the rise of superstar Sebastian Giovinco and his Italianate following in Section 114, Inebriatti. Average gates for 2016 passed 26,500, with a record 30,262 set for the visit of New York City FC in May.

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Toronto F.C. transport/Ian Thomson

Transport

BMO Field is easily reached using Toronto’s public transport system.

Exhibition Place is one stop west of the city’s Union Station on the GO Train. Single rides cost CA$5.30 from ticket vending machines – Union Station’s accept cash and cards.

Toronto Transit Commission also operates streetcars from downtown to Exhibition Place. Increased service is laid on for game days. Fans can jump on the #509 Harbourfront streetcar from Union Station along Lake Shore Boulevard West. The #511 service runs down focal Bathurst Street. Single rides are CA$3.25 from cash-only token vending machines.

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Toronto

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Union Station: 43.645221, -79.380570
Exhibition Place: 43.636324, -79.419372
Toronto F.C./BMO Field: 43.633215, -79.418565
Flatiron & Firkin: 43.648360, -79.374303
Football Factory : 43.646312, -79.403888
Wheat Sheaf Tavern : 43.643702, -79.402814
Foggy Dew: 43.642764, -79.407311
Real Sports Bar & Grill: 43.642557, -79.380008
Hoops Sports Bar & Grill : 43.642450, -79.382897
Shoeless Joe’s: 43.639138, -79.425681

Bike Share Toronto has kiosks across the city and safe designated bike lanes. A 24-hour pass costs CA$7 and offers unlimited 30-minute trips. The rental stations on Lake Shore Boulevard West and Queen Street West are within a short walk of the stadium.

The stadium address is BMO Field, 170 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3.

Driving from the airport, take 427 south, merge onto Gardiner Expressway E via the exit on the left. Take the Lake Shore Blvd W. exit, then turn left onto Ontario Dr. for the stadium.

Parking at the stadium is CA$30 on TFC match days. There are three lots for surface parking (Red P). Pay a booth attendant for 2 & 4, 3 is pay-and-display, card only. Underground parking is indicated with a Yellow P.

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Toronto F.C. ticketing/Ian Thomson

Ticketing

There are two ticket offices at the Northeast corner of the stadium near Gate 1, one operated by Air Canada, the other BMO Field (Apr-Nov Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, match days).

There are telephone sales at Toronto FC Goal Line, 416-360-GOAL (4625), and Ticketmaster 1-855-985-4625. Will Call windows are by the Ticket Office near Gate 1. ID is required and lines will be long.

Online sales are through www.ticketmaster.ca and the club.

Prices vary from match to match. For the visit of New York City, say, you pay CA$90 for a good seat in the East or West Red sections near the halfway line, CA$28 in the East or West Grey sections near the corners, and around CA$45 in between. Standing places in the Yellow Southend with the home fans is CA$23 but these will be a premium.

Visiting supporters feel most comfortable in Sectors 104 and 105 in the quieter, Northeast corner of the stadium, away from the Southside (111-119), but these are rarely specified unless against against Canadian teams or from Northeastern U.S..

If availability is a problem, you can usually find seats through StubHub.

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Toronto F.C. merchandise/Ian Thomson

Merchandise

Real Sports Apparel carries TFC merchandise from its store (Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-6pm, match days) inside Air Canada Centre at Gate 1. Short-sleeved home and away jerseys are CA$129.99, tees with a T badge CA$34.99 and mesh baseball caps CA$29.99. ‘Toronto Till I Die’ 2016 Playoff hoodies go for CA$69.99.

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Budweiser King Club/Ian Thomson

Concessions

You’ll find the ‘At The Game’ stadium branch of the vast downtown Real Sports Bar & Grill at Section 105, Second Level, with chicken wings in ten flavors, Real burgers with RS sauce and a smaller selection of the beers on offer at Maple Leaf Square (see Beers).

Behind the North Patio, Budweiser King Club sells domestic and premium types. Elsewhere around the stadium specialist beers now feature Tankhouse Ale, 100th Meridian and West Coast Style IPA from Mill Street Brewery in Toronto’s Distillery District.

Among the concessions stands, Smoke’s Poutinerie offers all variations of the classic Canadian fast-food dish.

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Football Factory/Ian Thomson

Beers

Sports bars are concentrated in Toronto’s Entertainment District, around Union Station, so extremely convenient before the short commute to BMO Field.

There, the Flatiron & Firkin carries the added attraction of being located in the basement of the city’s historic Flatiron building three blocks from the station. Outdoor seating is available in summer. Premium tap beers include Hop City Barking Squirrel and Muskoka Detour while there’s a British touch to the menu, with its shepherd’s pies and fish & chips. Live TV sports too.

Perfectly located to pick up the #511 streetcar to BMO Field, Football Factory opens 7am on weekends for English Premier League action, serves Goose Island Honkers Ale, Hoegaarden and Boddington’s, and offers Factory wraps with steak, chorizo and bacon.

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Foggy Dew/Ian Thomson

Other convenient options for the #511 include the nearby Wheat Sheaf Tavern, dating back to 1849, offering character and TV sports amid the tourist-friendly gleam elsewhere; and Foggy Dew Irish pub & restaurant, with live music.

For industrial-scale sports gawping, by Air Canada Centre Real Sports Bar & Grill has 199 (!) HD TVs, a 39-footer HD screen and 126 draught beer taps, and, round the corner, Hoops Sports Bar & Grill, with wall-to-wall TVs and 19 beers on draught.

Ontario chain Shoeless Joe’s has one of its sports bars in the Liberty Village neighborhood a 15-minute walk from BMO Field. Its proximity to the stadium makes it a popular pre- and post-game haunt for Toronto’s Red Patch Boys supporters’ group.

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Varsity Stadium/Ian Thomson

Toronto Timeline

Soccer in Toronto dates back to the mid-1800s with the first recorded association outside of Great Britain being established here in 1877.

1961 Tottenham Hotspur’s double-winning captain Danny Blanchflower and storied English internationalists Stanley Matthews and Johnny Haynes represent Toronto City in the newly formed Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League.

1967 Scottish side Hibernian compete under the guise of Toronto City during the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament. The University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium serves as the team’s home venue while also being used by the rival Toronto Falcons franchise competing in the inaugural National Professional Soccer League.

1968 The merger of the USA and NPSL into the North American Soccer League leads to the demise of Toronto City after one season. The Falcons averages 5,336 fans for its second year before financial troubles cause it to fold.

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Varsity Stadium/Ian Thomson

1971 Toronto Metros join the NASL with Varsity Stadium again the home field.

1975 The Toronto Croatia sports club acquires a 50% stake in the Metros causing the franchise name to become Toronto Metros-Croatia.

1976 Legendary Portuguese striker Eusébio leads Metros-Croatia to its sole NASL title with the opening goal in a 3-0 win over Minnesota Kicks in the Soccer Bowl final. Average attendances remain below 6,000.

1979 Another takeover results in another name change as Metros-Croatia becomes Toronto Blizzard. Attendance almost doubles during Blizzard’s first season.

1980 A franchise record average attendance of 15,000 watch Blizzard at Varsity Stadium.

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Lamport Stadium/Ian Thomson

1983 Italian striker Roberto Bettega arrives in Toronto after a storied career with Juventus and Italy. Tulsa Roughnecks halt Toronto’s path to a second NASL title with a 2-0 Soccer Bowl win watched by over 53,000 fans in Vancouver.

1984 Toronto Blizzard ceases operations at the end of NASL’s final season.

1987 A reformed Toronto Blizzard plays in the inaugural Canadian Soccer League established in the aftermath of the NASL collapse and Canada’s qualification for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

1993 The Blizzard joins the American Professional Soccer League after the Canadian Soccer League folds. Low attendances force a switch of home games from Varsity Stadium to Lamport Stadium. Owner Karsten Von Wersebe folds his team at the end of the campaign.

2007 Toronto F.C. begins play in Major League Soccer.


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