It's taken three long years, but Toronto's Major League Soccer faithful will finally get to witness a championship club at BMO Field this season.
Of course, only the most diehard of supporters would expect it to be Toronto FC - still awaiting their first playoff appearance entering a fourth season of play Saturday - but come Nov. 21, Major League Soccer will crown its champion in Toronto when the MLS Cup is played outside the United States for the first time.
A league source confirmed this week that the 15th MLS season will conclude in Toronto this fall, a welcome reward for an organization that has spent upward of $5.5-million this off-season on various renovations, including the installation of a natural grass pitch, improved dugouts and extra seats behind the north goal.
The MLS head office in New York City wouldn't reveal yesterday which other cities had lodged bids to play host to the championship game, but ESPN Radio reported last month that the New York Red Bulls were in the process of submitting a bid to hold the event at its brand new, 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena, although MLS commissioner Don Garber indicated yesterday in a conference call that it is instead the prime contender for 2011 or later.
In the same conference call, to discuss the league's new labour agreement, Garber was non-committal about Toronto playing host to the game this year, but did sing the city's praises, saying, "Toronto certainly is a good prospect for MLS Cup. They have the same dynamic that is in Seattle, fans who are passionate about the sport."
Seattle held the 2009 final - won by Real Salt Lake in a penalty shootout over David Beckham's star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy - in the Sounders' inaugural year, and it certainly helped the bottom line: Seattle and Toronto were the only MLS clubs to make a profit last year, according to Garber.
Toronto FC have proved to be a hot ticket during their first three years in the league. Owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which also controls the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors and has also bid to hold the NHL all-star game, TFC have sold out 56 consecutive games at BMO Field, recently expanded to roughly 21,800 with the addition of the north end stand.
The facility is also no stranger to holding major soccer events, having been host of the 2008 MLS all-star game, which generated approximately $23-million in tourism for the three-day event, as well as an exhibition match between Toronto FC and nine-time European champions Real Madrid last August, estimated to have added another $10-million worth of tourism. In addition, BMO Field was the main facility when Canada was host of the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
It is too early to estimate the financial impact of holding the MLS title game - which traditionally caps off a week's worth of festivities - but a hometown presence would obviously do wonders for the bottom line. However, in their final season as the league's lone Canadian club - the Vancouver Whitecaps will be brought into the fold in 2011 - Toronto FC would appear to be an extreme long shot to even make the playoffs, let alone go all the way to the championship game.
New coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic steered Chivas USA into the postseason in each of three years at the helm of the Los Angeles-based MLS club, but with TFC, after a preseason to forget and a squad that still seems to be lacking a few key pieces heading into Saturday's season-opener at the Columbus Crew, it would take a brave man to bet on the Reds taking to BMO Field on Nov. 21.
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