SPORTS

Toronto FC finally comes home as new-look BMO Field officially opens

05/08/2015 11:34 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - More than one Toronto FC manager has talked about making BMO Field a fortress for the MLS team.

Despite loyal fans, it has yet to happen. Toronto's home record since entering the league in 2007 is 44-40-44, a winning percentage of just 34.4 per cent.

Compare that to a 59.9 per cent home winning mark for the Los Angeles Galaxy, 58.2 per cent for the Seattle Sounders and 54.2 per cent for the Houston Dynamo.

Starting Sunday, teams entering BMO Field this season will see a wall of fans in the enlarged East Stand, part of an ongoing $120-million renovation. The extra support doesn't guarantee three points but should help make for a more hostile environment for visitors.

"Just from the aesthetics and just the fans in general, I think it will be a fortress," manager Greg Vanney said after practice Friday. "The rest is really up to us and how we perform on the field. If we do our job and we do it right, it will stay a fortress for game after game."

Captain Michael Bradley marvelled at the new east upper tier, which adds some 8,400 new seats.

"For me, pictures don't do it justice," he said. "It's steeper than it appears and I think it'll make for a great atmosphere."

"Bello" was Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco's pithy summary. Beautiful.

Because of the renovation, Toronto (3-4-0) played its first seven games on the road. That changes Sunday when Vanney's side welcomes the Houston Dynamo (2-4-4) before an expect sellout crowd of some 31,009.

Toronto's home opener comes 94 games into the MLS season.

Yet to win on the road this season, the Dynamo (0-1-2 away from home) seem like the ideal visitors to help open the new BMO Field. Houston is winless in its last four games — three of which were at home — but three of those have been ties.

The Dynamo lost 1-0 at home to former manager Dominic Kinnear and the San Jose Earthquakes last time out.

Toronto, meanwhile, comes into the game on the heels of back-to-back shutout wins over expansion Orlando and slumping Philadelphia. After a rocky 1-4 start, Vanney has upped the defensive ante by playing two lines of four in the backline and midfield.

The more stable formation has allowed the team to keep its defensive shape while using accurate passing from Bradley and others, the speed and vision of pint-sized schemer Giovinco and the finishing of striker Jozy Altidore to fuel the counter-attack.

The lengthy road trip, and bumps along the way, forced Toronto into some early-season soul-searching. Bradley admitted some hard conversations have already been had behind closed doors.

"It's still early. There's a lot left to do, a lot left to improve on. But we're excited now to start a new season in some ways — 27 games, 17 of which are in this stadium right here," he said.

Toronto will go with Chris Konopka in goal for the third straight game although Vanney expects injured starter Joe Bendik (foot) to play next week. Defenders Steven Caldwell, Mark Bloom and Clement Simonin remain out.

The new-look stadium, which was still undergoing finishing touches Friday, can accommodate almost 31,000.

Phase 2 of the renovation, to start at the end of the season, will see a roof installed around three sides of the lakefront stadium.

For those wondering, Toronto's winning percentage away from home in MLS is 15.6 per cent.

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