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Turf war looming at BMO?
by Ridge Mahoney, August 26th, 2008 7AM

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[MLS] Canada coach Dale Mitchell has added his voice to a growing chorus of those who don't like the artificial surface at BMO Field, and his isn't the only voice that's getting louder and louder. The issue is fast becoming a cause célèbre north of the border and might soon boil over to immerse Toronto FC, its operator-investor Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), the Canadian Soccer Association, the City of Toronto, and the local Canadian Football League team, the Argonauts.

TFC has parlayed the BMO FieldTurf into a homefield advantage this year yet TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston has suggested perhaps some of the money the team will receive from the Maurice Edu transfer to Glasgow Rangers should pay for a grass field.

Mitchell expressed his displeasure after Canada opened its semifinal World Cup qualifying schedule by tying Jamaica, 1-1, last week and is thankful the next two home qualifiers will be played in Montreal (Sept. 6 against Honduras) and Edmonton (Oct. 15 against Mexico). Both have grass surfaces.

"I'm pleased that we're not going to play on it again during this qualification round in 2008," said Mitchell to TEAM 1040 Sports Radio in Vancouver. "I hope we don't in 2009, I don't think it's a good surface."

MLSE runs the facility, but the City of Toronto owns it, and thus a tug-of-war seems inevitable. The Argonauts polled their season-ticket holders earlier this month about moving from Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) to BMO when their lease runs out, which horrified the loud and noisy TFC faithful.

There's some cause for the horror. BMO would need to be torn up and renovated, since a CFL field is 160 yards long, including two 25-yard end zones, and the Argos would want capacity increased to at least 25,000 and probably closer to 30,000. In this case, bigger won't be better, not for TFC and MLS.

Strictly regarding logistics, temporary bleachers could be wheeled in to fill up the vast end zones for soccer games and with all the madness TFC has generated in just a season and a half the increased capacity could be utilized to generate even more, and louder, craziness.

Yet TFC fans would have to watch their team play elsewhere for at least one season while their beloved home is ripped apart. End-zone season-ticket holders, and there are thousands of them, would be reseated in bleachers. Dreams of a grass field would die like a Bermuda lawn in a Toronto winter, and the CSA would still be stuck with an artificial surface its players hate in what it proclaims to be the national soccer stadium.

Provincial funding ("public money" in American political terms) helped pay for BMO and straightened out the finances sufficiently for MLSE to come on board in a whirlwind of meetings, handshakes, signed documents, and beaming bureaucrats. Along with that financing, however, came a mandate for an artificial surface to maximize use of the facility for as many events as possible. Such as CFL games? Mais non!

Mitchell has enough troubles regardless of where Canada plays its home games. Jamaica scored when keeper Pat Onstad batted a cross into his own net. History isn't on the Canadian side: it generated just one point, as in less than two, from a possible nine in its home semifinal qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup, and didn't do that much better -- four points -- in the run-up to 2002.

But at least for this season, and probably longer if it doesn't advance, Canada is done with BMO Field. TFC and MLSE must deal with the subject of grass while placating city and provincial government officials, not to mention another local football team with some clout.

The Argonauts may simply be playing the BMO card to leverage better lease terms at Rogers Centre, but if that bluff is called, vitriolic political wrangling shall ensue. Regardless of the outcome, perhaps the most sublime setting in MLS may wait years or decades to add the lone missing element it needs.

 



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