The BMO Field experience will be different in 2016, and Greg Vanney is excited about it – even if he has to wait, again.
A canopy that will cover the three main stands of Toronto FC's home ground is the main feature of Phase 2 of BMO Field's renovation, but it won't be ready for the start of the 2016 season.
“Additions to the stadium are going to make the facilities amazing,” the Toronto FC head coach said on Monday after training. “We have a great crowd that makes a lot of noise, and [the roof] will help keep some of that in. Any time there's a roof, that's a different feel, another level. That's exciting. The guys are excited.”
The club must navigate a daunting eight-match road trip to open the season, including trying contests against Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls, MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers and their biggest rivals Montreal Impact.
That's a difficult ask for any club, but TFC have the experience of last season's seven-game road trip to kick off the season on which to draw. The club had to embark on that road trip while the first phase of BMO Field renovations were completed.
Five of the eight season-opening away games this year will be against Eastern Conference opposition.
“[This season] it's a little different,” Vanney said. “We're fortunate to get games on the East Coast, so travel is a little less.”
“[The] real benefit is we don't have two byes at the start,” he added. “Last year, we played two games, had a game off, played two, had a game off. It was difficult to establish a rhythm. We do have one bye, but it's in the course of eight games; better to establish [that rhythm] instead of having start-stops at the beginning.”
Despite those concessions, the first two months will prove a challenge. With expectations high following the team’s first trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs last season, a minimum point haul from the eight games has been tossed around. TFC went 3-5-0 on last season's season-opening road trip.
“Everyone wants a hard-line rule in place,” general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said, “but what Bill [Manning, team president], myself, and Greg talked about, was having objectives.
“When you have a significant challenge like eight games on the road, you want to know at the end where you are. If we're not at eight points, we'll evaluate it. We don't take such a short-term view on anything.”
Nor do the players, for that matter.
“It starts now,” said Drew Moor, a newly acquired defender expected to marshal the backline this year. “Those first games are going to be a big challenge. It's a good thing. In the playoffs, you're going to have to go on the road, into tough atmospheres.
“You can't just flip a switch when it turns September, October. [It] has to be flipped well early in the season.”
Along with the renovation, the stadium will also have a new tenant, with the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts moving in for their upcoming season, which kicks off in June. The addition of the Argos has some raising concerns over the integrity and aesthetics of the shared pitch, though Vanney doesn't consider himself among the worried.
“My anticipation is that we'll virtually not know that the two of us are there,” he said. “The way things are laid out from a scheduling standpoint, there's enough downtime [between games] that the field will recover.”
And he has some experience with the matter, having shared a pitch with the UCLA football team at the Rose Bowl while playing with the LA Galaxy from 1996-2001. He said problems at the shared venue were minimal.
“None that I remember,” Vanney said. “That was one of the best fields in the league; it remained the same. It comes down to [time]; the grounds tend to come together pretty quick.”