YES! It looks like it’s going to get done. Toronto City Council approved Wednesday with a vote of 29-0 on the conversion of BMO Field from Field Turf to natural grass. MLSE is footing the entire bill of around 5.5 million dollars.
Under the deal MLSE will spend $3.5 million to install natural grass at BMO Field by May 1. They will also spend $1.2 million to move the winter bubble from BMO Field to Lamport Stadium, which would provide 5,616 hours of off-season playing time, from November to April. $800,000 is available for a new artificial turf field in south Etobicoke for community use in the summer.
It’s something that has been in the works for a while. It’s not like we’re the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. At the snap of a finger when Bilichick was unhappy with grass (can you believe that?) he ordered Field Turf to be installed overnight. That is great when you own and operate your own facility. That is not the case here.
BMO Field was originally built for the 2007 FIFA Under 20 World Cup with funding from all three levels of government. There was also the stipulation the facility be made available for community use. Of course that meant Field Turf being installed and not grass. Now MLSE has made sure under the conversion there will actually be more hours of soccer fields available for community use than before. A definite win-win and I’m not just talking about the community getting a couple of great facilities provided by MLSE, I’m talking about Toronto FC being able to take that next step in building a winning franchise.
The Field Turf at BMO has served its purpose for three years, but the actual hours of people playing on it makes it really about seven years old. It’s been a challenge not only to watch the bouncing ball at BMO, but imagine playing on it (actually I have and did in fact break my thumb at the 2008 MLS Media All-Star Game).
Toronto FC has some very talented players, but having to take three or four touches on the ball before doing anything has been a huge disadvantage to what is supposed to be home field advantage and I think the results show that. Teams without as much talent now have the time to close down Toronto FC and those talented one-v-one players are brought down to the visitors’ level.
With grass, that talent and ball movement will shine at BMO. Chris Cummins has been also worried about the toll Field Turf takes on players’ bodies and trying to limit their time on it. It’s tough on joints and Field Turf’s own study shows that off the ball injuries compared to grass are off the charts.
The international teams BMO Field will be able to attract will improve dramatically. The Canadian National Team will play more matches at what is supposed to be their “national stadium,” and Mo Johnston will be able to attract higher profile players to the city. It’s no secret a couple of years ago Darren Huckerby was very close to making Toronto home, but the veteran player did not want to play on what many European players call “the plastic pitch.” Instead he signed with Frank Yallop’s San Jose Earthquakes.
There is no doubt in my mind Julian de Guzman was well aware of the possibility of grass at BMO Field and if that was not on the horizon I wonder if he would have signed here. The good news is he did and will be an integral part of this team moving forward and competing for the top spot in Major League Soccer. The fans have been vocal, but they have also been patient and I think everyone can appreciate how slow government can move at times. But this time that was not the case. CONGRATS to everyone involved. Now it’s not the type of grass we can smoke so I will raise a pint and say “Cheers” to a job well done!
Lee Godfrey brings an extensive amount of soccer broadcast experience to GolTV where he is the host of the station’s original Canadian news program Extra Time.