It may just be a grass field, but the new natural turf being installed at BMO Field will have a long-term impact on professional, international and Canadian soccer in Toronto.
On Monday, Toronto FC invited the media to the ever expanding BMO Field to view the start of the installation of the new natural grass, locally grown in Cookstown, Ontario.
The entire process should conclude by the end of Tuesday with workers spending the next couple of weeks coloring and grooming the pitch ahead of the team’s home opener against the expansion Philadelphia Union on April 15.
Natural grass is a long time coming for many Toronto soccer fans and for some it will be the seminal point that transforms 21,500-seat BMO Field from a pseudo-soccer facility into an authentic soccer stadium along the lines of the top 20,000-seater grounds in Europe.
When BMO Field opened in 2007, it was equipped with the latest FieldTurf synthetic grass surface.
At the time, Field Turf enjoyed immense popularity as a solution that gave cost-conscious stadiums and clubs a chance to play on a surface mimicking grass without incurring the heavy maintenance costs tied to natural grass.
But the honeymoon quickly soured.
Despite studies showing no difference in the occurrence of injuries on natural grass compared to synthetic grass, players such as TFC and Canadian national team striker Dwayne De Rosario harshly spoke out against the surface. It got so bad that De Rosario hinted he would want out if the synthetic surface wasn’t removed.
While player outcry was a big factor, the final death knell for FieldTurf came when TFC repeatedly encountered clubs that refused to play on synthetic grass. The club attracted Real Madrid for an exhibition match last year, but not before shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars on a natural grass surface to appease Los Galácticos.
Natural grass should prove to be a game changer, and the payoff is already happening. TFC claims it has received more calls from international clubs seeking to play in Toronto.
As well, the Canadian Soccer Association is in a better position to attract more matches and higher ranked countries for friendlies. This should, in turn, help the men’s national team improve, especially in the lead-up to the start of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Coinciding with the installation of natural grass at BMO Field is the opposite development at Edmonton’s 60,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium. Long considered the best grass stadium in the country, the city of Edmonton is replacing the natural grass field with synthetic grass.
The move will only help further establish BMO Field and Montreal’s 13,500-seat Stade Saputo as the principal sites for national-team matches.
Even more reason to treasure what Toronto FC is calling the “Cadillac of grass pitches.”