A booming crowd of some 45,000 will cheer on Toronto FC on Wednesday in the biggest game in franchise history.
Big games and big crowds are nothing new to Danny Koevermans. But for his Toronto teammates who can't say the same, the big Dutch forward has some advice.
“Enjoy,” Koevermans said Monday after Toronto held its first practice on the artificial turf at Rogers Centre.
“I think this is going to be the only time that TFC is going to play at the Rogers Centre, in front of 50,000. OK, maybe next season we will get into the (CONCACAF Champions League) quarter-finals as well. But for now, just enjoy the moment.
“It's going to be the biggest home crowd ever, so just enjoy the game and go out there and get a good result.”
Toronto FC welcomes David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy to town for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals, easily the most important match in the history of a team that has never reached the Major League Soccer post-season.
The game against last year's MLS champion has sold all 43,500 tickets available. Including suites, the Rogers Centre capacity is 45,000.
Koevermans, who played four seasons for PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch league, regularly played in front of 50,000-plus at Amsterdam Arena, home of Ajax.
“I think there's going to be some noise around here, I'm looking forward to it,” Koevermans said.
Toronto and L.A. will play the second leg March 14 at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the Galaxy's home stadium, in what will be a considerably quieter affair. Attendance was capped at 7,500 because of rules the stadium has about events on school nights.
In the event the two-game series is tied in aggregate goals, away goals are the first tiebreaker. If tied on away goals, there's a 30-minute overtime. If that doesn't solve anything, the game would go to penalty kicks.
Toronto coach Aron Winter, whose team is recently back from the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Fla. — Toronto lost 1-0 to MLS rival Vancouver Whitecaps in the championship game — said Wednesday's contest is a thrilling way to kick off the season.
“It's a great game, I think it's one of the biggest games,” Winter said. “Everybody is speaking and writing and talking about this game from months ago, and now finally the moment is almost here. We have to be ready for it, and we are ready.”
Sophomore defender Ashtone Morgan grew up in Toronto and can't wait to hit the pitch Wednesday.
“Very exciting, the biggest game probably I'll play in in my whole career, really nervous, excited, and everything. . . all the emotions. It's really good,” the 21-year-old Morgan said. “It's amazing, we can make history and I want to be part of that and I think we have the guys who can do that job on Wednesday.”
Rookie midfielder Luis Silva, Toronto's fourth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft out of UC Santa Barbara, was an L.A. Galaxy fan growing up.
“It will be a dream come true for me. Obviously looking at those guys on TV in my college years and earlier, having a chance to play with them is going to be a great experience for me,” Silva said of playing the likes of Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan (who has been battling flu and bronchitis).
“But other than that, we're just trying to concentrate on our part and do things well and hopefully get that win.”
Morgan and Silva said Toronto's veterans such as Koevermans and former German international Torsten Frings have been talking to them about what to expect come kickoff Wednesday.
“They try to keep everybody grounded, especially the younger guys, they try to direct us on the right path,” Morgan said.
Winter said the game itself is a key opportunity to kick off the season on the right foot.
“The most important thing is that we're going to start Wednesday, the first official game, that we are ready for the other games. That is the most important thing,” Winter said. “It's always nice when you've got a good start, and we're going to go for the good start.”
Toronto FC has been a thorn in the Galaxy's side, playing L.A. to four draws in four matches over the last two seasons.
Still Toronto finished with a 6-13-15 record last year, 24 points behind the 19-5-10 Galaxy.
Toronto FC opted to hold the game at Rogers Centre because of the problems winter weather could pose at BMO Field, the team's home stadium. It will be Toronto's first home game outside of BMO Field, and also the only time Toronto will host the Galaxy this season, as the two teams are not scheduled to meet here in the regular-season.
The game will easily set a new Toronto FC home attendance record, as BMO Field seats just 21,140.
Toronto, which has missed the playoffs in all five MLS seasons, opens its sixth season March 17 in Seattle.