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Toronto FC fans Wayne Poetschke (left) and Jeff Walter head to BMO Field for the home opener Sat. March 22, 2014. (Allie Coulman/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Toronto FC fans Wayne Poetschke (left) and Jeff Walter head to BMO Field for the home opener Sat. March 22, 2014. (Allie Coulman/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

With expectations high, fans abuzz ahead of Toronto FC’s home opener Add to ...

Fans gathered around Toronto’s Liberty Market building hours before Toronto FC’s home opener against D.C. United and made their way to BMO Field behind flag bearers and a marching band.

Decked out in red hats and scarves emblazoned with the TFC logo, fans cheered with renewed excitement after expensive off-season roster changes.

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“This year is a little bit more exciting because they’ve signed some international players,” Christopher Pinto, a Toronto kinesiologist said. “I’m hoping that they’ll win here at home and we can warm up the city with a little bit of TFC love.”

Mr. Pinto said he’s been a fan since the team started, even through the bad times – “just like the Leafs.”

Fans had even more to be excited about after the team won their season opener last Saturday, beating Seattle 2-1. Forward Jermain Defoe scored both goals in his debut with the team after leaving the English Premier League. Last week, he won the Major League Soccer player of the week award.

“I like the way he plays and I think he’ll be a big help to the team,” Mr. Pinto said.

Another fan, Wayne Poetschke, agreed that Defoe is good news for the team but said “it just can’t be one guy.”

“The amount of money was one thing,” the London, Ont. man said. “But still, they put some thought into [the roster changes].”

Kathy Ford was at the pre-game celebrations on East Liberty Street, dressed for the cold weather that hovered around 1 C, in a bright red Toronto FC parka.

“We’re ready,” she said. “Openers and closers are usually pretty brutal.”

Mrs. Ford is one of 17,000 die-hard fans that hold season tickets. “We come to all the games,” she said. “I think the curse is done!”

The four-year season ticket holder said the only reason she hasn’t been a season ticket holder since 2007 is because “it took us three (years) to get the seats.”

Fans who have been faithful through recent roster changes could see major changes to the stadium, which were approved by the city’s executive committee March 19.

The committee endorsed a $10-million contribution to expand BMO Field, which is owned by the city and maintained by Toronto FC owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. The plan includes adding a partial roof that would cover the majority of the stands and increasing the number of permanent seats to 30,000 from about 21,500.

The stadium’s capacity could be maxed out to 40,000 with an addition 10,000 seats for special events, including the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Fans rallying before the home opener had mixed feelings about the expansion.

“Where our seats are won’t exist anymore,” Mr. Poetschke said who’s seats are in the end zone.

“If they can keep the drive going and win, they’ll be able to fill it,” he said. “Seattle has 40,000 fans standing the entire time, so why can’t we?”

The city’s contribution to the project is also earmarked for reconfiguring the field so that the stadium can host Canadian Football League games. MLSE’s plan is to install retractable seats so soccer fans can remain close to the action..

Jeff Walter of London, Ont. is a Toronto FC supporter, but a CFL fan?

“Not so much,” he said. But he said he doesn’t see a problem with the football and soccer teams sharing a field as long as the turf can withstand the extra use.

“If they’re going to have football and soccer they’re going to have to come up with something that’s adequate so that the playing field isn’t going to be a problem,” Mr. Walter said.

MLSE has lauded a “hybrid grass surface,” which is used in some professional stadiums in England and Brazil, as the solution to the wear-and-tear of two pro sports using the same field.

The new surface would be paid for by MLSE’s $90-million contribution to the expansion. The plans to expand BMO Field look to the provincial and federal governments to match the city’s contribution for a total of $120-million for the project, which will go before Toronto city council next month.

But in the celebrations before Saturday’s game, fans just wanted to see the team win at home.

“This season I’m just looking for them to be competitive,” Mr. Walter said. “Give us a chance for some playoffs and show some excitement to the fans.”

With files from Canadian Press

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