Toronto FC indefinitely suspended recognized supporter group privileges and announced plans for a review of the program Thursday after fires briefly burned in the stands during a Canadian Championship game at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.
Ottawa police were investigating Wednesday night’s incident, which led to a delay late in the second half of the two-leg semifinal opener between TFC and Ottawa Fury FC.
TFC supporters set off flares and smoke bombs that led to small fires in the stands and even on the pitch before they were extinguished by security.
“The safety of our fans, employees and supporters is the highest priority for TFC,” Toronto FC president Bill Manning said in a statement. “The events which took place in Ottawa last night involving TFC supporters were unacceptable and needlessly put the safety of others at risk. Due to the seriousness of this incident we are left with no choice but to suspend all recognized supporter group privileges indefinitely as we conduct a thorough review of TFC’s recognized supporter program.
“We are fully co-operating with the Ottawa Police Department as they investigate this incident and work to identify those responsible.”
Const. Chuck Benoit said the investigation is ongoing, no one is in custody and no charges have been laid. He added no injuries were reported and investigators were still trying to identify those involved.
Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group said members of the TFC supporters group smuggled a “small quantity of fireworks into the stadium and ignited them during the second half of the match” and that the perpetrators were ejected from the stadium.
The OSEG statement added that all members of the visiting group were subjected to bag checks and security scans prior to entering the stadium and that “no fireworks or other devices were detected.”
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney apologized on behalf of his team in his post-game media scrum, saying that his club is “embarrassed about the incident.” Toronto won the match 1-0 on a goal by Jonathan Osorio.
Toronto FC has several supporter groups listed on its website. They include the Red Patch Boys, Inebriatti, U-Sector, Kings in the North, Original 109 and Tribal Rhythm Nation.
Supporter group members can sit anywhere in TFC’s home stadium but the more fervent spectators usually occupy the stands behind the goal at the venue’s south end. Some members hold banners at games, wave flags and bang drums.
Some group members travel to road games on occasion. Ottawa is about a five-hour drive from Toronto.
A message left with the Red Patch Boys, arguably the team’s most prominent supporter group, was not immediately returned. The Inebriatti group issued a statement on its Facebook page.
“Inebriatti does not condone interfering with the play of any match that we attend. We had no part in the flare that was thrown onto the field or the explosion at last night’s match in Ottawa. We are communicating with the relevant parties to understand what happened at the match last night and how to move forward once that is established.”
A Canada Soccer committee was set to discuss the incident this week and it’s possible a fine or discipline could be imposed. The issue will likely be on the agenda when the federation board meets this weekend as well.
The second leg of the semifinal will be played July 25 at BMO Field.
Toronto FC won the Major League Soccer championship last year and reached the final of this year’s CONCACAF Champions League before falling on penalty kicks to Chivas Guadalajara. TFC has struggled in MLS play this season with a 4-11-4 record.