TFC's Champions League dilemma

An overview of the Rogers Centre stadium as Manchester United plays Celtic FC during a friendly...

An overview of the Rogers Centre stadium as Manchester United plays Celtic FC during a friendly soccer match that drew 39,139 fans in Toronto on July 16, 2010. (REUTERS)

Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:22 PM ET

Toronto FC has an interesting decision to make in the next few weeks.

The club will open its 2012 season on the 6th, 7th or 8th of March against either the star-laden L.A. Galaxy, or strong Mexican sides Monterrey and Santos Laguna in the quarter-final round of the CONCACAF Champions League.

If defending champion Monterrey or Santos Laguna are drawn on Monday, the team will have to decide whether to gamble that BMO Field will be ready the first week of March so that the team can use Toronto’s frigid late winter climate to its advantage against the Mexicans, or to play inside at the Rogers Centre in front of potentially double or triple the audience.

If David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane’s Galaxy are drawn instead, it is a pretty safe bet that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. will give Rogers the cash required to play at the former SkyDome.

Earl Cochrane, TFC’s director of team and player operations, said on Wednesday that the choice of venue will be revealed by the end of November.

Drawing the Galaxy, favoured to take home the MLS Cup later this month, would be the ideal outcome on Monday for the Reds.

Thanks to Beckham and his well-known pals, the team believes it could draw 40,000-50,000 people — loyalists, plus those who have been unable to get seats in the past at BMO Field — as well as casual soccer fans who would attend to see the international standouts.

The Montreal Impact — set to join MLS next season — drew a whopping 55,571 fans to Olympic Stadium when the team took on Santos Laguna in the 2009 quarterfinals.

Monterrey and Santos Laguna don’t have household names, but according to TFC head coach/technical director Aron Winter, are both extremely talented.

Cochrane also pointed out that while Toronto will have just concluded its training camp, the Mexican sides will be five or six games into their domestic seasons — which could be a considerable advantage.

“They are all very talented teams,” Cochrane said.

“The difference is L.A. is in the same boat we are (schedule-wise).”

Added Winter: “It doesn’t matter for me (who the opponent is), but L.A. would be nice for the crowd ... They have big names, but if you want to go farther, you have to beat everybody.”

Winter said it is difficult to have such an important game scheduled before the regular season even kicks off, but says he does not feel any extra pressure.

That said, Cochrane maintained the club — and MLS as a whole — is taking the CONCACAF tournament extremely seriously with the knowledge that a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup is at stake.

“The first four years, we went in (to the MLS season) with a bare bones roster,” Cochrane said.

“It is incumbent on us that that doesn’t happen again.

“I don’t think you get to this stage and pack it in. You’re at a point now where you’re a handful of games away from playing in a very prestigious competition.”

In April, Real Salt Lake came within a whisker of becoming the first MLS club to advance to the Club World Cup, dropping a heart-breaking 1-0 home decision to Monterrey after drawing 2-2 in Mexico the week before.

“If you look at how Salt Lake approached it, we want to do that,” Cochrane said.

“We are taking it very seriously.”

Toronto will travel either to Los Angeles or Mexico for the second leg which will be played in the middle of March.

Long before that, the team will be re-shaped to some degree through the expansion, re-entry, supplemental and SuperDraft and through the MLS’ transfer window, which opens in late January.


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