Toronto FC to head home with hopes it can soon return to playing games at BMO Field

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Toronto FC president Bill Manning says he is optimistic the MLS team will soon be able to play games back at BMO Field.

Toronto, which finished out the 2020 campaign in East Hartford, Conn., set up shop in Orlando this season due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. But the travelling party is returning home Thursday with the hope it will soon be able to host games.

"The regulations allow us to come home and train, those that are fully vaccinated," Manning told reporters Sunday from Orlando. "So we will certainly take advantage of that.

"Look, it's been a long time. It's been a grind. We've been here for months on end. So we're fairly pleased that the border restrictions have eased. So we'll be back on Thursday after the game against New England on Wednesday."

More work has to be done to get the green light for BMO Field.

"About playing the games, we're still in some discussions there. But everything seems to be headed in the right direction," said Manning. "And so hopefully we'll have some good news on that end soon."

Toronto last played at BMO Field on Sept. 1, 2020. Since then it has played 25 regular-season games and one playoff contest on the road.

While the team managed to finish second overall in the regular-season standings last year at 13-5-5, it currently sits in the league basement at 1-8-2.

GM Ali Curtis said all of the team staff and almost all of the players are fully vaccinated. One or two players are either not vaccinated or need a second shot.

He acknowledged "potential complications for non-fully vaccinated players but we'll have to see how things unfold."

While government and health authorities are urging the public to get vaccinated, Toronto midfielder Nick DeLeon said in late March that he has no plans to do so.

"I've never had vaccines, I don't get the flu shot. I don't do any of that,'' he said. "I don't take medicine, I don't take prescription crap, any of that. That's my personal choice and that's the way I choose to live my life. And I will not change that for anybody. I know who I am and I'm confident in it.''

He says at the time he was "one of a few'' who think that way among his teammates.

After the midweek New England game, Toronto does not play against until July 17 against Orlando City. Manning said that game will not be at TFC's pandemic home of Orlando's Exploria Stadium.

"I am optimistic," he said when asked if the game could take place at BMO Field. "I think there are good discussions and things with the pandemic are going in the right direction. You're seeing more and more things open up. So I feel that the protocols that we have in place to host games at BMO Field are very strong and I'm hoping that we can. This next week will be really important to kind of finalize those discussions and hopefully get a positive decision on that end."

He said the club does have a backup plan involving another U.S. host city in case it does not get the OK. He did not specify the city, saying it had not been finalized.

Manning made his comments during a virtual news conference to address the firing of head coach Chris Armas.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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