By Vijay Setlur
TORONTO - Toronto FC is used to playing in the sunshine, rain or even nearly an electrical storm. Early March in Canada is a different matter.
Coach Aron Winter is welcoming the idea of heading east a few kilometers to the Rogers Centre to play the first leg of TFC's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series indoors against the LA Galaxy, rather than what likely could be a chilly BMO Field.
"I hope we're going to get the stadium completely full with our fans," Winter said at a media conference Friday. "As far as we know, they are the 12th man on the pitch and are very important because they are supporting us and I think it's not going to be a problem."
Toronto FC is accustomed to playing before capacity crowds of 22,000 at its open air BMO Field, but decided to shift its March 7 match against the Galaxy to the 45,746-seat Rogers Center, home of Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays.
While the team has played home matches in March at BMO Field, temperatures in Toronto average a high of 37 degrees and a low of 26 Fahrenheit (2 to minus-3 Celsius) during the month. In August, Toronto had to abandon its Champions League match against Dallas due to an electrical storm. It replayed the match the following day.
Citing an inability to provide a comfortable and safe experience for fans and players, the club announced in December the game would take place indoors on synthetic grass at the Rogers Centre.
Though the roof of the nearly 23-year-old stadium can retract, TFC's Senior Director of Business Operations Paul Beirne said there has been no discussion about opening the roof in case of mild weather.
The game will mark the first time in the franchise's five-year history it will not host a home match at BMO Field.
"The feedback that we've gotten back from the fans of TFC has been overwhelmingly positive about going to Rogers Centre," Beirne said.
"They see this as a big opportunity for the club, and it is a big opportunity for the club. We're going further in this competition than we've ever been before and it also gives us an opportunity to really kick off the season in a quality way with a big event at the Rogers Centre."
Club officials hope to repeat the success accomplished by the Montreal Impact in February 2009, when the then-United Soccer Leagues club drew a Champions League-record 55,571 to Stade Olympique for the first leg of its quarterfinal series against Mexico's Santos Laguna.
Winter weather forced the club to shift the game from its usual home, the adjacent 13,500-seat Stade Saputo.
Though there's no chance of a new attendance record, TFC officials hope a large crowd will lift the club as it did for Montreal.
To that end, Beirne said 70 percent of the seats are priced under $30.
The Rogers Centre previously has hosted soccer matches, most recently a May 2010 friendly between Italian clubs Juventus and Fiorentina.
Club officials considered installing a natural grass surface from Kentucky, but elected to use the stadium's artificial turf instead.
TFC played three