Sounders FC

Toronto goal: End absence from playoffs

In the stands, Toronto FC is one of the success stories of Major League Soccer, and this season that story has become even better.

On the pitch, however, the Reds’ enthusiastic fans are restlessly waiting for the club’s first winning record or playoff appearance. And despite a 1-3 start to the new season, the organization says that wait has to end.

“We must make the playoffs,” said Paul Beirne, TFC senior director of business operations. “The question we ask ourselves is how far we’re going to go in the playoffs because we’re hosting MLS Cup this year. That would be icing on the cake on what has been a pretty spectacular honeymoon period for what have been the first adolescent years of our franchise.”

Toronto hopes to take a step toward turning this season around at 11 a.m. today, when Seattle Sounders FC visits BMO Field.

There, at least, things are better than ever for this franchise, which began play in 2007 with a 6-17-7 record, progressed to 9-13-8 in 2008 and 10-11-9 last season.

From its opening, BMO Park became known as MLS’ best environment until Seattle joined the league last season.

Early this season, Seattle again leads MLS with average home attendance of 36,077, while expansion Philadelphia is second at 34,870, and Toronto is third at 21,978. That final figure reflects added seating to meet ongoing demand.

Also new this season is a natural-grass pitch. Beirne admits the field remains harder than ideal while the forces of nature do their work. But TFC sees it as a big step up from the FieldTurf it replaced.

Looking ahead, Beirne can foresee additional expansion up to around 28,000 seats within the next five to seven seasons.

However, TFC likes the idea of methodical growth. And in the interim, they like the idea of demand exceeding supply.

However, as with most franchises, the best way to keep the fans coming is to field a winning team.

“They’re getting restless, and I don’t blame them,” Beirne said. “Seattle’s success was absolutely earned by a quality organization, and our supporters are pointing to that, and rightly so. They’re saying: ‘How can this be?’

“So we’re heading into Year 4. We always said we wanted to make the playoffs by Year 3. We missed the playoffs last year by a point. And so we feel like we’re on the right trajectory. Each year has been better than the previous one, which is always a good message. But frankly, the playoffs this year is an absolute.”

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808

sounders fc gameday

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (2-1-2; 7 pts.) at TORONTO FC (1-3-0; 3 pts.)

Kickoff: 11 a.m., BMO Field, Toronto.

TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 97.3-FM; 1210-AM (Spanish).

Head-to-head: The Sounders won 2-0 last season in Toronto, and the clubs played to a scoreless draw in Seattle. The return match is Oct. 2 at Qwest Field.

Team leaders: For Seattle – G 2, Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani; A 2, Montero, Osvaldo Alonso; S 16, Montero; SOG 6, Montero. For TFC – G 4, Dwayne De Rosario; A 1, Garcia; S 12, De Rosario; SOG 7, De Rosario.

Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “It’s a great atmosphere. Their fans are tremendous. So from that standpoint, it’s going to be a raucous affair. They are a team that’s still trying to find their way. I would imagine with the struggles they’ve had they will be somewhat conservative in their approach. We have to be somewhat prepared for that.”

Notes: This is Seattle’s second game in four days, following a 2-2 draw at Dallas on Thursday. ... The Sounders’ past three games have been settled by goals in stoppage time. ... Toronto is in its first season under Preki, a former Tacoma Stars standout who coached Chivas USA last season. ... Preki tried something new in training this week, moving top-scorer De Rosario back from striker to midfield. ... The Reds are second to last in MLS with a 2.5 goals-against average. ... Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller (head) and Michael Fucito (knee) are listed as questionable; Pat Noonan (hamstring) and Taylor Graham are doubtful; James Riley (calf) and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are probable.

Next: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Columbus Crew, Qwest Field.