HARTFORD, September 11, 2020 – Earlier this summer, the city of Hartford offered Dunkin’ Donuts Park as a possible home for the Toronto Blue Jays as the Major League Baseball franchise looked for a home field.
The border between Canada and the United States has been closed for months for non-essential travel with the COVID-19 pandemic raging in the U.S. forcing Canadian teams to seek alternatives to participating in professional sports leagues here in the United States.
Last month, both nations agreed to continue restricting moving across the border through at least September 21.
The Blue Jays ultimately decided on playing their home games in Buffalo, home of their Triple A affiliate. But Connecticut will have some major league caliber games played in Hartford this fall.
Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC will play their remaining home games in the pandemic-shortened season at Pratt & Whitney Stadium’s Rentschler Field in East Hartford, it was announced yesterday by the team and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.
No fans will be allowed in the stadium, according to reporting from Jim Fuller of Hearst Connecticut Media. “It’s meant to be fanless,” Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) which operates the field, told Fuller. “We will rent the building to them since we aren’t using it.”
The Hartford Athletic, which plays in the USL Championship league, has been playing home games at Dillon Stadium the past two months before a reducing crowd of about 1,300 fans a game – 25 percent of the stadium’s capacity of 5,500 fans.
Toronto’s first game will be against the Columbus Crew on Sunday, September 27. Other MLS games are expected to be played in East Hartford but the remainder of the 2020 MLS schedule has not been announced yet.
Toronto and two other Canadian teams in MLS (Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps) have also secured stadiums in the U.S. to host games. Montreal will play at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. while Vancouver will play at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
The three Canadian teams were playing each other in Canada in a series of nine matches before coming to the United States in recent weeks to begin facing American MLS teams.
“Pratt & Whitney Stadium is an ideal location for professional soccer, and I am excited that we’ve reached an agreement with Toronto FC to have the club play their home games here,” Lamont said in a news release.
Toronto FC officials were thrilled with the decision.
“The state of Connecticut opened their arms for us and my compliments to David Lehman and Governor Lamont for their leadership here. Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field is a great venue. They’ve hosted a number of international games and we’re excited to play there,” said Bill Manning, president of Toronto FC.
Toronto general manager Ali Curtis likes the facility. “We felt that it was important to have a surrogate home field that had similarities to BMO Field, in dimension, surface characteristics, and field quality,” he said. “From a competitive standpoint, a priority was to have our own home field. While playing at BMO Field is always our preferred and ideal option, we think the East Hartford location is the best available option for this next phase.”
Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field has hosted a number of United States men’s and women’s national team games through the years. The Hartford Athletic played their first eight home games of the 2019 at Rentschler Field before renovations at Dillon Stadium were complete.
Toronto’s game with Columbus will be the second MLS game at the facility. New York City FC hosted Houston in a game last September 23 when NYC’s home field – Yankee Stadium – was unavailable because the New York Yankees had to play a rescheduled contest.
Each of MLS’s 28 teams will play 23 regular season games this season before the playoffs begin in late November.
Toronto, whose nickname is the Reds, are in second place in the MLS’ Eastern Conference with a record of 6-2-3 behind Columbus (7-1-2). New England is fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2-5 record. Toronto won the 2017 MLS Cup title.
Toronto’s MLS games will be available through ESPN’s streaming service (ESPN+).