Toronto FC president Bill Manning says the decision to admit some fans in to see the MLS team's regular-season finale Nov. 1 in East Hartford is essentially a thank-you to the community.
"They've been so receptive. Everything that we've done, everywhere we've went," Manning said of the Connecticut locals. "It's a good opportunity for them to come out and see a Major League Soccer game."
The team said Friday that it has the green light from local authorities to have up to 5,000 spectators at the 38,000-seat Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, which is serving as Toronto's home away from home during the pandemic.
Toronto will be hosting Inter Miami CF.
Manning said the message for TFC fans back home is to stay where they are and watch on TV.
"This was not intended to have our fans back in Canada come to Hartford. It was more meant for the local community here," he said. "That's why we picked just the one game. We wanted it to be an event."
He said the club has yet to decide whether to allow fans in for playoff games.
"We obviously are very cognizant of the teams that are near us here and wouldn't want to put ourselves in a situation where we wind up essentially being an away team," said Manning. "Some will depend on the date, the opponent, how things shake out Nov. 1. So no decisions yet."
Select seating will be available in both the stadium's lower and upper bowls for the Nov. 1 game. Spectators will be required to wear a mask or face covering and adhere to social distancing within the stadium.
“We’ve consulted with state and local public health officials and as long as certain health protocols are met, we believe that having a limited audience can safely be done, especially considering that this is an outdoor stadium," Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.
“I look forward to the day when we can fill the Rent back up to capacity. I appreciate Toronto FC and Major League Soccer for working with our administration so that we could make this happen.”
League-leading Toronto (11-2-5) hosts Atlanta United (5-9-4) on Sunday in East Hartford.
Toronto has played before fans just twice in 17 games since the league halted play March 12 due to the pandemic. Both those contests were in Montreal, where local authorities allowed 250 fans into Saputo Stadium.
TFC is renting the Hartford stadium for games and will get some of the ticket revenue Nov. 1.
"This isn't a revenue move ... With what we have to do in the stadium to make sure there's social distancing and everything else, it's a breakeven proposition," said Manning. "But it's something we though would be good for the team, we thought it would be good for the community."
Toronto coach Greg Vanney said he would leave the issue of allowing fans in up to the health professionals.
"For us we'll be isolated from them. Obviously in terms of protecting our group, I think we'll be distanced, we'll be fine," he said of the fans.
"In the small picture of things, is it nice to have fans in the stadium? Sure," he added. "Only if it's safe and makes sense for everybody involved."
Manning, meanwhile, said the team is very close to wrapping up a new contract for Vanney.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct 16, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press