- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

If ever a team had the advantage of a 12th man in its fans, it just might be MLS’ newest franchise, Toronto FC. A group of loud and soccer-sophisticated Canadians will be awaiting the arrival of D.C. United today as it makes its first trip across the northern border.

The fans in Canada have embraced the expansion team with a fervor not seen before in MLS, easily rivaling the typically colorful crowds abundant in Europe and South America.

Before the season began, Toronto’s allotment of 15,000 season tickets for its 20,000-seat venue quickly sold out. On Wednesday night more than 19,000 turned up in a downpour on a 42-degree night to see Toronto (2-4, six points) earn its second consecutive win, a 1-0 decision against the reigning league champion Houston Dynamo. That win left United at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

In Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire, Toronto fans hurled white seat cushions — part of a promotional giveaway — all over the field to celebrate the first goal in club history, holding up the match for five minutes as the field was cleaned up.

“It’s a pretty hostile environment,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “I think it’s great for our league to have that kind of fan support and to give our guys the experience in a hostile environment. That’s what makes you a better player.”

Toronto will have English forward Danny Dichio back after serving a one-game suspension.

United midfielder Kasali Yinka Casal knows all about Dichio, who was red-carded last week after a tussle with Chicago’s Diego Gutierrez. In the video replay it appeared Dichio wanted to take a bite out of Gutierrez’s arm. Like Casal, Dichio was born in the Hammersmith area of London. He once played for London’s notorious club Millwall, which has a reputation for having the worst-behaved fans in the country.

“That’s the type of team he’s come from — like Millwall,” Casal said. “They’ve got to be the most vicious team in England, and no one wants to go and play there. They are tough with the craziest fans. That’s just natural for [Dichio]. That’s no big deal.”

Dichio came to Toronto from English club Preston North End, where he played 63 games. He will be remembered in Toronto for getting the team’s first goal and first red card, if for nothing else.

Mitts injured again — The U.S. women’s team has suffered a major blow in its preparation for the World Cup in China. Starting defender Heather Mitts tore the ACL in her left knee in Saturday’s 6-2 win over Canada in Frisco, Texas, and will be out for six to eight months.

Mitts has played 71 times for the team and won an Olympic gold medal in 2004. This is the second big blow in her career. Mitts broke her leg in 2003 while playing for the Philadelphia Charge in the now defunct Women’s United Soccer Association. The injury cost her a possible spot on that year’s World Cup team.

Hahnemann hurt — American goalie Marcus Hahnemann, who made 164 saves playing for Reading FC — the most in the Premier League this season — broke bones in his right hand in the last game of the campaign against Blackburn on Sunday and went to Denver for an operation. The injury does not affect the U.S. team because Hahnemann was not going to be involved in the Gold Cup or the Copa America, according to U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

Olympic boss — Now that Bradley has graduated from being the Olympic coach to the coach of the U.S. national team, who will be the Olympic coach?

“After these two competitions [Gold Cup and Copa America], we’ll sit down and analyze that,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said. “He’s got a couple of great assistant coaches [Peter Nowak and Mike Sorber] with him that could take that team.”

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