Photo by kozumel.
Nothing’s official yet; so far there’s just a rescheduled game between Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls. It would appear, however, that the move was made in order to free up Toronto FC and BMO Field for what would be the biggest occasion in the fledgling team’s history: an exhibition match against Real Madrid on August 7.
Hosting David Beckham’s MLS “debut” (and don’t we remember how that went?) was merely the result of a scheduling quirk—but getting Real Madrid would be a major coup for a team which, in spite of its massive local popularity, still belongs to what most people would consider a “minor” league. Toronto FC’s rabid, doggedly loyal fanbase probably couldn’t care less, but Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (who will never, ever pass up an opportunity to make a few extra dollars) would certainly use the occasion to push the Toronto FC brand onto people who remain unconvinced about soccer in general or about Major League Soccer in particular.
They could hardly hope for a better ally. Real is, along with Manchester United, the biggest name in world soccer; a case could be made for them being the biggest name in all of sports, period. Thirty-one La Liga titles and nine European Cups don’t even begin to speak to Real’s global appeal: simply put, they’re a team that transcends the game. The much-heralded Galáctico era may be over, but the squad’s still littered with international stars, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Raúl among them. The club’s incoming president, Florentino Pérez, was the architect of the original Galáctico side and will spend heavily during the close season. Pérez is intent on bringing Kaka and Frank Ribéry to the Bernabéu this summer. Moreover, and most tantalizingly for Toronto soccer fans, rumours persist that Real has a deal in place to buy Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning World Footballer of the Year and arguably the sport’s most recognizable figure. Ronaldo’s capture is far from certain, but the mere prospect of him playing at BMO Field is mouth watering. Exactly how many of Real’s star players would actually appear in Toronto would remain to be seen, obviously; one suspects, however, that Real wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to sell itself in such a fertile soccer market.
Toronto FC has more-or-less conquered Toronto’s existing soccer fans, especially those who lacked strong allegiances to international club teams. Bringing Real Madrid to BMO Field might help convert those who remain unmoved, or who see Major League Soccer as being of less consequence than, say, the English Premier League. And while it might seem ironic that it’d take a foreign team to bridge that gap, it’s worth remembering that Toronto FC is only in its third year of existence. It’s an intriguing proposition, both for casual fans and for die-hard supporters. Real Madrid at BMO Field: the mind boggles.