A friendly? Not so much

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Hammer time arrives at BMO Field tonight on a night when the stars of Major League Soccer dot Toronto's sporting landscape.

By accepting its invitation, English side West Ham United, by default, assumed all the inherent difficulties in preparing for a match that is essentially meaningless.

While West Ham doesn't carry the same cache as higher profiled clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, to name a few, the Hammers aren't content to take a back seat to the likes of a David Beckham or any of the other MLS stars.

"There's transatlantic pride at stake,'' Lucas Neill said yesterday. "We realize we're playing on a big stage and we realize the importance of the exposure."

Admittedly, Neill and the rest of his Hammers aren't in peak form.

Afterall, this is the time when Europe's club sides are getting ready for the coming grind of their respective seasons.

"We've been in training for three weeks," Neill, who is a key member of Australia's national team, said.

"It's going to be a tough game. By the end, we might be jaded, but at the same time the adrenaline of the game will carry us."

West Ham was able to warm up for tonight by playing MLS side Columbus on Sunday, emerging with a 3-1 triumph on a night when misguided fans gave the beautiful game yet another black eye by hurling insults at each other.

As one might expect, security will be a little more heightened tonight.

Of greater concern for West Ham is the actual game (7 p.m., CBC).

The Hammers aren't accustomed to playing on artificial turf and nor are they used to playing in a format that amounts to public relations and profile.

West Ham manager Alan Curbishley understood the pitfalls when the Hammers agreed two months ago to play the MLS all-stars.

"We don't play on field turf and one or two players will be monitored,'' Curbishley said. "It's a surface we're not used to, but we're not using it as an excuse."

Curbishley can't say for certain who will get extended minutes and what brand of soccer fans are apt to see.

All he'll guarantee is that his Hammers are bent on providing a good showing for their supporters and fans of MLS.

"This is a pre-season game, but we don't know how friendly it's going to be,'' Curbishley said.

"No matter how many games we've played and how experienced you are, this is the experience for us.

"We've enjoyed the week so far and we'd like to finish it with a result."

English international Dean Ashton, who scored one goal against Columbus, was taken aback by the all-star surroundings when he arrived in Toronto earlier in the week.

"Coming over here, I was quite surprised at how big of an event it actually is,'' Ashton said. "I can't see why it can't be good over in England

"It's a great concept and a great opportunity, especially for the fans, to have the best players together on one team. Whether it'll ever happen (in England) is a different matter."


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