An announced gathering of 21,122, not much more than you would see for a midweek Jays game against an AL Central bottom-feeder, saw two teams go through the motions, just like a rock band on the 58th date on a 60-city tour of North America. They didn’t care where they were, they just wanted to get through the 90 minutes, then move on to the next stop. The score: 1-0 Fiorentina, not that anyone really cared.
While no tackler claimed a victim, the artificial turf did. In the first half, Juventus defender Goncalo Brandao looked to get a cleat caught as he tried to chase down Fiorentina striker Babacar Khouma. He fell awkwardly, and slammed his fists into the turf in pain. He was taken off the field on a cart.
There was no shaking the feeling that this was like watching a men’s rec league indoor soccer game. When the ball was in play, the Rogers Centre got eerily quiet. You could hear the ball smacking off a player’s boot. The fact the roof was closed despite it being a picture-perfect summer-like evening didn’t help matters at all. A computer glitch was blamed.
In the 17th minute, Fiorentina’s Montenegran starlet, Stevan Jovetic, unleashed a 30-yard strike that Juventus backup keeper Alex Manninger dove to meet, but couldn’t keep out of the goal.
“It’s a nice way to end the season, with a win over Juventus,” Jovetic said through a translator. “But mentally, physically, we are very tired.”
No Juventus defender made a move to stop Jovetic as he strolled in from the left. No one tried to get a block in. It was like watching a tic-tac-toe goal at the NHL all-star game; sure, it looked pretty, but the fans understand that there’s nothing memorable about it. After all, no one is trying to check.
Juventus’ best chance of the game came when Alessandro Del Piero’s free kick was nodded on by Amauri De Oliveira, forcing Sebastien Frey, Fiorentina’s keeper who is still trying to get over being snubbed by the French national team for the World Cup, into a diving fingertip save.
The biggest cheers of the night were saved for Del Piero, one of Italy’s best-ever strikers, and there was a chorus of boos and whistles when he was subbed out after 62 minutes.
Del Piero lauded the fans who showed up, but admitted the conditions were far from ideal.
“It’s not the best,” he said of the turf. “We prefer to play on a more natural terrain. Natural turf is better than synthetic surfaces.”
“The stadium is beautiful, I felt very good,” said Jovetic. “We made adjustments, We aren’t used to playing on artificial surfaces.
But this game was another sign that the many promoters who bring in European and South American clubs for off-season friendlies need to rethink their strategies.
This past weekend, Portuguese champs Benfica and Greek champs Panathinaikos played to a 0-0 draw to a less than half-full BMO Field.
Toronto has changed.
It’s a city that has passionate fans — who now have their own Major League Soccer team to support.
Say what you will about the quality of MLS as opposed to Serie A or any other major European league, TFC’s games here mean something. They count in the standings. And what’s left is a city that no longer is swept away by meaningless exhibitions by European clubs, no matter the big names on the lineup sheet.