Madrid silence irks TFC fans

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

The whirlwind has begun. And nothing has even been announced.

Some digging by soccer writer Paul Attfield connected the dots between DC United announcing an Aug. 9 friendly with Spanish giant Real Madrid, to a "tweet" from Toronto FC's director of business operations Paul Beirne, notifying its fans of a date change for a future game.

TFC confirmed yesterday that its Aug. 9 Major League Soccer home game against the New York Red Bulls has been changed to Saturday, June 13 because of a "potential conflict at BMO Field."

The potential conflict can be none other than an off-the-record confirmation that Real Madrid will be on display at BMO Field that same week.

To the local soccer fan, the thought of Real Madrid playing in our backyard is as juicy as it gets. And TFC should be screaming from the rafters about the major coup it has secured. But so far, no such announcements have come from the club.

Sources say there are still factors that need to be sorted out before any game is formally announced.

So, because of an ill-timed tweet and an ill-timed DC United announcement, TFC has been left scrambling -- and not talking.

This wasn't the way TFC wanted the situation to play out. And because of it, the club has been hearing a steady flow of complaints and outrage from its fans since the story broke.

Obviously, the complaints aren't about the opponent. There is no way previous international opponents such as Pachuca, Independiente, or Aston Villa can compete with the prestige and draw of Real Madrid.

The anger is coming from season-ticket holders who feel they have been duped. Each year, a game featuring an international opponent has been included in season ticket's packages.

But instead of offering the Real Madrid match to its season ticket-holders, TFC reportedly is searching out another friendly to satisfy that requirement.

In the past, international friendlies haven't cost more. But TFC sources acknowledge that the expense of bringing in a team such as Real Madrid costs too much for ticket prices to stay status quo.

So in TFC's eyes, it makes more sense to organize another summer friendly against an inferior team to Real Madrid to satisfy obligations to season ticket holders.

If all had gone to plan, the club would have announced the other game first, and then lay Real Madrid on their fans as an added bonus.

In a busy summer with multiple competitions, the last thing the team needs is another friendly against a mediocre opponent.

Above all, it's a dangerous game for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., to play with the hearts and minds of its most diehard fans. The club and its supporters have prided themselves on being a grassroots, ground-up organization. The franchise has consistently been advertised as a team with soul in an era of professional sports with very little.

If TFC wants to remain the club with soul, it will change its approach.

The second issue at hand is the move away from FieldTurf.

One of Real Madrid's stipulations was that the game be played on natural grass and TFC reportedly will yield to this demand for obvious reasons.

Still, it's a kick in the face to the players and fans that Real Madrid has been deemed worthy enough to warrant a grass pitch and not the product that is played out on the field week in and week out.

PERMANENT

That being said, permanent grass at BMO may not be as far away as first believed.

A story this week in the Toronto Sun indicated that the Toronto District School Board has announced that an inflatable dome and athletic field is set to go up at Lakeshore Collegiate.

This re-inforces a long-standing rumour that the FieldTurf at BMO will be jettisoned to the Lakeshore location, making way for real grass.

So, call it the Maurice Edu Fund, with the sale of the former TFC midfielder helping to finance the transition.

And the fact that the team is practising two days a week on grass gives that more much credence to the rumour.

GARETH.WHEELER@SUNTV.CANOE.CA


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