A Real crowd-pleaser

Cristiano Ronaldo has a laugh during the Real Madrid training session at BMO Field on Thursday....

Cristiano Ronaldo has a laugh during the Real Madrid training session at BMO Field on Thursday. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

And you thought only the Maple Leafs could pack the house for a leisurely practice in this town.

Real Madrid's star-studded lineup had about 18,000 fans stomping and chanting team songs at BMO Field last night as it worked off its jet lag for about an hour in preparation for this evening's friendly against Toronto FC.

Tonight's match is expected to draw more than 21,000, making it the largest crowd to watch a soccer match at BMO.

A few hundred people lined up outside BMO, along with mounted police and news choppers overhead, before the Real bus pulled into Exhibition Place. Brazilian, Portuguese and Dutch flags mixed in with the Spanish colours for imports Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud Van Nistelroy.

"The game would have cost me $175, but I'm glad to see them at least practise," said Toronto resident Hector Varela, as he tried to get his son, Hanz-Kegan, and daughter, Kyryne, close enough for a picture.

Plenty of the famous white home jerseys with the "bwin" logo, the team's sports betting website sponsors, were in evidence.

"There are lots of Madrid fans wherever we go," a team official said. "but we're excited to be in Toronto. We've never been and our players were (impressed) with the tall buildings. They wanted to go up the CN Tower, but we have a game to play."

CARD GAME

About 100 media members jammed into a news conference with Real coach Manuel Pellegrini, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and midfielder Guti, though the players looked bored by the proceedings, leaving one wag to wonder if the two had lost the team card game on the plane en route from Madrid and had to attend as a consequence.

But there is a sizable Spanish media on the trip, anxious to see how Pellegrini fares with his high-priced lineup with almost $400 million US in summer transfers, some of whom debuted in the recent Peace Cup. With ancient rival Barcelona stealing Real's thunder last season, the spending spree is meant to re-capture the three titles -- La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

"The first challenge is to win," Pellegrini said through an interpreter when asked about the pressures of getting his diverse team of individual greats on the same page. "And you must win with a style of game that will be satisfying to the fans who come to the (Santiago Bernabeu) Stadium.

"(The two-game trip) is first to evaluate the new players, to meld and (practise) the new tactics we'll show next season."

Madrid plays tonight, then on Sunday in Washington against D.C. United in more familiar surroundings, a 91,000-seat stadium. The temporary grass field at BMO, installed less than a day earlier, gave way in a couple of places during last night's workout, but crews quickly patched the seams after the team departed.

Fans paid $15 for the privilege to watch the practice, though there was a limit to their largesse as they kept any balls that found their way into the seats during a half-hour scrimmage in the south end of the pitch. The quick workout concluded with the players kicking some souvenir balls into the stands, though those on the north side were out of luck.


Videos

Photos