The response in the Twitterverse to the all-but-confirmed friendly July 21 between a last-place MLS team and a mid-table EPL team has been negative. Instead of joyous whoops, we see more signs of the “friendly fatigue” that is becoming more and more apparent across North America.
OK, Toronto FC might not be in last place by the time Liverpool comes to town to play the friendly at the Rogers Centre. But if the Reds (that is, the Reds from Toronto) manage to climb in any sort of playoff race by the summer, this friendly surely won’t help the cause.
Even five years ago, when the big European clubs came over, there was some novelty. But unless you bring over Barcelona or Real Madrid, there isn’t much to get excited about. In fact, we are so used to seeing Manchester United spend its summer playing MLS teams, that there’s little glamour left when it comes to seeing Sir Alex Ferguson roll out his reserves for a July game.
But, let’s move away from the debate over whether or not MLS teams should play summer friendlies or not and simply concentrate on what this match — which the Toronto Star confirmed will be played July 21 at the Rogers Centre, will do to Toronto FC.
Let’s look at TFC’s already packed July schedule:
• July 4, away to FC Dallas
• July 8, away to Philadelphia
• July 11, home to Vancouver
• July 14, away to New England
• July 18, home to Colorado
Now, by adding a July 21 home date to Liverpool, TFC’s front office now has the club playing in what was supposed to a rest period after that hectic run of a game every three or four days. Instead of leaving that 21st date open for the team to get needed rest, the Reds will play again.
Yes, you could argue that, to accommodate the inevitable July friendlies, that MLS should pack the schedule in the spring or late in the season. But, in markets like New England, Columbus and Denver, you need as many summer games as possible to stimulate casual ticket buyers. Let’s face it, when the Colorado Rapids have home playoff games in the fall, fans aren’t keen in sitting in subzero temperatures. In North America, we still need the notion of a nice summery day in order to sell soccer in many markets.
But, adding Liverpool to the schedule means a stretch of six games in 17 days. That would be ridiculous. You can argue that Toronto FC has to be part of a greater MLS package. You can argue that this is a Rogers Centre game, or that it’s not a Toronto FC-sanctioned event (even though Rogers, ahem, will soon own a large share of TFC). You’d be wrong. The fact is, on the field, TFC can’t afford to have another game heaped on the schedule during the most grueling stretch of the season. The club needs to ask itself, what’s more important — league football or showy, needless friendlies?
But money talks.
Unless, of course, the Rogers Centre is more than half empty, as it was for previous friendlies — such as 2010’s Panathinaikos-Inter Milan match or Juventus-Fiorentina.