TORONTO – This was not an ordinary day in Toronto.
U.S. president Barack Obama and the rest of the G20 leaders came to town, and enraged protesters responded by smashing windows, setting fire to police cars and fighting running battles with armed security forces.
And while the alarming unrest didn't spill into Toronto FC's 0-0 draw with the visiting and MLS-leading Los Angeles Galaxy, it deeply affected TFC's legendarily loud and raucous fans.
By late afternoon, public transportation had been suspended downtown, and every commuter rail train in and out of Canada's largest city had been canceled. BMO Field sits right on the rail line, and better than half of the 18,809 who had purchased tickets to watch the Reds' first game after a three-week World Cup break were simply unable to make it to the stadium.
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Those that did, though, were in exceptionally fine voice. It was just about possible to forget the troubles of the day, and immerse oneself in soccer.
“I'm sure this was in the back of [the players'] minds a little bit,” TFC head coach Preki said after the match. “Everybody was following what was going on in the city, but that can't be any excuse. Once you step on the field – or in the locker room – you have to focus on your job and what's ahead of you for the next couple of hours.”
Preki sighed, and sort-of smiled when a reporter in the post-game press conference suggested it hadn't exactly been a beautiful game.
“It's always a beautiful game,” he responded. “It was a typical game after three weeks of not playing. I didn't think either of the teams was really sharp. It was a tough fight. Neither team made any really big mistakes, and it ended up 0-0.”
Prek said he was satisfied with his team's overall effort on the night.
“I thought we worked hard, but we have to find a way to have a little more soccer in us.”
His players also said they hadn't really been affected by the unusual events of an edgy, troubled day.
“Not at all,” said defender Nana Attakora, who helped backstop yet another clean sheet for Toronto goalie Stefan Frei. “We knew we had a job here to do today. We saw it on TV, but had to focus on the game. There's nothing we can do.”
And did he notice all the noise still being made by the smaller-than-usual crowd? (The stadium was barely half full, and a late rain sent a lot of folks scurrying home early.)
“To be honest, we did," Attakora said. "It just shows what kind of fans we have here.”
His teammate Dan Gargan agreed.
“You talk about it and you have to prepare for it, but you never obviously know what's going to happen,” he said. “It's different. It's not a regular occurrence, but once you're out on the field, you're out on the field.”
All that rabid cheering from the stands caught his ears, as well.
“It's still a great turn-out, and it still impresses me every time,” said Gargan. “To have something like the G20 going on, and to still get 19,000 [tickets sold], that's a testament to the city and our fan base, which is great.”
Another useful result, in other words, for an ever-improving Toronto side that had to face down the top team in the league on a hugely unusual day.