More than 45,000 fans are expected to fill Toronto’s Rogers Centre tonight for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals between Toronto FC and the David Beckham-led Los Angeles Galaxy.
Despite players' grumblings about the artificial playing surface (the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane called it a “plastic pitch”) the match has all the makings of a big-game atmosphere.
The forecast is calling for spring-like double-digit temperatures and fans are expected to get the celebration going at outdoor parties slated to start at 1:30 p.m., almost seven hours before kickoff.
GO Transit has scheduled extra trains as the soccer game will end about the same time as Wednesday's Raptors game against Houston.
Justin Chambers flew in from Alberta just to see Wednesday’s Champions League match.
"I think it's great for the city, great for the fans,” he told CBC News. “It shows that the sport is growing in North America."
Toronto FC opted to hold the game at Rogers Centre because of the problems winter weather could have posed at BMO Field, the team's home stadium. It will be the first time TFC has played a home game away from BMO Field.
The teams will play on the same artificial turf field used for Toronto Argonauts games, though the football hash marks have been removed and the field has been lined for soccer.
Toronto and L.A. will play the second leg March 14 at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in front of a much smaller crowd of 7,500, due to rules the stadium has about events on school nights.
Beckham's star power still strong
Beckham, who's clearly no stranger to big games and big crowds, said he plans to soak up the atmosphere at Rogers Centre.
"It'll be great, these are the stadiums that you want to play in, you want to play in front of 45-50,000 fans, whether they're going to be for you or against you, it doesn't matter," said the former England captain. "Sometimes it's better when they're against you because it's more enjoyable when you have a little bit of success. Hopefully we have that [Wednesday].
Beckham's star power has clearly not diminished. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder was greeted by several dozen media members at events ahead of Wednesday’s game. Reporters and photographers lined a corridor to catch a few words with the superstar.
For Toronto FC and their fans, the game is a chance to provide some playoff success, a rarity for a team that has failed to qualify for MLS playoffs in each of its five seasons in the league.
Toronto FC finished with a 6-13-15 record last year, 24 points behind the 19-5-10 Galaxy, who captured the MLS Cup in November.