Tottenham's visit all business for Toronto FC
Tottenham Hotspur's Roberto Soldado (9) is congratulated by teammates Tom Carroll, second from left, and Lewis Holtby (14) after Soldado scored on a penalty kick against the Seattle Sounders during a friendly soccer match in Seattle, Saturday, July 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 21, 2014 6:05PM EDT
TORONTO -- With one-fifth of its MLS schedule crammed into 28 days in July, Toronto FC players could be forgiven for wishing that Wednesday's friendly match with England's Tottenham was another time.
Even former Spurs striker Jermain Defoe, the man of the moment whose transfer to Toronto prompted such strengthening of ties between the two clubs, is keeping the BMO Field friendly in perspective.
"There's no points to gain, but it's going to be nice seeing my old teammates and the staff," he said recently. "Beforehand we'll have a laugh and a joke, but I suppose when the whistle goes, then you do your job and try and win the game."
Asked about the timing of the fixture, Defoe was a little blunter.
"Obviously you could say it's a game that we don't need," the English star said. "But at the end of the day, what can you do as players? We just get on with it. It's important to, I suppose, stay professional. You've got to do your job. And if we've got to play, we've got to play. It's not going to be as serious, I can't imagine the tempo's going to be too high. But we'll still try to win the game. You still want to have that winning mentality, that every game you play, you try and win."
Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley, who had a brief stint on loan to Aston Villa in 2011, sees the bigger picture.
MLS, in its 19th season, needs the respectability it garners from associating with -- and doing well against -- marquee teams from established leagues.
"The reality is still that these games are important for the league," said Bradley, an American who was a member of Roma when the Italian side defeated Toronto 4-1 on a pre-season tour last summer.
"Certainly the timing isn't the best, and in a month now where we're playing a lot of games and now that you throw in a few injuries, it's easy to look and say that it's not the perfect day to be playing a friendly. But still when you look at it from the other side, it's a great chance for our younger players and really for every guy to have 45, 60, 90 minutes against one of the best team in the Premiership."
Added Bradley: "It's important that when we have these opportunities, we play well and we play in a way that represents the league in a good way."
The Seattle Sounders did just that Saturday, tying Spurs 3-3 before 55,349 at CenturyLink Field in the opening game of Tottenham's tour and first outing under new manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The Toronto friendly is part of the deal that brought Defoe to North America. Tottenham and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment agreed to a four-year agreement that will see Toronto FC and MLSE "provide promotional and branding opportunities, experiential activities and advertising, broadcasting, social media and digital rights across all of MLSE's properties and media platforms."
MLSE also agreed to sell Tottenham Hotspur FC official merchandise at its retail outlets and support the THFC Official Canadian Supporter's Club. An MLSE official wasn't sure if Spurs were hawking TFC goods on the other side of the Atlantic, saying some details still had to be worked out.
For Spurs, the partnership is a chance to get a further toehold in North America while linking up with an established sports ownership group that knows the local scene.
Tottenham is just one of nine Premier League clubs to make North America part of its pre-season this summer. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion also worked trips across the Atlantic into their training schedule.
The world is their market these days.
Deloitte's annual review of football finance, released in June, predicts that the commercial revenues of Premier League clubs will exceed one billion pounds (US$1.71 billion) in 2015-16.
Defoe, 31, spent some 11 years in two stints with Spurs, scoring 142 goals in a combined 362 appearances in the English Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Champions League, and UEFA Europa League matches.
He ranks fifth on Spurs' all-time scoring list and is the club's top scorer in Europe with 23 goals.
But his playing time dwindled under former management there, with the club looking towards 26-million-pound (US$44.4-million) signing Roberto Soldado.
No need to shed any tears for Defoe. His weekly TFC paycheque of US$118,846.154 -- US$6.18 million over the full season -- has no doubt has eased his burden.
For many of his MLS teammates, Wednesday's game is a chance to see how they stack up against the players they see weekly on TV.
"When you rub shoulders against them it's kind of a bar to see where you are," said Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen, who played for Blackburn, Tottenham and QPR in England after a stint with D.C. United. "That's how I used to liken it when I was a young guy, to see what the difference is. Can I match it with these guys?
"Once you get a bit older, once you play alongside these guys, you realize that they're human, they make the exact same mistakes as we all do out here and they're very similar. The gap's not as big as everybody thinks."
For 21-year-old defenders Doneil Henry and rookie Nick Hagglund, the Spurs game is a chance to show what they can do.
"Every time I can play an EPL team it really does mean something," said Henry, who got a taste in the off-season when he trained with West Ham United. "Because that's where you want to be at the end of the day -- (the) top-flight."
For Hagglund, playing a Premier League team comes just one year after helping the Xavier University Musketeers against the likes of Villanova, Missouri State and Butler.
"Any time you can play against the best, it gives you an opportunity to measure yourself where you are and also get exposure," he said. "It's going to be an extremely memorable moment."
While Defoe and Bradley are in their own special MLS snack bracket, many of the Toronto players make chump change compared to their Premier League counterparts.
The average player in the Premier League earned 1.6 million pounds (US$2.73 million) in the 2012-13 season, according to Deloitte.
That's more than 56 times Hagglund's salary of US$48,500.
Manchester City's total wage bill for 2012-13 was 233 million pounds (US$398 million). In contrast, the MLS salary cap this year is US$3.1 million per team, although that does not count money spent on designated players above US$387,500 or the use of allocation money to pay down salaries.
Toronto's roster will get its chance to shine against the sport's elite.
Nelsen looks to take full advantage of the unlimited substitutes allowed Wednesday by calling up players currently on loan to the Wilmington Hammerheads.
"We'll use everybody," he said.
Tottenham, meanwhile, has left some players at home including Togo international striker Emmanuel Adebayor (malaria), Brazilian midfielder Sandro and Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches (back). And as with other clubs, Spurs have been linked with new talent with the transfer window open.
Spurs have other ties with MLS, having loaned 19-year-old midfielder Grant Ward, a Tottenham under-21 squad player, to the Chicago Fire through the end of July.
After the Toronto game and a July 27 date with the Fire, Spurs return home for friendlies against Celtic (in Helsinki) and Schalke at White Hart Lane in London before opening the Premier League season Aug. 16 at West Ham United.
Local soccer fans have a varied menu to choose from at BMO Field this week.
An Italy versus Portugal legends game was scheduled for Monday while A.C. Milan and Olympiacos open the Guinness International Champions Cup on Thursday and Toronto hosts defending MLS champion Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.