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Toronto rolls out green carpet for Real Madrid

TORONTO rolled out the green carpet for Real Madrid yesterday, as the glittering Galacticos took over the hockey-mad city, claiming hearts, wallets and a ho-hum 5-1 win over Toronto FC.

Pushing hometown darlings, the Toronto Maple Leafs, from the sporting spotlight is no easy feat, even at the height of summer, but the Spanish soccer giants cast an imposing shadow on and off the pitch.

Not every team can request a US$250,000 temporary grass pitch be laid over the local BMO Field's artificial turf, or command a US$1 million appearance fee and still have fans queueing to pay US$140 to US$215 during a belt-tightening recession to watch a mismatched exhibition contest.

The match a complete sell-out, another 18,000 fans happily handed over US$15 to watch Real's stable of stars go through a 45-minute practice session on Thursday.

The Toronto friendly and another sold-out match against DC United at FedEx Field tomorrow will help pay for a US$360 million summer spending spree that brought Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema to the Bernabeu.

"Their salary budget is probably five times our entire league's," Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber told reporters.

"I don't think we have ever really thought that our teams are competitive with Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. We hope we will be at some point.

"We bring these teams here because it's important to have fans see what the sport can be at that level.

"They're playing one of the best teams in the world and I think it's good for the sport."

Little on the two clubs' resumes offered hope the evening might produce a serious sporting contest.

While Real has celebrated an impressive list of league and European club titles, Toronto's trophy case contains one lonely piece of hardware, a Voyageurs Cup as 2009 Canadian champions.

Madrid's team payroll this season is projected to be US$150 million while TFC will make do with US$2.5 million, Dwayne De Rosario collecting the top salary of US$425,750.

Ronaldo, acquired from Manchester United in a world record US$131 million transfer, tops Real's line-up of millionaires with a a salary reportedly worth 13 million euros (US$18.44 million) a year.

The difference in pedigree produced a predictable result, Raul finding the target twice and Ronaldo slotting home a perfect setup from Benzema to put Real ahead 3-0 before the interval.

Raul Albiol and Arjen Robben were also on target in the second half while Gabe Gala saved the home side some blushes, stabbing home a loose ball after a save by keeper Jerzey Dudek.


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