They are called the galacticos of soccer and judging by the style of play on display Friday night, the high-priced talent assembled by Real Madrid during the off-season will live up to the billing.
Two pretty goals by Raul plus a dazzler by Cristiano Ronaldo inside the opening 26 minutes sent the European giants to a 5-1 victory over Toronto FC, in a friendly that showed off a level of skill Canadian fans rarely see in person.
Karim Benzema, in the 65th minute, and Arjen Robben in the 86th, also scored as a record crowd of 22,089 at BMO Field — including NBA stars Steve Nash and Chris Bosh, former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier, Spain’s ambassador to Canada and Glass Tiger’s Alan Frew — were awed by the storied Spanish side’s penetrating runs, deft touches and precision passing.
Substitute Gabe Gala replied in the 75th minute for the Major League Soccer hosts.
At times it was like Real Madrid, which spent nearly $400 million to add eight players including Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema over the summer, was playing in overdrive while Toronto FC was in first gear.
Ronaldo tore down the wings on the $250,000 temporary natural grass installed solely for the contest, speeding past defenders and leaving them dizzy with his footwork. Raul and Kaka gave Toronto’s defenders in the middle fits, while defender Raul Albiol was a rock on the rare occasions FC threatened.
That came as little surprise. The disparity in talent and payroll between the teams made the matchup the equivalent of pitting the New York Yankees against an A-ball club.
“Clearly,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said during halftime. “There’s probably five times the salary budget of our entire league out there. …
“It’s chance for our fans to see what the sport can be at that level.”
In that regard the contest, in which tickets ran from $140-$215 and Toronto Tourism said generated $10 million in local economic activity, delivered a game far more beautiful than what is typically on display at the lakeside stadium.
Raul opened the scoring in the 13th minute when he picked up a deflected clearing attempt by the penalty spot and after having his first shot blocked, rifled the ball off the crossbar and in.
Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei was even more helpless six minutes later when Ronaldo picked up a deep ball on the wing, headed it to Benzema and then picked up a return backpass from the Frenchman and rifled a low shot home from the top of the box.
Seven minutes after that Real Madrid scored another jaw-dropper when Raul Albiol sent a pass across the box to Cristoph Metzelder by the post, and he sent a header across the goal to Raul, who headed it in.
The visitors seemed to take their foot off the pedal a bit at that point, and Toronto FC had a couple of nice moments late in the first half. The best came on an Amado Guevera free kick that landed atop the net in the 44th minute.
Toronto FC showed more initiative in the second half against a Madrid lineup sprinkled with backups — Kaka came out after 45 minutes, while Ronaldo, Raul and Guti headed for the bench in the 63rd minute to loud applause — and rewarded their fans when Gala found the mark.
O’Brian White cutting in from the wing, fired a shot that backup ’keeper Jerzey Dudek stopped, sending the rebound right to Gala, who sent the crowd into a frenzy by easily depositing it in.
Robben made it 5-1 when he fought off a defender and deked around goalkeeper Brian Edwards before slipping a shot home.