TORONTO – Soccer fans and supporters who have awaiting patiently the long-anticipated arrival of the world’s most famous soccer club had their resolve tested even more on Thursday.
Inclement weather in Chicago grounded Manchester United, delaying the team’s arrival in Toronto ahead of its Friday night friendly against Scottish powerhouse Celtic FC at Rogers Centre, the first of a five-game North American tour.
The delay forced the cancellation of a planned 8:30 p.m. news conference at the team hotel in the city’s tony Yorkville area, denying event organizers MLS and Creative Artists Agency one last opportunity to promote the match. When the club finally arrived, they weren’t received by the customary media horde as, according to Reuters, only a handful of reporters, two photographers and two television cameras attended a delayed media briefing featuring only one player, Darren Fletcher.
While the club will be without its World Cup players, it will have stars Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov, Edwin van der Sar and Nani for its first visit to Toronto since the club began its North American tours in 2003.
With just a day in the city before flying out Saturday morning to Philadelphia, the club’s stay will be short with no public appearances or training sessions. Even a planned family reunion of sorts for club manager Sir Alex Ferguson was in question.
Much has been made in the local media about Ferguson’s ties to the city as he nearly emigrated to Canada before a revival of his playing career in England. Ferguson also has a number of relatives on his father’s side that reside in the Greater Toronto Area, including nine direct cousins, 40 second cousins and an aunt.
Despite the quick in-and-out appearance, a crowd of more than 40,000 is expected for the game on real grass installed Thursday over the stadium’s concrete floor.
Meanwhile, Celtic have been in Toronto since losing 1-0 to the Union in Philadelphia on Wednesday and the players and manager Neil Lennon took time out Thursday at a downtown pub to meet with Scottish race car driver Dario Franchitti, a big Celtic fan, who’s in the city this weekend to compete in the annual Indy Racing League’s Honda Toronto Indy race.
Full Tour Schedule:
July 16: Manchester United vs. Celtic F.C. (7 p.m. ET, Rogers Centre)
July 21: Manchester United vs. Philadelphia Union (7:30 p.m. ET, Lincoln Financial Field)
July 25: Manchester United vs. Kansas City Wizards (6 p.m. ET, Arrowhead Stadium)
July 28: Manchester United vs. MLS All-Stars (8:30 p.m. ET, Reliant Stadium)
July 30: Manchester United vs. Chivas Guadalajara (Guadalajara, Mexico)