Toronto: The loud crowd and large stadium has all the makings of a big-game atmosphere. The only thing missing is the natural grass, say two of soccer`s biggest stars.
Both David Beckham and Robbie Keane griped about the artificial turf they`ll play on Wednesday night when their Los Angeles Galaxy battle Toronto FC at Rogers Centre, in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals.
"It`s not ideal, but it`s the same for both teams," Beckham said. "Ideally you want to play on grass, but at the end of the day, this is the situation. And at least it`s a touch warmer (than outdoors at BMO Field)."
Toronto FC opted to hold the game at Rogers Centre because of the problems winter weather could pose at BMO Field, the team`s home stadium. The teams will play on the same artificial turf field used for Toronto Argonauts games, although the football hash marks have been removed and the field has been lined for soccer.
Keane was more critical in his assessment.
"I don`t think we should be playing on a plastic pitch," said the Irish striker who joined the Galaxy last August. "I think these days, it should be grass pitches. I don`t think it`s good injury-wise, I think it can be dangerous. So it is a shame that we`re playing on it."
"But at the end of the day we have to do it, it`s the way it goes. It`s the same for both teams, it just depends on who plays on it better."
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said Toronto FC officials did a decent job on the field, given the circumstances.
"It`s not desirable, but it is what it is," Arena said. "Obviously I don`t think the players on either team would prefer to be on this surface, but they`ve done a good job getting it ready."
Toronto FC players, for their part, are also less than enthusiastic about the turf. When asked what he thinks of the field, Toronto head coach Aron Winter would only say: "It`s green."
The star-studded Galaxy, including Beckham, Keane and U.S. captain Landon Donovan, tested out the pitch Tuesday ahead of Wednesday night`s match, which is expected to draw a capacity crowd of 45,000.
Toronto and L.A. will play the second leg March 14 at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in front of a considerably smaller crowd of 7,500, due to rules the stadium has about events on school nights.
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)."
"But these are the occasions that as players you need to enjoy, and you`ll only enjoy it if you`re successful."
Beckham`s star power has clearly not dimmed. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder, who recently launched a new underwear line, was greeted by several dozen members of the media, who lined a corridor to catch a few words with the superstar.
He patiently answered each question before team officials ushered him away, including that of one reporter who wanted to know what was on his iPod.
"Jay-Z, Drake — he`s a Toronto guy, right? — and Spice Girls," he said, prompting laughter.
Beckham helped lead the Galaxy to the MLS Cup in November, and was selected to the league`s Best XI. Many expected him to step away from the North American game at that point, but the 36-year-old signed a new two-year deal with the Galaxy in January, saying his family enjoyed living in L.A.
Beckham said he has had to making surprisingly few adjustments to his lifestyle or game as he`s grown older.
"I love training, I love playing," he said. "Yeah, I`m getting older, a lot wiser, but I think at the end of the day, as long as you take care of yourself, look after your body, train as much as you need to train, I think you can play for as long as you can."
"But I`ve done that throughout my career, and that`s probably one of the reasons why I`m still playing at my age that I`m playing now."
Beckham headlined the Galaxy`s regular-season game last April at BMO Field, which drew a Toronto FC-record 22,435 fans.
Wednesday`s match — Toronto`s first home game played somewhere other than BMO Field — will shatter that record.
Toronto FC has proved problematic for L.A., playing the Galaxy to four draws in four matches over the last two seasons.
Still Toronto, which has missed the playoffs in all five MLS seasons, finished with a 6-13-15 record last year, 24 points behind the 19-5-10 Galaxy.
Beckham said Toronto`s big fan base always make for challenging games here.
"It`s a tough place to come and a tough team to play against. The fans are right behind their team and rightly so," he said. "It`s just a tough play to come."
Still, the Galaxy, a team that some are touting as the best ever assembled in the MLS, have to be considered the favourites coming off the MLS Cup.
Keane said the Galaxy`s goal is to pick up where they left off.
"I think every season you go into it and you want to do as well as you did last year, and last year we won the championship," he said. "We know it`s not going to be easy, there`s some tough teams there, but with the players and squad that we have, we`re quite capable of doing the same as we did last year."
"We`re not being arrogant or big-headed about it, but we`re certainly one of the best teams, or the best team in the league. It`s about proving it and doing it on the pitch."