If Toronto FC and Sunderland play a midseason friendly does anyone bother to show up? That question was answered tonight when a meagre 14,025 people showed up to BMO Field for the match. Based on the noise they made, or lack thereof, it could well have been thousands less.
One of the main reasons for hosting these matches has always been economic opportunities for both sides, as well as giving local Torontonians a chance to see their favourite European side. But for once there were barely any away kits visible at the stadium.
The loudest crowd sound of the night came from booing after each of Jermain Defoe's two goals in his side's 2-1 victory over his former Toronto FC. But even that felt halfhearted as the much maligned Englishman made his "bloody big return".
This was Defoe's night in many ways. For the second straight year Toronto FC played a midseason friendly against an English Premier League team as part of a deal surrounding him. This one certainly had a lot less interest around it than last year's game against Tottenham.
Jozy Altidore, the player for whom Defoe was swapped in part of a January deal between Toronto and Sunderland, didn't even take part in the match. He will be with the team when they play the Columbus Crew on Saturday, however.
Toronto's lone goal came from Jonathan Osorio, who broke an incredibly frustrating goalless drought for the Canadian. This earned him the player of the game honours, which he gratefully accepted in street clothes having gone to the dressing room and changed after being subbed off.
This seemed to be the norm in this match, treated as a training session by players instead of a match they respected in any way. When they were subbed off they headed directly for the dressing room to start cool down routines.
Greg Vanney barely even gave his starters a run out, making a hilarious eight man substitution in the first half that essentially saw Toronto FC II plus Bright Dike take over the match.
These are the players that these kind of matches have always been valuable for, and why they are a necessary evil if played only once a year. Ask any young player and they will tell you the same thing, playing against the best in the world is an incredibly valuable experience.
It's not quite as valuable an experience when Toronto's youngsters are playing a bottom Premier League side that really aren't that much better than any Major League Soccer opponent. In a non-competitive match that is especially true.
Even Toronto's youngsters looked less enthused than usual as they tried to find Toronto a late equalizer to salvage a "point" in this pointless game. The guys who have been here before: Manny Aparicio, Chris Mannella and Jordan Hamilton hardly broke walking pace.
To be fair a couple of Toronto youngsters did stand out, as Mo Babouli and Adam Bouchard both gave a glimpse at their potential. Both were fresh off of crashing out of the Pan Am Games with Canada and seemed the most interested in making something happen against Sunderland.
In the end this was a match that never should have been played, and hopefully Toronto will learn a lesson from this. If you aren't playing the best, why not just have another day at the KIA training ground.
Was this match worth the price of Altidore? Sure. But Toronto's management are nothing if not creative, and need a new creative way to get players on board that doesn't involve meaningless friendlies against their former clubs.