On a chilly evening at Lamport Stadium, floodlights cut through the darkening skies and illuminated the light rainfall as Toronto welcomed Peruvian legend Nolberto Solano. Solano played for Boca Juniors – briefly alongside Diego Maradona in 1997 – before racking up over 300 Premier League appearances with Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham, while representing Peru on 95 occasions. He was recently appointed Head Coach of local side, Internacional de Toronto, and will guide the team through their first season in the newly-formed League 1 Ontario, the third tier beneath Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League.
Kindly invited by Inter club president, Juan Carlos Ramirez-Gaston, Under The Cosh went along to see the former Premier League and Peru midfielder manage his team in a pre-season friendly against the Toronto F.C. Academy team.
It was a tight game with few goalscoring opportunities. Both teams started out with five in midfield – one man screening the back four – making for a hard-fought battle. In the second half, though, Solano switched his side to a 4-4-2 in order to provide more of an attacking threat, and this opened the game up.
Ultimately Toronto FC Academy came out on top, but the event itself was more important than the result. In front of an enthusiastic and vocal crowd of a few hundred, Internacional de Toronto created an entertaining spectacle. The half-time presentation by local youth players (in attendance on the night were coaches and players from SC Toronto) was a nice touch, with flags representing each of the nationalities held by the Inter players.
We are told there is more to come. The Chair of League 1 Ontario, Dino Rossi, said : “Internacional has some big ideas for making game day fun on and off the pitch”, and we look forward to seeing them.
On July 11 – once more at Lamport stadium – Inter will take on TFC Academy again, and this time competitively. Club president Ramirez-Gaston has promised that the affair will be a “big party”, and given the boisterous atmosphere at the friendly we just witnessed, we’re inclined to believe him.
To check out this season’s fixtures, have a look at the Ontario Soccer Association’s recently published schedule.