On Tuesday, the British tabs published photos of several Manchester City players wandering around downtown Toronto in their off-duty civvies.
The most expensively assembled club in the history of global sports is in North America for a quickie promotional tour, including a half-speed exhibition match against Toronto FC on Wednesday night.
According to the Daily Mail, the group looked "extremely chilled."
That's one way of looking at it.
They might also appear "jet-lagged," "haggard" and "deeply annoyed at having to go through a meaningless carnival act only 72 hours after the end of a long, disappointing Premiership season."
For years now, Major League Soccer has been dragging the best teams in the world over here to do tricks for the rubes and stand around looking famous. Six years ago, Toronto hosted Real Madrid. Its manager at the time was Manuel Pellegrini – now the current City boss. Some people have all the luck.
At the best of times, Pellegrini looks so overcome by world-weariness that he's about to expire from despair. At the introductory presser here, he was giving off ennui in such powerful waves that it was threatening to short out the electrical systems. Like all who've made the trip to the colonies before him, he has one mission – get out alive.
Without even bothering to try, Real dismantled TFC 5-1 back in 2009. It was like watching a bear arm-wrestle a chicken.
Usually, teams come for the seven-figure appearance fee. Manchester City is backed by an Abu Dhabi oil sheik whose holdings are so vast, they can't be properly valued. The team doesn't need the money.
So it's about the exposure. City's proprietor, Sheik Mansour, also owns MLS's newest club, New York City FC. Apparently, the superrich eventually tire of Ferraris and want the simplicity of Tonka toys.
This, then, is an effort to prop up that enterprise – though City has been smart enough not to book a game against its sister club. That contrast might prove a little too jarring for the sheik.
One can only imagine how badly City's players want to help their boss do some overseas marketing. Oh, the joy they must be feeling right now, spreading the gospel of soccer and such. And for free!
They're like 17th-century Jesuit missionaries. And they're probably just as excited about meeting the locals and being grievously injured by them.
The friendly is a nice idea, mainly because of the word used to describe it. It sounds like fun. It has value as a preseason warm-up vehicle.
That's not what's happening here.
This game comes midseason for Toronto FC – four days after a game against Portland, and three days before another against San Jose. Soccer teams are not meant to play at 100 per cent three times in a week.
While City will just barely show up, it's hard to imagine Toronto players doing the same. They will not want to be humiliated in their own park. And if they give anything less than their best, this will end in a baseball score.
The easiest way to demonstrate how bad an idea a midseason exhibition game is is to look at how they handle them in other sports: They don't.
In what world would an NHL, NFL, MLB or NBA team play a foreign invitee in midseason? There are good competitive reasons not to do so, but there's a much more compelling one – pride.
Stopping everything to bow down before a bigger, better club that's decided to swan through for an evening's slumming is the definition of bush league.
Major League Soccer knows it's not second- or third-best. It might be ninth- or 10th-best. But there's a difference between knowing it and feeling constantly compelled to remind everyone of the fact.
That works on two levels. First, you're showing up your own stars at home, and then you're reinforcing how much better soccer looks when played by the best players in the world.
It's a lot better. It's a mind-boggling amount better. It's still the same sport, but a rocket ship and a lawnmower are both powered by internal combustion engines. In either case, it's not quite the same thing.
If you keep exposing local fans to football of this calibre, they may start expecting it on the regular.
I'm also not sure why anybody would pay as much as $150 to watch what amounts to a refereed practice.
Fans have grown too smart for this sort of thing. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is struggling mightily to fill the newly expanded BMO Field for the game, offering tickets as part of a rebate package. Wednesday may be the first evening we get a real sense of how dour this park will look when it's only half-full.
Win, lose or draw, the match will most likely be an unwatchable ball-launching contest. If we're lucky, Manchester City will arrive annoyed and intent on doing some damage. That would be something to see. More likely, the visitors won't care in the least, put three or four in with ease, and then power down their engines after a half-hour.
All Toronto FC can hope is that no one gets injured. Which means someone's getting injured.
It comes at a downbeat moment for soccer in Toronto. The famously reasonable and not-at-all knee-jerk fans of TFC had their usual freak-out over the impending arrival of the CFL's Argonauts. We're two weeks from the Women's World Cup, which will skip Canada's biggest city because the Pan American Games weren't keen on sharing.
Everybody's on edge, and needs their space.
Nothing solves that problem like a grudging guest who doesn't really want to be here. In future, if MLS presumes to be a league of substance, it'll wait until it's got its own house tidied up before it starts inviting people over.