When gods of soccer come to Canada


AS Roma defender Federico Balzaretti signs autographs for kids at Cibo Wine Bar. The Italian soccer team plays an exhibition match on Wednesday in Toronto. (Julia Pelish/

Report by Adrian Brijbassi Managing Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — Francesco Totti isn’t a rock star, but he makes a very good impersonation of one. The soccer icon and his teammates from AS Roma paraded around a newly opened Toronto wine bar on Monday night while adoring fans trailed them, grabbing their collars for photo ops destined for Facebook and indulging in a moment of revelry with their heroes.

For the fans, it was a highlight that will last for years. For the players, it was part of the routine of being a member of a celebrated European soccer club. Totti is considered a soccer god, one of the best players of his generation and the greatest player to wear a Roma jersey. Fans at Cibo Wine Bar cheered and whistled when he stood on a platform and said, “Buongiorno.”

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The private event at the month-old restaurant commemorated the exhibition match to be played Wednesday night at BMO Field against Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Although the local team has the most devoted fan base in MLS, the players aren’t in the calibre of Totti & Co. The Roma players make millions, several members of the TFC squad make less than $50,000 a year. While Roma isn’t a powerhouse like FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester United, it is an esteemed franchise and, with 500,000 people of Italian descent living in Toronto, one of the most loved within this city.

“This is just a great event for the fans and for the players. We wanted to do something very special, because it means a lot to the Italian community here in Toronto,” says Pat Di Donato, co-owner of Cibo Wine Bar and a big Roma supporter.

Roma Packs the House at Toronto Restaurant

About 250 people showed up to the event at the 8,000-square-foot restaurant with attractive stone walls made to resemble a Roman grotto. The players from both Roma and TFC spent a bit of time interacting with the fans before heading off. The game is part of the Italian Soccer League team’s summer tour of the US and Canada, which included a stop last week in Kansas City, Missouri. While Roma’s squad is primarily European and South American, there is one North American player on their team and he is enjoying his moment with the vaunted Serie A club.

“It’s a huge honour. I’m proud to represent AS Roma and the city. You realize quickly what it means to play for this club. I’m loving every second of it,” says Michael Bradley, a World Cup hero for Team USA. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Bradley signed a four-year, 3.75-million euro contract ($5.15 million Canadian) last July to play in the Italian capital. He’s appeared in 30 games for the Giallorossi — Roma’s nickname — and scored one goal.

“Travel is a big part of what we do,” he says. “You learn to adapt to different things and to different places and at the end what matters is what happens when you step on the field.”

For one night, what also mattered was that Bradley, Totti and the others from Roma showed up to meet fans in Canada who have spent many other days admiring them from afar.


More About AS Roma vs. Toronto FC


Drinks are served with a smile at Cibo Wine Bar in Toronto. (Julia Pelish/

Date: August 7, 2013 at 8 pm (broadcast on TSN)
Location: BMO Field (170 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto — see map below)
Tickets: Surprisingly, several tickets are still available. They range from $46.75-$114.25. Visit to purchase.

More About Cibo Wine Bar

Location: 522 King Street West (at the corner of Brant Street)’s Take: Like other property’s owned by the Liberty Group (Spice Route, Rosewater), there is a club vibe to Cibo, with lounge chairs and wide-open floors. The food’s above-average but not great. There is a pasta station, where ravioli and gnocchi are made in front of guests — a nice feature. The wine list, as you might expect, is superb. It includes 2,642 bottles, topped by a $590 vintage (2007 Solaia Super Tuscan by Marchesi Antinori). Twenty-four wines are available by the glass, starting at a reasonable $7.
Price Range: Main courses range from $24-$34; all pizzas are less than $20. Visit the restaurant’s website for the full menu.
Reservations: Telephone 1-416-504-3939 or book online.


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Adrian is the editor of and He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

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