The year was 1986; Canada's only appearance in the World Cup finals. Our national team was set to play Hungary, the nation of my parents' birth. Like so many hyphenated Canadians, I dealt with the question: to cheer for my country or my heritage?
My father made it clear. Cheer for Canada. Live in the present, not in the past.
Now, with Toronto hosting the opener of U20 World Cup, on Canada Day, no less, comes the big test for sports fans in a city that boasts about its multicultural mosaic.
Will the fans actually cheer for Canada?
It's a troubling question. In years past, while I covered Canadian teams trying to qualify for the World Cup finals, many of our players stated quietly that they were happy that Toronto didn't have a soccer stadium, so major internationals were basically confined to Edmonton and Vancouver. Why? Because in the times that they did play at the old Varsity Stadium, they remembered how many fans showed up to cheer against the home team. And that just doesn't happen in other Canadian cities -- at least not to the same extent.
There's no doubt Toronto FC fans have made BMO Field the most exciting sports venue in the city, a welcome change from the sterile Air Canada Centre or the half-empty Rogers Centre. But, I am worried about this weekend's game against Chile.
Why? Go back a month or so to Canada's U20 friendly against Argentina. There were a lot of blue and white stripes in the crowd. Kids decided to cheer for the soccer power over the underdogs. And, there were moments in the game when Canadian-born fans actually booed Canadian players.
It bothers me that some Torontonians chose to support foreign players over their neighbours and countrymen.
Yes, Canadian fans outnumbered the Argentine fans, but the faction supporting the road team was disproportionately large.
That wasn't the case when the U19 women played to partisan packed houses at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in 2002.
It's OK to cheer for the nation of your heritage -- as long as its No. 2 in your priority after Canada. My dad was right all those years ago.
With its wild MLS sellouts, Toronto has proven it's a soccer city. Now, it needs to show that it can get behind the Canadian cause as well.
24 hours sports editor Steven Sandor has written about the Beautiful Game for numerous publications around the globe. The Red Card will appear every Wednesday in 24 hours.\