Canadians getting their kicks

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

If there was a bit of swagger in the cleats of Canadian soccer supporters yesterday, there was good reason.

Before the Czech Republic and Austria even took the field in Edmonton for their semi-final tilt at the under-20 World Cup last night, there was ample proof that the game has become far more than a blip on the radar of the Canadian sporting scene.

Just hours after an Angus Reid poll revealed at least one in three Canucks has watched at least one game of this prestigious international tournament, Major League Soccer officials announced that Toronto has been awarded the 2008 all-star game.

"Toronto's response to the arrival of MLS has been nothing short of extraordinary," commissioner Don Garber said, noting the strong fan support first-year Toronto FC has received thus far.

Garber went on to mention that possible expansion down the road could see Vancouver land an MLS franchise.

Next year's game will see the all-stars take on a yet-to-be-determined high-profile international opponent. This year's contest, which goes tonight, pits the all-stars against Scottish champs Glasgow Celtic.

"Toronto's passionate and knowledgeable fans have embraced MLS," said Tom Anselmi, who serves as chief operating officer of Maple Leafs Sports &Entertainment Ltd., the owner of Toronto FC.

But soccer interest in this country cuts much deeper than just for MLS.

As the Angus Reid results indicate, the under-20 tourney already has been a huge success heading into Sunday's highly-anticipated final at National Soccer Stadium.

"I don't think people here really realized the enormity of this event until the opening weekend, but it has been amazing," Peter Montopoli, national event director of the Canadian Soccer Association, said last night. "We have exceeded our expectations.

"First we beat Holland's attendance total of 500,000 from the tournament two years ago. Then we went over one million. To say we would approach any of those numbers is staggering."

Some of the other findings of the Angus Reid poll:

- Twenty percent of respondents feel Argentina will win the under-20 title.

- Eight percent claim the U-20 tourney has boosted their interest in the game.

- Having said all that, 38% still say they prefer pro hockey to pro soccer, a number that, on the surface, seems low.

Canada's national men's team, meanwhile, has jumped four spots from 56th to 52nd in the FIFA World Rankings, it was announced yesterday.


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