Soccer is taking over the nation

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

Hey puckheads -- Montreal Impact midfielder Sandro Grande has a message for you:

"This (Canada) is not a hockey nation. This is a soccer nation."

What?

Questioning hockey's status as the undisputed No. 1 in Canada is sacrilegious. Hockey always has been top dog.

Sure, Grande was coming off a high, after beating Mexico's Santos Laguna in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League in front of over 55,000 jacked up fans at the Big 'O' in Montreal.

But there's truth to it -- Canada is a soccer nation, and maybe how important we're told hockey is to Canadian culture isn't reality.

Soccer culture is slowly but surely coming to the mainstream surface of Canadiana, with the Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Let's be real, Grande Montreal is a hockey city -- check that, a Montreal Canadiens city. Just like Toronto is a Maple Leafs town and Vancouver is all Canucks.

But the point here isn't to suggest the pro soccer teams are more popular than the hockey clubs.

It's about soccer culture. It's about the interest, passion, knowledge and soccer lifestyle being just as prevalent in Canada as hockey.

MLS commissioner Don Garber acknowledged as much, seeing first-hand the reaction to Major League Soccer in Toronto. He has tried to make America a soccer nation for 13 years, but Canada was a soccer nation all along.

Canada's foundation for being a soccer nation is obvious. Over 300,000 more Canadians play organized soccer than hockey.

Growth in hockey has been stagnant in recent years, partially because of the expense it costs to play it. As those costs continue to rise, hockey is going to become even more of an elitist sport.

Participation is only part of the story -- our immigrant population base is another.

Thus far, Canada's multicultural population hasn't embraced the North American soccer game.

This isn't surprising, with soccer being divided on cultural, ethnic and national lines. The same kind of nationalistic ties don't exist in hockey, which speaks volumes, because Canadians define themselves by where they came from.

The immigrant population remains true to its old hometown club ties, preferring to watch soccer from where they, or their families came from.

This is one of the holes in assessing Canada's passion for soccer through television ratings.

Hockey lives off its strong ratings, but it is an unfair indicator when comparing the sports. Hockey's superior ratings have more to do with accessibility than anything else.

Watching soccer in North America takes serious commitment, with the majority of games overseas airing weekday afternoons or early in the morning. Only diehard fans will skip work or wake up at all hours to watch.

Hockey is easily accessible, to the point we have essentially been programmed to embrace it.

It's like American politics; the public consumes the mindless derivative because it is being told it matters.

So Canadians get the same-old crap, redundant hockey conversation served up in a slightly different way all hours of the day. It's quantity, not quality. Just because you're forced fed, it doesn't mean it tastes good.

While hockey is forced upon us, Canadians remain starved for soccer.

With soccer, it's quality, not quantity that counts. Unlike hockey, you can't put any two-bit soccer broadcasts out there and call it gold -- soccer fans see right through it.

Pushing high-interest match-ups (Impact vs. Santos) to little-known, little-watched channels at a time only few can watch does nothing to satisfy the appetite of the Canadian viewer either.

Canadian soccer doesn't have a '72 Summit Series defining moment to its resume. The fact Canada is ranked 86th in the world doesn't take anything away from Canada's soccer culture either.

Canada's soccer culture is truly grassroots and has been bred over time.

Grande was right to point out what Canada really is.


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