MLS Cup a boost to Canada's soccer ego

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:57 PM ET

Five years ago it never seemed possible. Toronto hosting the biggest soccer match in North America could only be dreamed of.

Sunday, the dream comes true. The MLS Cup final on Canadian soil is another step in Canada's evolution into becoming a fully functioning soccer country.

The Cup final is a big deal. It's not so much the match-up. It's about the bigger picture. It's about soccer being played that matters in Canada. And it's been a long-time coming.

There's a symbolic and practical side to the importance of it all. The practical is easy. The wheels towards putting the tangible, physical elements in place all started with the Canadian Soccer Association bringing the FIFA U-20 World Cup to Canada in 2007. If you build it, they will come.

Toronto FC was born from the building of a soccer specific stadium, and soccer infrastructure continues to grow as professional set-ups mature in Vancouver and Montreal.

But none of the above would, or could have worked without the appetite for the game. Canada has been a wasteland for the under-serviced soccer fan for decades. That can be said no more.

As CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli puts it, synergies are coming together. Where there weren't facilities before, they are popping up now. Where fandom was sparse, it's populated now. Canadian soccer specific blogs and websites, and educated soccer minds now given the time and space to create narrative in the mainstream speaks to it. And where the business of game conversation wasn't being had before, it's now fully integrated and profitable. And with all this comes belief of better, bigger and brighter days ahead.

The puzzle is nowhere near complete. But pieces are in place. The MLS Cup final is a piece. It matters North America's soccer elite are congregating in our city. We are part of the conversation. Canada matters when it comes to soccer. We're important to the business. We're important to growth.

In continuing to grow, Montopoli speaks about the three P's necessary to complete the puzzle. The first 'P', Participation in Canada is there already. The second 'P', Professionalism is happening as we speak. Let's just say, it's in progress. And the third 'P', Performance of our men's national team, obviously has some ways to go.

The development of professional teams can only take Canadian soccer so far; greater professionalism is needed in the CSA set-up, and diligent, visionary types are trying their damnedest to break down the current rigid, inhibiting structure.

But save that on-going conversation for another day. The game is growing despite a certain level of incompetence and narrow-mindedness in some circles. And that's a very good thing.

Our Canadian women's team is a success story. Qualifying for next summers Women's World Cup in Germany ahead of the powerhouse Americans was no small feat. And Canada, looking like favourites to host the 2015 Women's World Cup, would be another astounding accomplishment. More infrastructure, more stadia, more profile all help shape identity.

Queue the symbolic conversation. Canada still lacks a soccer identity. A better idea what Canada's development style will look like will come when a new technical director is hired by the CSA in the coming months. But bigger picture, what it means to be part of the Canadian soccer community continues to evolve.

The "support the country your lineage lay with" mindset is still prevalent and needs to change. Professional soccer culture is changing that some, making up for the lack of Canadian soccer tradition. Soccer doesn't have the historical ties the CFL has; or the cultural significance that resonates in hockey, but the game continues its gradual development into having wide-scale, national relevance.

Questions still need answering before the process of shaping a Canadian soccer identity truly takes shape. The most important being what does Canadian soccer represent, on and off the field? Until that's determined, Canada will remain a country defined by potential rather than performance.

Sunday however, Toronto is the hub as to all things North American soccer. We've come a long way in five years. Five years from now with perseverance and continued progress, so much more can be achieved. Enjoy the party; we deserve it.


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