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
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
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.