MLS Cup was eh OK

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:44 AM ET

TORONTO - Major League Soccer’s 15th MLS Cup has come and gone, leaving an impression of what major soccer matches can do for Canadian soccer.

Sunday’s final had all the traditional cache attributed to a big-time American sporting event, with subtle, yet charming Canadian touches.

The Mounties bringing out the Philip F Anschutz trophy prior to kick off, the “Fire Ron Wilson” sign in the crowd, the “Danny Dichio” chant in the 24th minute and in extra time, and the muffled sound of applause through mitts and gloves all made for a much different final than in the past.

It was even a nice touch having Canadian referee, Silviu Petrescu, as the fourth match official. You can take the Canadian team out of the game, but you can’t take the “Canadian” out of it.

Travelling supporters from Dallas and Colorado, and other fans attending soccer’s “Super Bowl” would have preferred a trip to warm-weathered California. But braving the conditions was always going to be part of hosting the game in Toronto in late November. And despite the brisk night, MLS couldn’t have asked for any more from Mother Nature. The 7 C temperature at kick-off was the same as last year’s game in Seattle. No snow, no problem.

There’s something to be said for the hardcore, don’t let the conditions deter you kind of vibe we Canadians bring to the table. There’s nothing wrong with trading your T-shirt for a toque, or your cold beverage for a warm one.

That’s why it’s so surprising a significant number of fans left the game early. Walking out of a hotly contested Cup final is beyond lame. It shows a lack of knowledge and care for the product, and that’s shameful.

The empty red seats inside a “soldout” stadium didn’t look good either.

The game experience outside the stadium didn’t resemble a typical Toronto FC game-day, but still worked. It was like any other major soccer event world wide, dominated by corporate promotions. No promotion was too cheesy — Home Depot orange helmets were everywhere, making the scene look like a Houston Dynamo home date. Heck, you could even test out Makita drills while hanging with TFC ’keeper Jon Conway. No beer garden outside the stadium grounds was a little bit of a mystery, but the patios in Liberty Village were still bustling with activity.

Where’s the cash?

Best signage of the night: “Cunningham: you owe me $100.”

Apparently former TFC striker and current FC Dallas team member Jeff Cunningham made a bet a with a couple supporters while playing for Toronto he would score a goal in his next game while in the midst of an eight-game goalless drought.

Needless to say, Cunningham didn’t score and never showed up to pay his debt. It’s this kind of narrative that makes you say, “Only in MLS” and “Only in Toronto.” When he entered Sunday’s match as a substitute, a chorus of boo’s reigned down on him — fitting and deserved.

Back to those empty seats. The game was announced as a sellout — 21,700 strong allegedly were on hand. There is simply no way. Eight or nine empty seats in a row were common in the East stand.

Empty seats for a Cup final in this soccer-crazed city is inexcusable.

Excuses have been made. The game was too late. The weather is too cold. Toronto FC has let me down. None of which hold water.

Attending the final is about supporting MLS and not about Toronto FC’s four-year stretch of futility. Ironically enough, former director of soccer Mo Johnston attended the match, watching from a luxury box. But that’s neither here nor there. Choosing to go to the game or not has nothing to do with Johnston.

High-ticket prices were a valid reason not to go. The ticket prices for the game were insulting and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. let the city down charging what it did. MLSE needs to do better.

Adding to the problem, there simply wasn’t enough hype around this marquee game. MLS doesn’t resonate wholly in Toronto, not just yet.

Toronto FC is partly to blame; the team sells exclusivity. You’re either in the club and part of the TFC conversation or not. And if you’re not, the dissemination of information is just not there.

Far too many people in Toronto had no idea the game was being played.

That’s not right. Newspaper advertisements and media photo opportunities are fine, but a true sense of what the game was all about and what it means to Toronto was never established, en masse.

If you’re going to make your game soccer’s version of the Super Bowl, then make it the Super Bowl. Sunday night wasn’t super, but it was a really good game of soccer.


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