Soccer vision needs patience

Kathy Rumleski -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

TORONTO -- The face of soccer is changing in Canada -- slowly (too slowly for many) but surely.

At a city hall news conference yesterday to kick off the Canadian Professional Soccer League season, soccer executives set out the vision for soccer in Canada and then asked for patience.

\"It\'s exciting to see what can happen for soccer in this country,\" said the league\'s marketing consultant, Cary Kaplan, a former president of the AHL\'s Hamilton Bulldogs.

\"There\'s no reason the CPSL . . . shouldn\'t be at the same level as the Canadian Football League and the Canadian Hockey League in 10 to 15 years,\" Kaplan said.

That said, he acknowledged many things need to change for that to happen, including stopping the Canadian Soccer Association from competing with professional teams for corporate funds.

\"What\'s happening now is the CSA competes with the (Toronto) Lynx and the CPSL for sponsors. That\'s unique to soccer. That doesn\'t happen in other sports.\"

Kaplan also took a shot at armchair fans and said the league must lure them from their homes and into stadiums.

\"The fans really have to do some soul-searching.\"

Lynx co-owner Bruno Hartrell envisions the day when Canada can keep its best players in this country instead of losing them to professional teams overseas. \"We can only do it if (soccer) grows.\"

While some CPSL teams pay their players, others struggle to pay the bills and can only cover costs for their athletes.

CPSL chairperson Vince Ursini said his executive has tougher measures in place these days for teams that want to enter the league.

The CPSL shrank by one team this season as the York Region Shooters merged with the Vaughan Sun Devils, but Ursini said there are several groups considering applying.

\"One or more may enter in 2004. From the league\'s perspective, we do not wish to expand for the sake of expanding.\"

The CPSL has also scaled back plans to expand across the country.

While that is still the hope, Ursini said it\'s not going to happen for quite some time.

\"The rest of the country is not ready for a league at this level. Venturing into the unknown is a big step.\"

Ursini said the CPSL needs people to champion its cause in provinces outside of Ontario and Quebec and those people aren\'t in place yet.

He said what the league wants to focus on this season is player development and increasing the number of youth who play in the CPSL.

CPSL\'s London City has always emphasized youth development.

City coach and manager Harry Gauss said yesterday that two of his former players -- Londoner Tyler Hemming and Grimsby native Josh Wagenaar -- were chosen for the under-18 national team, which leaves Sunday for games in Austria and the Czech Republic.

The CPSL regular season begins May 24 while its Canada Cup competition starts tonight in London.


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