CPSL plays to ethnic groups

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

The Canadian Professional Soccer League is counting on a link between rabid flag waving and rapid turnstile traffic.

A new era for the 12-team league began here yesterday with the expansion birth of the Serbian White Eagles to the CPSL, joining the Italia Shooters, Toronto Supra (Portuguese) and Toronto Croatia. Only the latter had kept its ethnic link the past few years.

"We used to be very basic, East and West divisions with just team names," new commissioner Cary Kaplan said. "That works in Hamilton, London and Windsor. But in Toronto, you don't wave a York flag or a Vaughan flag when there's 350,000 Portuguese, 450,000 Italians and a large Chinese and Korean population.

"Traditionally, you were encouraged to hide that and be a team such as the Toronto Blizzard. But why couldn't we have a 20-team international division, based right in Toronto? In 10 years, I don't see why we can't be a micro version of the CFL."

The White Eagles, last seen in these parts 30 years ago playing to big crowds at the CNE, are being resurrected in a big way, bringing back legendary Dragoslav Sekularac (Seki) as coach and bolstering their initial roster with five imports.

"We needed a world-famous player and a world famous coach and Seki is both," Eagles president Mike Bakich said. "We're looking at around 250,000 Serbs in Ontario and we know we can get the people out if we give them a good product.

"Unfortunately, Canada is not a soccer country, though it should be with our melting pot of countries where it is the No. 1 sport. We're hoping when they build the new stadium next year (a 20,000-seat facility at Exhibition Place ), soccer will be where it was. We used to have 12,000 to 17,000 out to Eagles games."

Caplan hopes Serbia is the first of an ambitious CPSL expansion program. The Durham team has dropped out, Hamilton is coming back with a new identity and other GTA teams include the North York Astros, Oakville Blue Devils and Brampton Stallions.

"The CPSL has been under the radar for a long time," Caplan said. "The international concept in Toronto is perfect. We think that it will attract additional fans and rivalries."

He pointed to the Eagles' glitzy launch as the kind of splash the CPSL needs.

"You have to move the bar up, create a team like this which pushes a team at the bottom," Kaplan said. "Other teams will look at Serbia and say, 'We're not going on the field to lose to them 6-0.'

"We have to get off page 12 of the sports section where all you see are our standings. We have to create publicity."


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