Puck fever a big factor

Players for the Under-20 Canadian men's soccer team warm up by keeping the ball off the ground...

Players for the Under-20 Canadian men's soccer team warm up by keeping the ball off the ground during practice at Reil Park in St. Albert, north of Edmonton, Sunday, May 14, 2006. (Edmonton Sun/Jason Franson)

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Dale Mitchell couldn't have chosen a better way to sum up the situation.

"That's typical in Canada, isn't it? It all depends on hockey."

The head coach of Canada's under-20 men's soccer team was bang-on when he thought about the prospective attendance for Friday's game between his squad and Brazil at Commonwealth Stadium. About 8,000 tickets have been sold for the game. That number will either be significantly cut by no-shows or perhaps even substantially grow depending on whether the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks need Game 7 to settle their Western Conference semifinal series.

If a rubber match is required, Jack Warner is going to look like a real smart guy. Warner is the FIFA vice-president who basically said Edmonton has no business hosting the final of the 2007 world under-20 championship because of a "lukewarm" reception to international games in the city since the world women's under-19 tournament in 2002.

Edmonton remains a venue for the tournament but lost out to Toronto to host the final. Warner added further insult by saying Edmonton was "lucky" to even be getting a semifinal.

Whether there is hockey or not, a small crowd is going to further hurt the city in the view of at least one high-ranking FIFA member. Warner's statements may become even more painful to local soccer fans when considering the apparent lack of promotion for the Brazil friendly.

"With hockey we've had a hard time getting on the radar," said Val Close, general manager of Edmonton's '07 site committee. "If the Oilers win Wednesday, hopefully people will start talking about it. People really don't know how good the skill level of this game is going to be. We are really geared up for a great walkup on Friday."

While 8,000 spectators would leave Commonwealth Stadium not even one-sixth full, it would still register as a positive number in Mitchell's mind.

"A lot of these guys have not played in a stadium like that before and have not played any games in Canada when people have actually paid money to watch them play," said Mitchell. "We're just going to try and get as much out of the evening as we possibly can."

The point with Friday's game is to capture initial interest that will turn into real attentiveness when the world U-20 championship comes around next summer.

"There are going to be world-class players here who will go on to play at the highest level a year or two after the event."

Mitchell's last playing experience in Edmonton came in 1996 when Canada took Australia in the first leg of a World Cup qualifying series. Apart from an own goal by now under-20 assistant coach Nick Dasovic, it was a great day with Canada winning 2-1.

Since then Edmonton has been:

- the city recognized as the official home of the Canadian national team

- the city that has virtually ignored the national team

- the city that embraced the best teenage female players in the world

- the city that was embarrassed by the failure of yet another pro soccer team

"Edmonton has had some of the best crowds we've ever had in Canada," said Mitchell. "I think there's a lot of people who will be interested in a game like this. "

It all depends on hockey.

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BY THE NUMBERS

Attendance for some of Canada's games at Commonwealth Stadium

Attendance for some of Canada's games

at Commonwealth Stadium

Canada vs. Brazil - Men's Friendly - 51,937 (June 1994)

Canada vs. U.S.A. - Women's U-19 Final - 47,484 (August 2002)

Canada vs. Australia - Men's WC Qualifier - 13,049 (May 1996)

Canada vs. Honduras - Men's WC Qualifier - 9,654 (Sept. 2004)

Canada vs. Germany - Women's Friendly - 8,812 (Sept. 2005)


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