Soccer fever doesn't last in Canada

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 3:04 PM ET

There are thousands of soccer-loving fans who would like nothing better than to see the sport take off in North America.

That love of the sport is emphasized every four years when the World Cup is played. It captures the attention of sports fans even without Canada's participation.

"What soccer needs in this country is for us to make another World Cup tournament," national team coach Frank Yallop said. "That would spark the interest."

Yallop is right. In Canada, success breeds success. Four years ago when Canada's under-19 women's team almost won its world tournament in Edmonton, stadiums were jammed.

So a trip to the World Cup would be a boost for soccer.

But suggesting that a trip to the World Cup will cure the soccer woes in this country would be folly.

Even if that were to happen -- and with Canada competing in a region with the United States, Mexico and other Latin American nations, qualifying will be difficult -- there is no guarantee of long-term interest or success at the senior national level.

Soccer is a tough sell in a market so saturated with North American sports that there's hardly room for a sport that has had minimal association with this continent.

This is a country that calls soccer a boring sport, yet loves baseball. Go figure.

Major television networks only use soccer as a fill when they have nothing else to show. There are no major recognizable soccer stars. There is little marketing.

The United States is ranked in the world's top five soccer-playing nations. They've built a program that any nation would be proud of. Yet considering what they've accomplished, soccer is still looked at as a minor league sport.

A quick turn around the radio dial finds this conversation between radio announcers on WKNR, an all-sports radio station in Cleveland:

"Hey, the other day I was at a high school fastball game and kids were talking about this game between the United States and some other team in Cleveland," one announcer said. "These kids were planning to spend $45 to go see a soccer game."

"Yeah, the World Cup is coming up and it's a big deal in some countries," said another announcer.

"It just surprised me because I didn't think anyone knew anything about the sport and here these kids are talking about it. I haven't heard much about it."

The only thing missing is "and I don't care."

And that's the attitude that's so pervasive in North America and why the sport will forever struggle to gain recognition. While hundreds of thousands play the sport, marketing and media coverage remain only on an as-needed basis.

Baseball, football, basketball, car racing, horse racing, plus hockey in Canada -- all of these take up newspaper space and television time. While a one-month spectacle like the World Cup can sell, that about exhausts the limits of soccer marketing.

Canada lags far behind the United States when it comes to soccer program development. The next three years will go a long way toward developing the sport, especially with the under-20 World Cup being held in Canada, a new MSL team in Toronto and a new stadium.

But don't expect things to change drastically. There will be joy and celebration and six months later, it will be back to the same old grind.


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