Fever pitch

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:20 PM ET

The evening began with more security than spectators.

As kickoff approached, fans began to unfurl their flags and unleash their venom in anticipation of a sporting event that was equal parts athleticism and politics.

The rivalry between Serbia and Croatia is as old as the turf at Lamport Stadium, site of yesterday's Canadian Soccer League game.

When fans were told that the use of flares or fireworks was prohibited, they booed. The warning, however, did not apply to the on-field participants.

With the game barely 20 minutes old, two players -- one from each team -- were given the boot when a scuffle was triggered near the touch line.

So intense is the feud between the two sides and their rabid supporters that fans were instructed to sit on opposite ends of the stadium based on their allegiance.

In last night's match, Gabriel Pop scored twice as Serbian blanked Toronto Croatia 3-0.

When the teams met earlier in the season at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium, tempers erupted in the stands and organizers were determined not to have a repeat.

More than just a curiosity, fans in attendance yesterday were fully aware of what was at stake from a sporting perspective.

The Serbian White Eagles and Toronto Croatia stand atop of the five-team international division, a dimension to the CSL that was launched this year.

The CSL, our nation's only professional soccer league, historically has featured community-based teams, but now is embracing Canada's loyal ethnic backgrounds.

Chinese, Greek and Spanish-speaking teams are likely to get on board next season.

The quality of soccer is decent, though it was hard to judge last night's performance given the pathetic state of the playing surface and lack of proper lighting overhead.

While some players earn a modest salary, many have regular jobs. The best way to describe the calibre of the game is to equate it with any European-based semi-pro league.

With the CSL playoffs scheduled next week, the run for the Oct. 9 championship will soon begin.

The White Eagles entered the night with a record of 15-1-4, while Toronto Croatia sported a mark of 14-2-5.

Earlier in the day at a venue decidedly more player friendly, Ottawa St. Anthony Italia defeated the Toronto Lynx 2-0 at Esther Shiner Stadium to win the Open Canada Cup, a separate competition under the CSL umbrella that is open to club teams.

Abraham Osman scored both goals for the Ottawa-Carleton Soccer League entry, a senior amateur organization that has been in existence for 50 years.


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