He's pro soccer

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Herb Capozzi said yesterday -- only half jokingly -- that he was glad to see Toronto finally catching up with the rest of the country by supporting a pro side.

It was more than 30 years ago that Capozzi was filling what was known as Swangard Stadium for North American League Soccer with his Vancouver Whitecaps, something Toronto's expansion Major League Soccer team is now doing at BMO Field.

"It's always taken Toronto a little while longer to catch on to things that worked in the West," Capozzi said as he was honoured yesterday at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan for his role as a builder of Canadian soccer.

"But seriously, it was a no-brainer that professional soccer would work in Canada's biggest city," he said. "All it needed was somebody to run it like a business and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has done that."

Capozzi said that past failures to keep a professional team in Toronto could be blamed directly on the fact that they were run by sportsmen and not businessmen.

TOAST OF CANADA

"When I tackled soccer in B.C. it was after my time as a player and general manager in the Canadian Football League," he said. "It was obvious to me that if I ran it the way my father ran his wine business it would be successful."

After winning the 1979 NASL championship by beating the highly favoured New York Cosmos and then the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Whitecaps were the toast of Canada.

But Capozzi was one of the few NASL owners who had kept an eye on the bottom line and the league folded while the Whitecaps were still turning profits.

The 84-year-old Kelowna, B.C., native said yesterday that he saw something that no one else saw at the time and that TFC is seeing now: That soccer was more of a true family sport than hockey, football or baseball.

"I would look up in the stands and I would be surprised at how many women were there," he said. "I asked one woman after a game what it was that attracted her to soccer. She said: 'I have been taking may kids to soccer for years so I've grown to love the game.' "

While Capozzi wouldn't take credit for discovering the "soccer mom," he recognized her importance and marketed the team to women -- just as TFC is now doing, he said.

Also inducted yesterday were former players Craig Forrest, Glen Johnson, Connie Cant, Domenic Mobilio and Bill Findler. Besides Capozzi the builders named to the hall were Jim Fleming, Dr. Rudy Gittens, Bill Thomson, and Gus Etchegarry.


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