CSL eyes its own Manifest Destiny

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

Our national sport may be lacrosse, but every Canadian knows that this country's sporting religion is hockey.

However, Canada may be undergoing a radical change of religion if recent participation statistics are reviewed.

"We found that over one million registered soccer players are playing in Canada against about 700,000 hockey players," says Stan Adamson, the executive director of the Canadian Soccer League, which took over from the defunct National Soccer League that used to draw up to 9,000 fans to Fred Hamilton Park.

And the numbers behind that somewhat surprising, and definitely shocking, statement from Adamson prompted my superiors to suggest that I write a weekly column on soccer, in addition to my columns on Thursday and Sunday.

I hope that they include a chiropractic and acupuncture health plan to help my aging back.

It would be easy to begin these columns by berating Mo Johnston, the kindly coach and manager of Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. But that would be unfair. TFC was an expansion team with too many injuries this year and not enough reserve talent, something Johnston plans to be prepared for in 2008.

Getting back to Adamson. He has been involved in soccer in various capacities practically all his life.

In fact, some years ago, he used to be a columnist for the Soccer and Sports News weekly. The past two years, he has been involved in the CSL.

"The CSL is a new branding of the National Soccer League," Adamson explains. "I run the competitions, control the officiating and discipline. We are a semi-professional organization, having players under contracts."

The CSL operates with 10 teams -- St. Catharines, Windsor, London, Trois-Rivieres, Que., and North York Astros are in the National Division, while Toronto Croatia, Serbian White Eagles, Italia Shooters, Canadian Lions and African Icons are in the International Division.

"For next year, we hope to add a team from Quebec City and, perhaps, more newcomers," Adamson says.

Adamson is particularly proud of two of the teams: Toronto Croatia, a team that has been in existence for 51 years, and Serbian White Eagles, another longtime squad. He had his hands full last weekend when these two teams clashed in the league final. It wasn't so much the players as the fans of these Slavic rivals that prompted the CSL to separate them by staging the final over two days.

"We had a police presence (for earlier games) at Lamport Stadium, but it didn't stop the fans from throwing bottles," Adamson says.

"The police figured things would settle down. After the last incident, we arranged for a game between these two teams at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium with fans of one team sitting in one stands and the other fans in the opposite stands.

"However, the police presence didn't stop them from acting up. They damaged 20 seats and also part of the field."

Fan outbursts aside, the quality of play has not been affected. Last year, the White Eagles brought over nine players, including former star international Drago Sekularec. Six of those also played this year. Croatia has a strong, physical team that trains four or five times a week.

Adamson and his associates foresee expansion into other provinces and hope that a British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Pacific Coast division is not only a pipe dream, but will join the CSL in the not-too-distant future.

With the emergence of Toronto FC, the CSL and the Toronto Lynx's youth programs, the future of soccer in this area will only blossom and I may have to start writing two columns a week, space permitting.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Mary Maragna, 44, is one of the players in the Ontario Women's Soccer League, who helped contribute to the Canadian Cancer Fund $5,000 through Carlo Delmonte's Kick for Cancer Fund.


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