Hogtown has to holler

GARETH WHEELER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:05 PM ET

The Brazilians are coming!

The men did battle with the world's strongest football nation more than a month ago in Seattle. This time, it's the women and they're on home turf -- literally -- as they make their long-awaited debut at the National Soccer Stadium (aka BMO Field) on Thursday.

Coming off a runner-up performance at the Peace Cup in South Korea, the match against the tried and tested Brazilians will determine where the women stand heading into the Beijing Games.

Aside from the tactical importance from coach Even Pellerud's point of view, the match is every bit as important at the turnstiles.

Home base and training may be in Vancouver for the women, but having not played in a stadium that has been dubbed our national home is embarrassing -- partially due to the optics, mostly due to the neglect of Canadian soccer fans.

As seen with Toronto FC, a strong fan base is what it's all about. Rear-ends and, more importantly, passion, in the seats is what is needed to encourage the development of football here.

Yes, corporate dollars and proper infrastructure matter, but what generates all that good stuff is people caring. Isn't that what having a National Soccer Stadium in a soccer-crazed city is all about?

Getting people to care shouldn't be a difficult task with our women's team.

In recent years, they have become the sweethearts of our nation.

It started almost two decades ago when the program was seen as a cheaper and more realistic team to invest in than the men.

Women's soccer was just becoming popular world-wide, so achievement was seen as being less daunting, as opposed to battling the established nations with the men.

A concerted effort was made to develop high-level women players coast to coast.

The dedication to the program produced high-quality players, with many getting scholarships to major American colleges and universities.

From here, the chance to play alongside the best translated into the strengthening of the national women's program, which earned a fourth-place finish at the 2003 Women's World Cup.

So from there, you'd expect more resources to be pumped into the program, wouldn't you? Not the case.

As their results started to level off, so did the CSA's commitment. So much so that the CSA was unwilling to pony up the $400,000 to play host to the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers.

Instead, surely the tournament must have gone to a wealthy nation?

Again, not the case -- the tournament was held in Haiti.

And if that wasn't embarrassing enough, Pellerud, disgusted at the lack of commitment to the team, refused to sign a new contract, essentially making these Summer Olympics his last duty.

SAD ENDING

It's an unfortunate ending to what could have been a success story in this country. Now, if the women win in Beijing, things will be seen differently.

But what's important here is the lax approach to the program by the powers-that-be. And more important than the neglect is how things can potentially change.

The answer? It is staring at you in the mirror -- get out and support the women this week.

Show the CSA that our national teams matter in this city. Let's bury the tired notion that Torontonians will always support other nations before we support our own.

If Torontonians show the same commitment to Canadian soccer as they do for Toronto FC, there will be no argument.

TFC fans demanded coverage of their team, to which the media has responded.

The same can be said for Canadian soccer.

If the support is shown, no longer will men's World Cup qualifiers be played during October in Edmonton on a chewed up CFL field devoid of any kind of atmosphere.

It may hurt the visitors, but it hurts our squad even more.

Toronto already has the name behind it, being called the home of Canadian soccer.

So let's make names such as Sinclair and Lang feel at home this week, so names like De Rosario and De Guzman will feel the same when they are here.


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