CSL hoping to change the face of soccer in Canada

DAVE FULLER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:15 PM ET

Drive through any community in Canada and you’ll likely pass a local hockey arena or two.

Finding a bonafide soccer facility — one with lights and spectator seating — might be a bit more difficult.

“Millions of people play soccer in this country,” says Domenic Di Gironimo, the new commissioner of the Canadian Soccer League (CSL). “We have quite a few pitches to play on but they are just bare fields.

“When you compare that to what hockey organizations have — every community has a small, stadium-style arena where they can host 3,000 to 5,000 spectators. But for soccer most of those same communities don’t have a stadium that’s enclosed by a fence, or lit, or has a seating capacity for more than 200 people.”

Canada’s only pro soccer circuit — the CSL — intends to change those dynamics, beginning with an ambitious expansion, which will see 13 teams competing this year, and 24-30 clubs in the next few years.

The CSL launches its 156-game schedule Saturday, when Toronto FC Academy battles Portugal FC, 7 p.m., at BMO Field. Four newcomers — FC Hamilton Croatia, Brantford Galaxy, Milltown FC and the Montreal Impact Academy — make their league debuts the following weekend.

Some 50 CSL games will be televised on Rogers Cable and included nationally in the Rogers Super Sports Pak. Just 23 aired last year.

The CSL, which has been around in one form or another since 1926 when Toronto Ulster won the first National Soccer League crown, has also gained admittance to the Canadian Soccer Association — on a one-year trial basis.

They got in by promising that each of their 13 pro teams will work closely with youth clubs in their communities, identifying and developing elite local talent and coaches.

“Our teams are committed to being the leaders for soccer development in their communities and cities, while displaying the highest quality of soccer entertainment possible,” Di Gironimo promised during Tuesday’s CSL press conference at BMO Field.

Former Canadian soccer standout, Bob Iarusci, says it’s about time.

“We’ve got everything to gain in this country and we can’t seem to circle the wagons in the right way,” said Iarusci who has joined the CSL’s advisory board.

“We have to stop looking at our little, self-serving fiefdoms and look at the big picture and help develop our boys and girls.”

While Irausci said he doesn’t often agree with FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, he said Blatter was right when he told Canada to develop its own pro league (like most European countries), rather than depend on the American-based Major League Soccer.

“The number of high level players a country produces is usually in direct proportion to the number of registrations,” said Di Gironimo. “That hasn’t happened in Canada due, we think, to the lack of an adequate professional structure.”

The CSL, which has signed a title sponsorship deal with Italian sportswear company GIVOVA, also launched a new website (canadiansoccerleague.ca) where its complete 2010 schedule is available.


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