Calling all soccer fans

GEORGE GROSS

, Last Updated: 3:24 PM ET

Should be interesting to see what kind of support Toronto FC gets in 2007

The same old laments ring out each year like the New Year's bells that usher in a fresh start for everyone.

So, what about soccer? Not enough scoring. Not enough chances. Too many babies that fall down like they've been run over by a truck only to jump back into the play when they get the referee's call. Too slow-paced. And so it drones endlessly on from critic to critic.

Given a fresh start next year, can professional soccer make it in Toronto?

History, albeit almost ancient, is on soccer's side. Back to the 1960s, the star-studded Toronto City Soccer Club and Toronto Italia of the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League drew sellout crowds at Varsity Stadium. In addition, Toronto Ukraina, Polish White Eagles, Portuguese, Hungaria and Hellas jammed the stands at Fred Hamilton Park and Stanley Park.

Recent history is not. Unfortunate failures by the Toronto Blizzard and Toronto Lynx cause soccer executives to cringe.

However, one newbie soccer executive is convinced that times have changed. He claims that there still is big interest in the city.

Tom Anselmi, the hard-working senior executive vice-president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., is the head honcho of MLSEL's soccer franchise in Major League Soccer -- Toronto FC. Anselmi holds an optimistic outlook on the future of the team.

"I'm confident that we will succeed," Anselmi said yesterday. "We've sold about 6,000 season tickets to date and they come in at the rate of about 100 a day. That's because in Toronto we have sophisticated soccer fans.

"The new stadium at the CNE is 70% finished. It is on time and on budget. And as far as the team is concerned, we've signed eight players and sold two others. Coach Mo Johnston assures me that we will have a competitive team."

That's encouraging, of course, but when does the management of Toronto FC expect a winning team as opposed to a competitive one?

"I hope it won't take long," he replied. "At least, the coach assures me that we will be proud of the team that is built on players of the Canadian national team, as well as a couple of overseas players, the names of who I'm not prepared to disclose right now.

How and where will the team prepare for the season?

"The team will open with a week-and-half training camp in the Ontario Soccer Association's Centre in Vaughn," Anselmi said. "That will be followed by a week in Florida. The preparation will culminate with a shorter training camp either in California or in Europe."

It's a fresh start for soccer in Toronto in 2007. The turf will be fresh. A winning, well-supported team would be indeed refreshing.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

The soccer world is saddened by the passing of Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League and owner of three teams in Major League Soccer -- the Dallas FC, Kansas City Wizards and Columbus Crew. He also built two soccer stadia. Despite his immense wealth, Hunt was a very modest human being. He used to travel in the economy section of a plane and when I asked him about it, he replied: "George, do the passengers in the first-class section touch down earlier than those in economy? Besides, the passengers in economy are friendlier and more entertaining." ... Congratulations to Milt Dunnell, the retired sports editor of the Toronto Star. He'll be 101 on Christmas Eve. Stay well, Uncle Milt ... Mike Hickey, brother of former Toronto Sun columnist Pat Hickey, wrote a book on legendary basketball coach Jack Donohue. The book is called Dream Big Dreams: The Jack Donohue Story. It's available in book stores and online at www.dreamabigdream.ca ... Congratulations to 13-year-old Christine (Peng Peng) Lee who won three gold medals and the overall title in the recent National High Performance junior championships at Seneca College. She amassed the highest individual score in the entire tourney, including the seniors ... Susan Foster and the late Carl Brewer's book The Power Of Two sells like hotcakes, particularly after it was promoted by Don Cherry ... The Variety Village Christmas Fund received a big boost when the Bowlerama Boys walked into our office with a cheque for $2,007 ... Other big donors include Glenn Crouter on behalf of Woodbine Entertainment ($500); MLSEL senior executive vice-president Tom Anselmi ($150); Steven Fitzgerald in memory of Doug Fitzgerald ($100), Norman Vincent and Dr. Ruth Swan (each $100); Diane Dreher of Etobicoke and Alan Parker of Niagara Falls (each $5). Many thanks and keep your donation coming because we're behind last year's pace. Good thing Santa Mort Greenberg will drop in next week with his usual substantial donation.

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VARIETY VILLAGE DONATIONS

Marilyn Creighton $50.00

Jack Dominico $200.00

Robert Glaubitz $50.00

Dave Carey $1 0.00

Larry Graham $10.00

Theresa & Tom Bernaske $25.00

Rick Scott Jr. $15.00

Steve Gormick $20.00

Steven Fitzgerald (in memory of Doug Fitzgerald) $100.00

Norman Vincent $100.00

Bruce Dillon $15.00

Thiyagarajah Jeya Kumar $20.00

Shawn Morrison $25.00

Jane Esert $10.00

Jerry Feasby $50.00

Leslie Mate $10.00

Linda Edwards $10.00

Diane Dreher $5.00

Alan Parker $5.00

Woodbine Entertainment Group $500.00

Tom Anselmi $150.00

Bowlerama $2,007.00

Teresa Ouellette $26.00

Beatrice Sopha $20.00

Bruce Brunkard $15.00

Brian & Debbie Donn $20.00

Kim & Gary Parkinson $25.00

TOTAL $3,493.00

TO DATE $10,158.00


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