FC is a mosaic of many flags

GEORGE GROSS

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

There is no doubt among knowledgeable sports fans that soccer is the top international game. The World Cup is watched by more TV viewers than any other sporting event and the game is played in more countries than any other.

On April 28, BMO Stadium at the CNE will take on an international flavour when Major League Soccer takes up residence.

The flags of many nations will flutter from the poles and thousands of fans of all national origins will cheer the home team, which itself is comprised of players from several countries.

It will be the home opener for Toronto FC, the latest venture of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., into the professional sporting world.

The most excited person in the stadium will be Tom Anselmi, senior vice-president of MLSEL.

Anselmi, himself, reflects the international flavour of the team. His Italian ancestry provides the drive to be actively involved in FC's operations. He had a lot to do with the hiring of Mo Johnston, but leaves the player selection to the team's coach who, as a former Scottish international and coach in MLS, is well aware of the available soccer talent in various countries.

"We have three Canadian players in Greg Sutton, Jim Brennan and Marco Reda -- but he was not picked because of his Italian heritage," Anselmi said with a smile. "We also have three Americans in Edson Buddle, Maurice Edu and Alecko Eskandarian, an Irishman in Ronnie O'Brien, a Welshman in Carl Robinson, a New Zealander in Andrew Boyens, a Uruguayan in Jose Cancela, a Brazilian in Paulo Nagamura and Richard Asante from Ghana.

"But this doesn't mean that we have exhausted our player acquisitions. Mo has a few irons in the fire and by the time the team finishes training in Florida and California, we hope to see some additions to the team.

"Mo is not only a good coach, he is a clever evaluator of talent and he enjoys making deals with other clubs."

The fact that Toronto FC already has sold 11,800 season tickets is, of course, most encouraging. It was hovering around the 7,000 mark when the announcement came that former England captain, David Beckham, had signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy and would play in Toronto on Aug. 5.

"After the announcement, the sales jumped by 3,400 in five days," Anselmi said. "We were figuring we would get 7,000 season-ticket buyers the first year. Now we are near 12,000 and we haven't started selling group tickets to various soccer organizations or any single game tickets. We'll start selling those early in April. When Beckham appears in August, I don't think there will be many tickets available."

The huge initial sales and international flavour of FC's birth reminded me of my own experience in 1961 and I warned Anselmi of it. Toronto City, the team I was associated with, had the incredible Sir Stanley Matthews in the lineup, as well as Johnny Haynes, captain of England and Fulham; Tommy Younger, captain of Scotland; Danny Blanchflower, captain of Northern Ireland and Tottenham Hotspur; and Jackie Mudie, a Scottish World Cup player. We packed Varsity Stadium with some 20,000 fans that year, but when those players left, the attendance dropped to 5,000.

To guard against a similar drop in fan interest, Toronto FC will have to get deep into the city's mutli-cultural mosaic and promote the game there, keeping it truly international in its reach.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Toronto's Hungarian community has lost a former outstanding player and coach with the passing of Kalman Lami, a longtime member of the Toronto Hungaria Football Club. He was 82 ... Louis Janetta, former president of the Canadian-Italian Hockey League and retired maitre d' at the Royal York's Imperial Room, has written an interesting book about all the celebrities he met over the years. The book, King of the Maitre D's -- My Life Among The Stars, will be available in March. Janetta talks in the book about meeting sports stars such as Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe as well as entertainment icons such as Tony Bennett, Ingrid Bergman and Duke Ellington.


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