Success on the pitch

Toronto FC's Danny Dichio and FC Dallas' Alex Yi battle during first half action at BMO Field on...

Toronto FC's Danny Dichio and FC Dallas' Alex Yi battle during first half action at BMO Field on Sunday. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Men with Brooms, chicks with sticks, the McKenzie Brothers, Slap Shot and the beaver.

And now, to add to the list of icons of Canadiana we present ... Guys in shorts. Yes. Soccer. It has come of age.

Canada's national soccer team is a win away from the Gold Cup final. Yesterday, Toronto FC diced Dallas 4-0 with an uncharacteristic display of offensive finish. Our under-20 youth team has beaten top-10 teams recently, including the U.S.

Soccer, after generations of trying and failing, seems finally to have put down more than grassroots in the Canadian tundra. There have been illusions of this throughout history. But, always, they were just that. Illusions. The NASL imploded and, locally, the ethnic communities never could put aside their differences and old allegiances.

FALL VICTIM

Good intentions always fall victim to an over-abundance of infighting and a lack of money and talent. Less than five years ago, there was little hope for this sport on the pro horizon, no stadium in Toronto, no permanent home for the national team.

Today, it is the best sports show in town. Maybe, soon to be, in the country.

"I came to Canada when I was 12 years old and soccer wasn't taken too serious," Srdjan Djeckanovic, Toronto FC's goalie, said yesterday. "It's come so far just in three years. Before, there were some good players but there weren't a lot of places for kids to go once they started getting older. Now we have this team, in Vancouver the Whitecaps got a great youth program and Toronto FC is going to start one, too."

This is sport unlike Toronto has ever seen.

Yesterday, steel drums mixed with the cacophony of bells and whistles. Flags waved and fans hurled streamers and insults.

"If you've ever seen when the World Cup is on, this city goes crazy. Now we're getting those people," midfielder Jim Brennan said. "We're surprising a lot of other sports how crazy and fanatic the fans are ... Canadians haven't had an opportunity to actually taste what it's like in Europe until now. I have a lot of my friends are hockey guys. They've come out and say they love the atmosphere."

The record crowd of 20,156 chanted, cheered, stomped on bleachers, set up rhythmic clapping and generally engaged in acts that would have scandalized an usher at the baseball park formerly known as the SkyDome.

And that was before the game even started.

In the 22nd minute, Danny Dichio is twice stopped at the goal line before Maurice Edu scores. Banners wave. Edu gets a yellow card -- probably for creating too much noise and waking up the fans at the Rogers Centre. Doesn't seem to be much other reason. Fan reaction seems to be that the refs sometimes call a penalty because they might have read about something not being allowed ... like, you know, when they call travelling in the NBA.

Andrea Lombardo, from North York, just misses making it 5-0. Late in the game, Milton's Joey Melo steps on the field.

"I think it's wonderful that they are home grown," Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston said. "It's nice with so many guys gone (to the national and under-20 Canadian teams) to get the young guys into the game. We're going to make them better soccer players."

Brennan, FC's captain, has 43 caps with Canada. He played in Woodbridge and Newmarket but had to go to overseas to fulfill his career ambitions. That's all changing now. TFC is more than the blip on the local sports scene that was the Blizzard.

OPTION FOR KIDS

"Now we've got something for the kids to look up to," Brennan said. "They can play professionally in our own town. I didn't have that. I had to go to Europe and for a lot of families that just isn't an option. Now they've got a chance to learn at home."

Like Melo. Like Lombardo, one of the players departing for the under-20 world tournament. Like David Guzman, another local kid.

"One day, soccer in this country will be as big as the NHL or the NBA," Djeckanovic said. "Maybe not by the next World Cup, but the one after.Instead of it being a surprise if we did qualify, it will be a disappointment if we don't."


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