Reds hope luck still on their side

KURT LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:34 AM ET

TORONTO - A day away from the Rogers Centre being clad in red and filled to the brim with supporters and curious minds, it was only nine months ago that a heated exchange questioned both the integrity of the competition and Toronto’s progression within it.

With last May’s Champions League berth hanging in the balance, the Vancouver Whitecaps entered BMO Field for the second leg of the Canadian Cup final deadlocked at 1-1, scoring what appeared to be a decisive away goal 17 minutes in — one that might have been enough to issue Vancouver Canada’s lone CONCACAF berth — torrential rain and lightning forced the Canadian Soccer Association to postpone the match and cancel the visitors' late lead.

At the time, it was unthinkable that the decision would change the tournament’s entire complexion. But had the decision gone against the Reds, it might have denied Toronto what’s sure to be an electric atmosphere Wednesday night when the club takes on the L.A. Galaxy in the tournament’s last eight.

Visibly shaken following the CSA’s decision last spring, a soaking wet Teitur Thordarson told a room full of reporters it was quite obvious his side wished to finish the game despite the inclement weather.

“Under these circumstances you have to start a new game,” Vancouver’s former head coach said after hearing of the decision to replay the match. “Obviously the advantage we got under this game doesn’t count.

“That is obviously unfair,” he added.

Looking back on the controversy, Thordarson’s quotes brought a chuckle out of TFC’s Stefan Frei, who rehashed the debate upon the club’s return from pre-season last week.

“Going back to that game being rained out, that (wasn’t) our call,” Frei said. “I think (Vancouver) actually regained the lead with a free kick in the (replay) so it was 1-0 at that point again.”

Until Joao Plata drew one back from the spot and Mikael Yourassowsky put the Reds up for good midway through the second half.

“I think if they would have maybe kept a clean sheet at home when we played them, when Maicon (Santos) had that (away) goal for us, and they would have gotten another one and put us away, then they would have had a better chance coming to our place,” Frei said.

And despite the rules clearly stating the protocol for an abandoned match, the ’Caps continued to hammer home their displeasure in forfeiting the advantage that night.

“I’m very disappointed,” Thordarson said. “The field was difficult and lightning of course is dangerous, but we would have liked to have played it.”

Although Vancouver was aware of the rules before the competition, he said the proceedings remained “unfair.”

And how can you blame him?

Before last year’s final, under Thordarson, Vancouver had previously been undefeated in 10 Canadian Cup matches dating back to 2009, the year Toronto stole the competition on the final day when an already eliminated Montreal Impact decided to run out an experimental squad.

Clearly deserving to progress, the Whitecaps played the victim card that year when Toronto registered an improbable 6-1 result to garner its first of three consecutive Canadian Cup titles.

Unwilling to concede, Toronto’s first-choice ’keeper stands firm in terms of last year’s debacle.

“They should have made sure,” Frei said. “It’s always easy to talk trash at the end ... It’s best if you give it your all and win so you don’t have to look to excuses.”

Call it a stroke — or lightning strike — of luck, the Reds were 30 minutes away from failing to progress last May. A result that would have prevented the club from embarking on an impressive run through the preliminary and group stages of this year’s Champions League.

For what it’s worth, the Reds were a questionable clause from not being in the position they’ll be in come tomorrow night.

THIS AND THAT

According to a recently released ESPN poll, soccer’s steady climb into America’s mainstream continued in 2011. The game now ranks second among 12 to 24-year-olds in terms of favourite sports.

In 2011, soccer’s popularity reached its highest ever percentage among young adults with close to 14% of Americans in the above age bracket listing soccer as their top choice.

The National Football League remains first overall, but soccer moved five points clear of Major League Baseball and nine clear of the National Hockey League, which placed last among Americans kids.

Seven percent of America’s youth now list Major League Soccer as their top choice when it comes to North America’s major sports, more than doubling interest during the past decade.

But despite the positive numbers, the league is struggling to garner interest among soccer fans in non-MLS cities. Leagues abroad remain slightly more popular than MLS.

As the league is nowhere close to setting up a second tier to facilitate a European-style promotion system, MLS must find a way to attract interest in markets that have no affiliation to an MLS club.

Regardless, the numbers are promising and will likely continue to climb as the league enters a new era of sustainability.


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