With a new MLS team in Toronto, where does this put the state of Canadian soccer? Does it promote it, or divide it (since the largest city has a team in a primarily American league) or somewhere in between? Will we see more MLS teams in Canada (Montreal? Vancouver?), the reestablishment of an all-Canadian A-league like the defunct Canadian Soccer League, or the continuation of some teams in the second-tier United Soccer League First Division (as the Toronto Lynx, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps currently are in) coexisting with the MLS?
Oh Canada! Why MLS In Toronto May Just Work
POSTED: 1:05 pm EDT May 15, 2006
Josh Simeone, Sports Network Soccer Editor Philadelphia, PA -- (Sports Network) - Anybody seeing dollar signs yet, how about new talent, new competition and a completely new fan base that was once associated only with hockey?
That's right, "MLS-palooza" has officially made its way past American borders and into Canadian territory.
On May 11th, Major League Soccer and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment introduced Toronto FC, the league's newest member.
After what was a bizarre offseason for Major League Soccer's American based franchises, with the Houston naming fiasco and the Red Bull takeover, Toronto FC will perhaps prove to be a breath of fresh air for the league and its fans.
"This is an exciting day for soccer fans in Toronto who can now enjoy great quality soccer and have a team they can call their own," MLSE executive vice president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi said during Thursday's press conference.
Exciting? Perhaps. A success? That answer will most definitely take some time to figure out.
Soccer in Canada isn't exactly the sport everyone is flocking to see. Afterall, when was the last time a Molson Ice commercial featured a bunch of guys in brightly colored uniforms leaning up against a goal post talking about the rough day on the field?
Then again, who's to say marketing a professional soccer league in Canada won't work?
Of course, when you think of Canada, soccer is perhaps one of the last things that comes to mind. But behind the ice castles and numerous hockey clubs, soccer continues to be a great sport for fans from province to province.
Though it may not seem like it, Toronto is serious about Major League Soccer, and Major League Soccer is serious about Toronto, which is why this somewhat odd relationship just might work out for the best.
Why Canada? I'm still not sure myself, but why not Canada?
The country has plenty of young and old soccer players who could be ready and willing to join Major League Soccer's newest team.
Which is why Canada could help with that nasty phrase "lack of talent" that seems to always find its way into conversation when discussing expansion in regard to MLS.
This is and has been a very real concern for fans and perhaps coaches alike. However, bringing a team to Canada could offer some solutions to this problem.
Believe it or not, in between all of those hockey stadiums, there is a Canadian national soccer team. Though the team has failed to qualify for the World Cup over the last 20 years, and only once overall, soccer remains a priority for many Canadians.
Recently, Canadian national team coach Frank Yallop called upon 16 players to join him in Sunrise, Florida for a national team mini-camp. Among those 16 players, the majority have or are currently playing for international clubs.
Many of that group have found temporary homes in the Czech Republic, England, Holland and even right here in the United States.
There of course is nothing wrong with having a national team nearly full of international based players. The majority of the U.S. National Team's World Cup squad is based with international clubs.
Some of those players have even returned to play in the United States, including Chivas USA and U.S. National midfielder John O'Brien.
The midfielder was just recently signed to the California MLS club at the start of the season. O'Brien had previously played for Dutch clubs Ajax and Utrecht in the Eredivisie.
Just think what a brand new MLS franchise in Toronto could do for those internationally based players wishing to return to Canada.
These new players would be introduced to Major League Soccer to provide a brand new pool of talent and experience to the league.
Surely, we can all understand from this side of the border that it is hard to imagine a country that is so well known for hockey, to also have some notoriety for its soccer program. But contrary to stereotypes and beliefs, soccer is alive and well in Canada.
A Canadian team in Major League Soccer could ultimately help the league's talent pool and competition level.
PROVING THEIR WORTH
Imagine being in MLS Commissioner Don Garber's shoes for a second. You've got a major company interested in investing in a soccer league franchise for a major city. To top it off, this company is willing to put out the funds for a brand new soccer-specific stadium.
Too good to be true?
Not this year, as MLSE has already agreed to help build a major soccer facility. The deal had already been in the works long before the unveiling of the team name and logo. With construction already taking place, the new 20,000 seat venue is expected to be completed by May 2007, allowing the league's newest team to introduce themselves in a classy fashion.
In addition to housing the new franchise, the new stadium will also host the FIFA U-20 World Cup championship game.
The strong interest and commitment from MLSE and the city provides an ideal investor for Major League Soccer. Back here in the United States, there are a number of teams struggling to find a permanent home.
For years, playing soccer in a football stadium has proven to be a difficult task. Football stadiums such as Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey or Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, aren't great fits for the sport of soccer, especially for Major League Soccer.
In addition to the inconsistent field dimensions from stadium to stadium, MLS teams also have to worry about covering the thousands of empty seats for each and every regular season game. As many of these stadiums are filled to capacity during the NFL season, volumes of unoccupied seats during the major league soccer season only serve to make them appear even bigger, emptier monstrosities.
Not to mention the numerous scheduling difficulties the league encounters when trying to finalize the regular season schedule. And just imagine the playing surface after a Giants-Jets game; it can't be too pleasant for a goalkeeper to jump around in sinkholes of muddy terrain in the penalty area. Neither scheduling nor playing surface will be a factor for Toronto FC, where Canadian soccer fans will see their team in a soccer-only facility.
"We're excited that Toronto will finally have a dedicated soccer facility. Our new team and sports facility will play pivotal roles in developing the sport at all levels in Canada," Anselmi said.
CANADIAN DOLLARS = AMERICAN DOLLARS
If anything else, it's hard not to look at this from a marketing perspective. Even if it does take time to get a regular fan base inside of Toronto FC's new stadium, it can't hurt to have the MLS insignia surrounding a Canadian soccer field.
If anything, the new franchise is opening the door to different pools of revenue. There are jerseys, soccer balls, hats, ticket packages, concession deals, sweaters, shirts, scarves and whatever else you can think of just waiting to have the Toronto FC logo stitched all over every conceivable inch of fabric. And if history has taught us anything, the Toronto FC fans, however many there may be, will enthusiastically be lined up to purchase their team merchandise as soon as it's available.
THE SEASONS TO COME IN TORONTO
Let's not kid ourselves, it would be completely naive to think that this new soccer facility will be sold out come time for Toronto FC's home opener. There is plenty that could go sour in this deal, such as the interest level among average Canadian sports fans.
There have been professional soccer teams in Canada and still are, but they haven't always been the hottest ticket in town.
We've already seen how the average American sports fan reacts to Major League Soccer. And by reaction, I mean a grunt, a sip of something to drink, and a click of the remote. With the World Cup media blitz in full gear, soccer's popularity will grow, but afterwards, what will remain for this new Canadian team?
On the other hand, soccer, in some form or another, is alive in Canada, and MLS can only hope that those fans, wherever they might be, will come out of hiding in full force to support the league's newest northern friend.