November 13, 2007

Soccer in Toronto--2007 Summary
by Rocket Robin

This year there was more soccer than ever in the Toronto area. Iíll concentrate on the new MLS team Toronto FC, the Canadian national teams and the FIFA U-20 World Cup tournament, the PDL Toronto Lynx, the W-League Toronto Lady Lynx, and the local Canadian Soccer League (CSL).

Toronto FC

This was the new team in town and played in the brand new national stadium soon named BMO Field. They play in Major League Soccer, the highest caliber of play in North America. I had wanted to work in the press box like I have covering the other leagues and had been enquiring about positions since before the stadium was built but continued to be stalled. Itís as if I knew something was up as I made a move to buy a season ticket just before Christmas (and got the early bird special) and got into the sixth row at midfield. I had no idea that the place would sell out every game with a waiting list for season tickets. I think this would have happened maybe a few months later even if the David Beckham signing to the league really boosted ticket sales throughout the league immediately after his announcement. For a sightline, this seat canít be beat except it is so close to the aisle that Iím constantly standing up to let someone pass by. Between three different networks, all their regular season games at home and away were televised. The team has the most enthusiastic soccer fans Iíve ever seen for this city.

The team played 15 regular season home games. The tickets also included two exhibition games against Benfica from Portugal and Aston Villa from England. There were vouchers for up to four games but the team decided to count these games as counting as a double ticket. I thought the team would use the other two tickets to play teams not at this caliber but some like USL Montreal or Vancouver. Well now I know what to expect next year. I think next year the games can be spread out because of not having the U-20 locking up the stadium for six weeks. Also because the stadium in built, the league may schedule the team for an earlier home debut than this year.

I could only complain about the high prices for refreshments (so I didnít eat or drink anything while I was there), the long lines for the washrooms (eased by me not eating or drinking while I was there), and having to rise so many times during the game for fellow fans to get by for refreshments and to use the washrooms. I really enjoyed getting to games early and waving hello to any Canadian game officials who Iíve met over the years from seeing them officiate the other leagues I follow. The fact that the team ended up finishing last in the league didnít bother me. With salary caps and drafts the team should easily ascend to the mediocrity of the rest of the league (i.e. be like DC United or Chivas USAÖfinish first and get knocked out first round of the playoffs). I feel the only reason the team didnít make the playoffs this year was the team didnít have enough depth to fill in for injuries and national team callups. My biggest surprise was the great play of Jim Brennan. He was the first player the team ever signed and there was fear the long layoff as he didnít play the season in England would leave him rusty however it was the later signings who had played a full season in Europe who ended up tiring and getting injured.

Another disappointment was the frequent cancellation and rescheduling of Toronto FC Reserves game. These games were supposed to be played after the team's regular games but were often cancelled as injury problems caused the team to not have enough players to field a team. I enjoyed reading about the club bringing in CSL league players who I knew quite well but often the games were played weeks later and in secret locations and I'd read about them days later. I would have liked to know where and when these games were although I would have had to miss some middayt games because of my work. Hopefully next year the team will have enough players to play the games at their scheduled time.

National teams

I was not involved with the FIFA U-20 World Cup tournament. I know it was a once in a lifetime chance in my city but I wouldnít have had the time to work and see the other leagues I follow. The Canadian team was the only one I was interested in and they would only play one game in Toronto before playing their remaining two games in Edmonton. I did see two exhibition games though. I saw Canada vs. Argentina as part of the Toronto FC season ticket package. I also saw the Mexican U-20 team play the CSL North York Astros team as a tune up.

I bought a ticket for the Canadian National Menís team friendly against Costa Rica within a few weeks of them playing against each other in the Gold Cup. I was able to obtain a press pass. I should be careful of what I wish for because sitting in the press box means everything is so much further away than the great seats I have. Still I couldnít beat the atmosphere of the press box and got to go to the post game press conference and hear the coaches. This game had the stadium only half filled and about half the crowd cheering for the visitors so for world cup qualifying, the organizers should consider avoiding Toronto.

PDL Toronto Lynx

The Lynx team dropped two divisions from the USL to the PDL league which is an amateur development league. I think it was a smart move as they wouldnít be able to compete against the big money and coverage of the new Toronto FC team in the city. The last few years they were attracting the family crowd rather than a hardcore fan and they can appeal to the budget conscious. Their crowds were about 1/3 of what they were the year before (like 500 instead of 1500). Their two school day and summer camp games attracted big crowds of children. Their schedule in the PDL was cut to eight home games. I missed Lynx home games for the first time in their 11 years when they had games scheduled that conflicted against the Toronto FC. Their season is much shorter now as their players are mostly college boys who have to get back to school sometime in mid-August. Their regular season record was 6 wins, 6 losses and 4 ties. A 50-50 record would have been good enough to make the playoffs in the USL Division 1 in past years but only two teams from their division make the playoffs so they missed out on post season play again this year. I provided the only media coverage game after game this year.

W-League Toronto Lady Lynx

The Lady Lynx only played six home games this year as the league schedule was downsized. The league revoked the franchise of Sudbury Canadians after the schedule was announced so there was a replacement home exhibition game announced for each team. They finished with a record of 7-3-2 and finished in second place in their division behind the powerful Ottawa Fury. Some of their games conflicted with Toronto FC games so I missed a few including their semi-final victory over Laval Comets. Except for an intern from TheFan590 radio station, I provided the only media coverage game after game this year. The Lady Lynx have their own following and outdrew the Lynx this year in attendance. This team also attracted their biggest crowd with their two school day and summer camp day games.

Canadian Soccer League CSL

This year the league downsized from 12 to 10 teams although there are plans for 2008 to boost membership back to at least 12 teams. I saw all the teams a minimum of four teams (London City) and a maximum of eleven for Toronto Croatia, Serbian White Eagles, and Portuguese Supra. The league spread out the winners this year with Serbian White Eagles winning the International Division and St Catharines winning the National Division for their regular season titles and Toronto Croatia winning the Championship for winning the playoffs. Trois-Rivieres Attak won the Open Canada Cup. Toronto Croatia doesnít enter the Open Canada Cup because they play at an ethnic tournament each year of other Croatian teams. This year they won a Croatian heritage tournament against teams from the USA, Germany, Austria, France, and Australia. The playoff Championship was split into a two game affair when Toronto Croatia and Serbian White Eagles faced each other and no stadium with stands on two sides was available at the end of October. Just like the two teams regular games, the tickets were distributed to each teamís ďhomeĒ fans and there was no trouble at the games.

The next few months:

Iím really glad for the time off. Although Iíve got a description of each game I went to and pictures of every game, I spend part of the off season expanding the descriptions with starting lineups and non-goal game details. I still have about six Toronto FC games that I havenít updated yet at all. Iíve also got weekly standings for the MLS and USL leagues which could take a long time to update. I also have hundreds of web accounts of Toronto FC from newspaper web sites but I donít think Iíll have time to edit and post them. It would be my last priority.

Rocket Robin
robing@eol.ca

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