The State of the MLS in Canada
Several months ago I added a v-log about my thoughts concerning the state of soccer, “footy”, in Canada. I was a little pessimistic to say the least, perhaps because the season had ended and my beloved TFC failed to make the playoffs – again – and are headed down that path in 2012. For whatever reason, I was in a much more optimistic mood yesterday for a few reasons.
First, let’s just establish that MLS cannot, and will never, compete with the BPL, Serie A, La Liga, and likely will not rival Le Ligue and Bundesliga either. It just won’t happen. Europe is too much of a draw. We all have egos, and footballers even moreso. Can we fault them for wanting to play in Europe? Can we fault them for wanting a shot at the prestigious Champions League? No. Okay, that’s out-of-the-way – MOVE ON.
A couple of months ago, TFC hosted the LA Galaxy (for which I already wrote an article) to a crowd of close to 50,000 strong at Rogers Centre in Toronto. The CONCACAF Champions League match-up didn’t disappoint. The game was fantastic, featured some of the league’s top players (Donovan, Keane, Beckham, Frings, Koevermans), and most importantly the fans were into it from the opening whistle. The atmosphere was reportedly electric. Clearly this is not the same atmosphere as, say, a decade ago in the MLS.
With the success of TFC, and last year’s newcomers Vancouver Whitecaps, footy in Canada seems to be growing. So much so that MLS had the Montreal Impact play their inaugural match yesterday vs. Chicago Fire. In a great match up that ended in a draw, there were 60,000 in attendance. The fans were great, the “Ole’s” were loud, and the team responded.
So why is football able to work in Canada despite a relatively diminutive population (just 1/10 the size of the US)? Simple. Despite what other cities might claim, The three largest cities in Canada (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal) are the most diverse in the world according to most international bodies, including the United Nations. Rather than being a melting pot, I think the country celebrates an ethnic mosaic. Therefore, when people migrate to Canada they bring with them their culture and are allowed to express it freely here. For that reason, soccer thrives in communities across Canada.
Interestingly, soccer is the largest summer sport for youths, far surpassing baseball, for instance. Before MLS there were little options, professionally, for aspiring soccer players in North America. Now the clime is much different. Not only are there three MLS teams in Canada and 16 in the United States, but some of those now have academies to develop their second teams. In addition to MLS, there is a second tier league called the North American Soccer League, which has eight clubs. With the MLS growing in popularity, the NASL will reap the benefits.
Finally, with so many sports specific channels, soccer is on the television much more often. Whether it is MLS or one of the European leagues, people have access to the beautiful game much more frequently. Add to that the advent of the tablet and smart phone, which has literally put soccer in palm of people’s hands.
So, as I watch my three-year old son dribbling the soccer ball in the backyard, I know that he has prospects if he had that aspiration. Canada and the United States is no longer soccer limbo. They are putting themselves on the map, and it is just a matter of time.
How’s that for optimism.
…and that is the last word.