Toronto Arrows vs. Toronto FC: Similarities and Differences

Toronto Arrows Mitch Richardson carries the ball on April 3, 2021
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The Toronto Arrows and Toronto FC share a lot of similarities and differences with each other. They both came at a time when it was long overdue for Canada to have a professional sports team. Yes, there were professional soccer teams between 1993-2006, but there were in the second tier of professional soccer (or what it is called in most of the world as football).

The similarities and differences between the Toronto Arrows and Toronto FC

Similarities

Rugby Canada is currently experiencing what Canada Soccer experienced

When both teams arrived, the damage caused by having a lack of professional sports teams had already been done. From 1993-2006, Canada Soccer did not have a professional league or team in the top-tier of men’s soccer. This led to the dark age of Canadian soccer. After making the semi-finals of the 2007 Gold Cup, Canada struggled. After making the quarterfinals of the 2009 Gold Cup, they failed to make the 2011, 2013, and 2015 Gold Cup knockout stages. In fact, in 2013, they finished last in their group stage with only a draw against Panama.

The performance of Canada Soccer in World Cup qualifying until recently was worse. After making the 1986 FIFA World Cup and almost qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, things went down quickly. They finished last in the final round of the 1998 FIFA World Cup cycle. This was a stage in World Cup qualifying that Canada did not make until earlier this year for the 2022 FIFA World Cup cycle.

In fact, the CanMNT had the worst ranking of its history in August 2014, which was 122nd. Something Rugby Canada can relate to their men’s team. They were ranked 24th in the world in 2017, which was their worst-ever ranking. And the reasons for that are very similar.

Fall of Rugby Canada

Rugby Canada faced a similar problem. In 1995, rugby union became a professional sport. As a result, a lot of the teams Canada competed against in the ’90s have become almost unbeatable in the present day. For example, in 1991, they competed well against France and only lost 19-13. Canada would make it to the quarterfinals of the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where they lost to New Zealand with a respectable 29-13 scoreline. Then in 1993, they were able to beat Wales in Cardiff.

This was very different in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They got thrashed by New Zealand and South Africa. They also could not compete with Italy, which easily won 48-7. A team Rugby Canada competed within the 2015 Rugby World Cup to a close 23-18 loss. To be fair, some of it had to do with Italy getting two professional rugby union teams in the PRO12 (now PRO14). However, the fact remains, Rugby Canada like Canada Soccer suffered a lot from not having a professional sports league/team(s). As a result, Rugby Canada did not qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Getting a TV Deal

This is a big similarity between the Toronto Arrows and TFC. Toronto FC has been shown on TV since its inception like CBC. Then in 2011 according to MLS Soccer, TSN signed a six-year TV deal with MLS. This meant that most or all of TFC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC games were shown on TV. The same would apply to the Montreal Impact a year later (now CF Montreal), although a few Montreal games are shown exclusively on TVA Sports. Since then, TSN has been the sole provider of MLS soccer in Canada.

Last year, the Toronto Arrows made the big step forward and showed some of their games on TSN. This allowed some of their games to be shown on TV. Also, the other games not shown on TV were shown on TSN.ca or TSN App.

Both sports are fairly popular

No matter how badly both Rugby Canada and Canada Soccer play, there is always a relatively large following. According to the Montreal Times, 767,000 under-17s played the game yearly. This is compared to ice hockey, Canada’s winter national sport, which had 531,000 of the same age group. In 2018, according to Rugby Canada, they had 5,614 minor players and 10,938 junior players.

In terms of spectators, Canada Soccer got 54,798 fans at BC Place. This at the time set a record for a Canadian national team of any sport. This is according to Canada Soccer and whitecapsfc.com. The game took place in 2016 and it was a World Cup qualifier against Mexico. The result was disappointing though as Canada lost 3-0 to Mexico. Also, Rugby Canada drew 20,396 fans against Ireland in 2013 at BMO Field in a disappointing 40-14 loss. However, it shows the popularity of rugby in Canada according to the Canadian Press. In the same Canadian Press article, this is what then Rugby Canada player James Pritchard said about the game.

“We’ve never come across a crowd like this in Canada,” Pritchard said. “The boys were excited to get out there and play, and if you had gone into that dressing room today, you would have seen how disappointed everyone is because we wanted to put on a good performance. Everyone in there felt we let the 20,000-plus people down out there tonight.”

Keep in mind that in terms of registration numbers, soccer is a much easier game to play than rugby union. Also, there are a lot of injuries in rugby union, so it needs to be played in an organized setting. The Toronto Wolfpack vs. Toronto Raptors article is not a direct comparison, but it does give information on this matter.

Differences

Professional sports teams have been tried before Toronto FC in soccer

Yes, there was a league in Rugby Canada, but it was not professional. The Rugby Canada Super League lasted from 1998 to 2009. However, before the Toronto Arrows, there was no pro rugby union team to ever come from Canada. This was not the case when Toronto FC was born. There was a history of failed leagues with Canadian teams in it. The first was the North American Soccer League (1968-84). This league had five Canadian teams throughout its history in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. Toronto and Vancouver were the only Canadian teams to win championships in the NASL era. These records do not include the indoor soccer seasons of the NASL as it is a different game.

There was then the first-tier Canadian Soccer League. It included the Toronto Blizzard, which represented the city of Toronto. The league however lasted until 1994, where the Blizzard also folded. Lastly, there was the Toronto Lynx, a second-tier pro team.

Timing of joining MLS and MLR – Toronto FC and the Toronto Arrows

This is an important distinction and maybe something that will benefit Rugby Canada down the line. The Toronto Arrows’ first season was in just the second season of MLR. For Toronto FC, they joined MLS in its 12th season of play. Both teams started with several Canadians on their team.

The difference though was in the results. The Arrows made the semi-finals in 2019 and had four wins and one loss in 2020. For TFC though, it was different. This is what then MLSE employee Tom Anselmi said about the situation according to John Molinaro of Sportsnet.

“We had Canadian content rules that, at the time, we thought were going to be really supportive to the Canadian player, but they ended up being punitive to the team.”

The hard truth was the USMNT players were clearly better than the CanMNT players, especially back then. If Canada got an MLS team say in 1997, it would have been a different matter. Canadian players were playing at a better level and were comparable with the Americans. In fact, in the old NASL, each squad had to have two Americans and two Canadians in the 1979 season according to nasl.com.

That is why when sports fans look at the 2017 MLS Cup-winning Toronto FC team, many of them are international and/or American players. This has changed recently because of the money spent by MLSE with their reserve and academy teams of Toronto in a span of a decade. Still, there is work to be done to have more Canadian TFC players. Also, the Arrows draft players from Canadian universities into their team, something TFC has never done.

Toronto FC and the Toronto Arrows: Similarities and Differences Overview

MLR Commissioner George Killebrew hopes to have one-two more Canadian team(s) within 10 years. There are many countries with only a few professional rugby union teams.

MLR will get better with the quality of the players as time goes by. How much is probably what people are wondering? The question is will MLR be a league that sells players to higher-level leagues like MLS (seen with Arrows’ Asiata moving to the Queensland Reds) or will they be at a level with leagues like the Premiership Rugby and PRO14? It is important to note that professional rugby only started in 1995, so there is less competition in the sport compared to soccer. It is certainly possible for MLR to be one of the top leagues in the world.

 

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