Thursday, May 24, 2007

Soccer Explodes in Canada!

While we anxiously wait for progress on the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium in Vancouver, soccer is exploding like never before in Canada's two largest cities. If there's still anyone left who even questions the need for a new soccer specific stadium, they need not look any further than to our eastern cousins in Montreal and Toronto. Both cities are now at the forefront of the North American soccer revolution, and they're taking the sport's popularity to levels unheard of since the heights of the NASL.

In April, Montreal launched construction of a new 13,000 seat Soccer Stadium on the grounds of their Olympic complex. Expandable to 17,000, the new stadium will be finished by Spring, 2008 and will play host to the Whitecaps' Canadian rivals, the Montreal Impact. The Impact have long been one of the best supported teams in USL, often selling out their current 10,000 seat facility. At 13,000 seats, in a stadium designed with the fans in mind, Montreal will likely need to expand their stadium sooner than expected.

While Montreal's stadium success was virtually assured from the get go, no one could have ever predicted the exciting response by fans in Toronto to their new stadium and MLS team, Toronto FC. With over 14,000 season tickets , sold out games, and the best atmosphere of any team in the league, Toronto has surpassed even the most optimistic predictions.

So how much of a difference can a soccer stadium make?

Let's start with Toronto. For ten years, Toronto's pro soccer team was the Toronto Lynx...another USL rival of the Whitecaps. Throughout that time, the Lynx played in a small community stadium, similar to Swangard, on the outskirts of Central Toronto in a city similar to Burnaby. Throughout that time, they rarely drew more than 2500 fans and were never able to capture the imagination of the city whose name it bore. Over the years, the Lynx developed many fine Canadian players that are making careers for themselves throughout Europe and North America. But developing talent was not enough. With no hope of expanding their base, and no way to modernize their stadium, the Lynx could never become bigger or better than they were.

However, with public investment in a modern soccer stadium located on the edge of downtown Toronto, Toronto FC were able to tap into the enthusiasm of millions of soccer fans in this multicultural hub. The result was a mosaic of fans unlike any group of soccer supporters in the world. The naysayers who tried to deny Toronto their stadium on October 27, 2005 should be ashamed.

Meanwhile, Montreal's new stadium will finally put Canada's second largest city in a position to regularly host international matches, and it opens the door for the Impact to consider joining Major League Soccer. The Impact have proven that there's a pent-up demand for the game that's been held back too long, and it's about to take off there like never before.

With deep roots in the game, and a long history of outstanding fan support, Vancouver's success with a new downtown soccer stadium is virtually guaranteed. Last summer, thousands of you rose up and let City Council know so.

When it's finally built, the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium will take its place as the crown jewel of Canada's soccer stadiums. However, Vancouver can learn a lot from the bold steps taken by Toronto and Montreal. Both their stadiums were proposed, passed by their city councils, and constructed in less time than it has taken to move the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium to this stage. Although the City of Vancouver can't speed up the current negotiating process between the Whitecaps & local stakeholders, the City should do its best to expedite the rezoning process and to make the stadium a reality as soon as possible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hurra for soccer in the US and Canada ! Following the soccer expansion in MLS is big fun. Its an interesting mix of sport, politics ( concerning building stadiums for example ) and not to forget, all the critics from NFL basketball and baseball-friends. My guess is that soccer will take on more strongly in Canada. The reason for this is that icehockey has a stronger position in Canada. Hockey is a more complex sport than baskeball, american football and basketball. Thats why there is relatively few goals, or points in hockey as well. Alltogehter there is place for all these sports.