Friday, June 01, 2007

Canada's summer of soccer

It can be immensely frustrating to be a follower of the beautiful game in Canada. Until this year, Canada's top professional teams were languishing in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Division 1, the American second tier. The Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact remain as two of the top teams in that league.

The debut this spring of Toronto FC in MLS, America's top league has added some excitement to following soccer. Regular weekend games on CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, have garnered impressive ratings, and should make for a great summer of following football on home soil for once.

But that's not all. This weekend unofficially kicks off what is set to be an enormous summer for Canadian soccer. Let me set the stage for the next three days:
  • Friday, 1 June 2007: Canada's Men's National Team will travel to Maracaibo to face Venezuela in a friendly in preparation for this month's Gold Cup, the regional championship of CONCACAF (North and Central America). Canada will play three games from June 6th to 11th in the group stage, against Costa Rica, Guadeloupe and Haiti, and likely more in the playoff rounds. This friendly will be aired in Canada on Sportsnet tape-delayed (see schedule)
  • Saturday, 2 June 2007: On Saturday afternoon (3:30pm ET), CBC will air another Toronto FC match, this time against Colorado Rapids at the electric BMO Field. I'm sure new coach Dale Mitchell would love to be there, but he's busy, which brings me to . . .
  • Sunday, 3 June 2007: Canada's U-20s kick off a two game set against the USA in Ottawa. While the senior men's side will have a busy June, the juniors will be hard at work as Dale Mitchell prepares them for the U-20 World Cup. The game won't be televised, but should be well attended.

This burst of activity is just a prelude to the bedlam that will be the U-20 World Cup. Hosted in six cities across Canada (Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal - see a venues summary here and here) this tournament will bring some of the world's best young talents to the country in July to compete in this second largest team sport competition. I'm already excited, even though the tournament won't kick off for another month.

But for this weekend, I'm most excited about Canada-Venezuela. Although Venezuela, at 70, is ranked higher than Canada, 94, in FIFA's rankings, I expect a competitive match. Canada has brought a strong roster, and as long as the heat isn't too much, should get a result. Here's a look at a players that Canada has taken to Maracaibo

G 1 Greg Sutton 8 30 Toronto FC/MLS
D 2 Adam Braz 11 25 Toronto FC/MLS
D/M 3 Ante Jazic 16 31 LA Galaxy/MLS
D 4 Marco Reda 6 29 Toronto FC/MLS
D 5 Andrew Hainault 2 20 FK Siad Most/Ceska Republika
M 6 Julián de Guzmán 19 26 Deportivo La Coruna/España
D/M 7 Paul Stalteri 53 29 Tottenham Hotspur/England
M 8 Kevin Harmse 1 22 LA Galaxy/MLS
F 9 Rob Friend 10 26 FC Heerenveen/Nederland
F 10 Ali Gerba 7 24 FC Göteborg/Sverige
D/M 11 Richard Hastings 36 30 Inverness CT/Scotland
D 12 Gabriel Gervais 10 30 Impact de Montréal/USL
D/M 13 Atiba Hutchinson 23 24 FC København/Denmark
M/F 14 Dwayne De Rosario 37 29 Houston Dynamo/MLS
M 15 Patrice Bernier 19 27 Tromsø I.L./Norge
M 16 Martin Nash 32 31 Vancouver Whitecaps/USL
F 17 Iain Hume 16 23 Leicester City/England
M 18 Issey Nakajima-Farran 2 23 FC Vejle Boldklub/Denmark
M 19 Antonio Ribeiro 0 26 Impact de Montréal/USL
G 22 Joshua Wagenaar 1 22 ADO Den Haag/Nederland

There are some talents here, particularly De Guzman and Hutchinson, that Canadians should take a look at.

So get ready to experience Canada's summer of soccer.

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