Saturday, February 04, 2012

All 2012 men's matches to be played in Toronto

Thursday was the big day. The day that a big CSA event was held in, of course, Toronto, to announce the following details:

-the date, location, and opponent for the glam centennial friendly
-the locations for all three home World Cup qualifying matches
-the unveiling of Umbro's design for Canada's centennial jersey

The sartorial unveiling means little to me (I'll just say I'm largely nonplussed by the design and on alert for clearance sales of the chevron jersey) and the friendly opponent was leaked earlier in the week.

So that left the location of that friendly match as well as the host cities for the three WCQs as things I care about.

Rather predictably, the CSA announced that the June 3rd friendly, as well as the World Cup qualifiers (12 June vs Honduras, 7 September vs Panama and 12 October vs Cuba) would be played at BMO Field in Toronto.

For most Canada fans, this sucks.

The USA friendly is on a Saturday, but the remaining matches fall either on a Tuesday or Friday. For someone like me, who works for an organization that does not allow one to choose vacation days (they make up for it by giving me the summer off), it means I will not be seeing Canada play live in 2012. It's not so bad though; I haven't seen the team in person since a summer's evening against Cuba at the ramshackle Winnipeg Soccer Complex.

Realistically, 98% of Canada fans at these matches will be from the GTA. And it's great for them. For the rest of us, it's not. But if the team has good reasons for locking in on a single city, and it helps them win, I'm all for it.

Of the litany of reasons and excuses for basing the team exclusively out of BMO, here are the top 5.

1. The players want to play there

This falls under the category of explanations I have no time for. The last qualifying cycle fell apart when it became clear that a number of large ego players on the team (Brennan, De Ro) were running roughshod over a weak-willed coach. There were rumours of nightclub events the night after a match, and it generally left the impression that the lunatics were running the asylum.

2. The coach wants to play there

I don't have a great deal of confidence in Stephen Hart as a manager, but he seems at least to provide reasons to back up his preference. And I'd certainly rather have him picking match locations than most of the CSA higher-ups.

3. The travel is easier on the players

This is where we start getting into explanations that actually deserve some real consideration. During the European season, it certainly makes a difference whether a player crossing the Atlantic has to continue crossing all the way to the Pacific coast. The differences in flight times is not significant, but the jet lag effects are.

However, this explanation falls flat to explain locating the June match in Toronto, as compared to a Western location. Players are out of season, and will have been together in North America since late May preparing for the USA friendly and the qualifying campaign. And there is no great difficulty involved in traveling from Cuba to Vancouver, or Montreal, or any other Canadian city, as they will be in advance of the June 12th date.

And, of course, it does not at all explain why matches in September and October could not be held in Montreal.

4. The team wants to play on grass

This seems to be where the hammer comes down on most of Canada's stadiums. While the CSA could easily get matches on turf in Vancouver, or Edmonton, or even Winnipeg, approved by FIFA if they really wanted to, playing on an unaccustomed and less forgiving surface doesn't help anybody.

Of course, that still leaves Montreal's Saputo Stadium as a viable option.

5. The team has been building a base of pro-Canadian support in Toronto

This is the clause that, it would seem, eliminates Montreal. It is also the most debatable. Toronto's recent record supporting the national team is mixed. They got expected middling crowds in the previous round against Caribbean minnows, and in friendlies against Peru and Ecuador.

There was a good crowd and strong Canadian contingent in 2008's lone WCQ match against Jamaica, but one could argue that crowd was built off an enthusiasm for soccer in the early days of TFC. The bloom is off that rose, I would say.

BMO Field in August, 2008

Matches in Toronto haven't been much better or worse than those elsewhere in the country, in terms of attendance and quality of home support.

My verdict, for what it's worth, is that considering all the factors the CSA made the safest choice. I also have some sympathy for their desire to have matches played on grass. I'm not convinced that one of the fall matches couldn't be played in Montreal.

But most of all I sympathize with Western Canadian fans. I have a group of sports-minded friends for whom the Canadian national team is barely on the radar. Yet I have no doubt that if the match was played within a reasonable traveling distance (for someone in Winnipeg, that basically means in Winnipeg) they would become enthusiastic supporters.

I'm sure they will anyway if the team defies the odds and qualifies for Brazil, but I can't help but think an Easternization of the team over the past 5 years will come to be seen as a missed opportunity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm from B.C.'s interior and I would have loved to see a WCQ in Vancouver but deep down I don't have an issue with these matches being played in Toronto. Honestly, don't and I'll leave it at that. Besides, we've got the Davis Cup!!!

My sole, biggest issue is focussed on player selection and having the best team possible and with that I foresee a lot of discord in the squad including the Donair King lacking the stones needed to keep senior, supposedly key, players in line or even drop them entirely. That's why I find the whole situation of Hart's STALKING (as opposed to "courting") of JDG2 and Hoillet for their services a potential "be careful what you wish for" scenario.