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Peter Schaad: Caps Insider

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As I watched highlights of the Whitecaps loss in Calgary on Friday night, I’m not sure what was more depressing, the Whitecaps allowing 3 first half goals to lose for the first time to a Calgary team…or the setting in which the game was played. McMahon Stadium is terrific on sunny day, with a full house and a CFL game on the menu. But soccer does not belong there, and judging by the attendance figures, soccer fans don’t feel as though they belong there either.

This is an issue that I’ve long felt has been the single biggest factor in soccer’s stunted growth in Canada. The venues in this country are either too big, or too small. Calgary had a fantastic soccer park during the CSL days, when the Kickers inhabited Mewata Stadium. Sadly, it was sacrificed in 1999 for Millenium Park, which now houses a skateboarding facility among other things. Mewata had everything you could hope for in a soccer facility…a natural grass field, no running track and enough room for as many as 6,000 spectators. Its location on the fringes of downtown Calgary made it not only accessible, but also an eye pleasing setting.

When the Calgary “Storm” joined the A-league 2 seasons ago, it attempted to operate out of Foothills park, which may have had a grass surface, but little else. So, the move to McMahon stadium was intended to offer fans a more “professional” experience. Watching a ball bounce around on a gridiron in an empty cavernous stadium offers little in the way of an “experience” at all…even on television.

The same challenge will face the fledgling Edmonton Aviators. Yes, Commonwealth stadium is beautiful, when it’s full…and the markings on the field are exclusively for soccer. But once the Eskimos take over, the 3 or 4 thousand folks who are surrounded by 50,000 empty seats won’t feel any of the intimacy the old Edmonton Drillers fans had when Clarke Stadium was still in decent shape. (Ironically, the Caps-Aviators game Monday had to be moved to the scaled down Clarke Park because of the wear and tear at Commonwealth from the Churchill Cup Rugby Tournament).

Don’t even get me started on Richardson Stadium in Kingston, home of the recent World Cup qualifiers with Belize.

The Whitecaps home ground has finally been penciled in as one of the venues for World Cup Qualifying later this summer. We’re spoiled at Swangard, with the best pitch in the A-league, a setting like no other in North America, and a history of great sides. But even Swangard is stretched to capacity. With the game continuing to gain profile on the West Coast, and our national teams both stationed here, can our friendly little soccer stadium offer the supply for future demand?

Perhaps I’ve turned into a soccer snob, a complete dreamer, or I’m experiencing Portugal envy. But if this game is ever going to advance beyond the Third World status Canada has been labeled with, then Canadian A-league cities need the kinds of facilities that help sell the total soccer experience…much like Charleston’s Blackbaud stadium.

The 2007 World Youth cup could be the springboard for that to happen. But until then, we’ll just have to settle for gridirons and empty seats.

Peter Schaad provides colour commentary for the Whitecaps this Week.

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The problem in Calgary is that there are no other viable options. If the rumours are true and they put in Field Turf next year, it will help, but I'd rather have A-League soccer in McMahon than nothing. Hopefully the crowds will improve a bit and help fill up the one side.


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quote:Originally posted by Grizzly

I think Richardson would be a fine A-League stadium. Not a great venue for international soccer but it would be far from the worst stadium in the A-league.

Agreed. It's ideal for A-league, although I'm not sure if he is referring to A-League or international play.

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Guest Georgio

Ya he should have just taken that sentence out.

Richardson was fine for an International game in a small town against such an opponent as Belize that was not likely to draw over 10,000 anyways. I thought the only problem was that it was too small at one point and then it was later altered for FIFA regulations.

And as a A-League stadium it would pretty much be considered ideal when you think of all the other places in the country that require either less seating capacity or more seating capacity which means $$$.

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