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Starnes: Great days for Canada


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The Beautiful Game


Great days for Canada; The national teams are winning, the Under-20 World Cup is coming and even our world ranking is on the rise.

Richard Starnes

The Ottawa Citizen

1068 words

16 June 2007

Ottawa Citizen




Copyright © 2007 Ottawa Citizen

All of a sudden, the sun has decided to beam down on Canadian soccer. After the thunder that has been rolling around in recent months, Canadian Soccer Association president Colin Linford is a happy man right at this moment.

"The sun has been shining on my deck for days," he told me yesterday from his Kitchener, Ont., home. Then he laughed. "But it won't last long."

So let's bask in it while we may.

Ten days ago, three Canadian national teams, playing thousands of miles apart in three different countries, all achieved convincing victories. Our women won 5-0 in a friendly in New Zealand, our men won 2-1 at the Gold Cup against Costa Rica in Florida and our under-20s, down the road from here in Kingston, whipped the U.S. 4-0.

That has never happened before, and Linford suggests jokingly that organizing such a moment was a little tricky.

And there's more, much more.

The Under-20 World Cup is a couple of weeks away and it is producing a distinct rise in the soccer temperature. Why else would ticket sales have reached 825,000 across the six venues?

The grapevine is reporting some pretty startling fan figures. Two thousand tickets are being snapped up every day for games. Toronto has sold out five of its games, almost six. Predictions are every seat for every game will go.

The opening day doubleheader at the Big O in Montreal has, so far, sold 53,000 of some 56,000 seats.

The Brazil-U.S. game here in Ottawa is past 20,000 and guaranteed to sell out at 25,000. How nice it will be to see Frank Clair Stadium actually hopping to a sporting event again.

Without wanting to bore you with statistics -- although that seems to be an integral part of Canadian sports -- I can reveal that this World Cup has had volunteers rushing forward to sign up. Across the country, that translates into a 2,000-person army. There are 400 here in nobody-likes-to-volunteer Ottawa and a mass more waiting in the wings. There hasn't been a single moment when the organizers thought they wouldn't find the people.

And what about our FIFA ranking? We had been situated in 94th place -- how embarrassing -- but in the new figures out this week we jumped 38 places to 56th. How exciting. That means we now sit one behind Honduras and one ahead of South Africa. Chile is only two above us, for goodness sake.

I know, I know. How the rankings are calculated is always a mystery.

"The rating system leaves a lot to be desired," says Linford. "Everyone was screaming when we were 113th and I kept saying it was because we hadn't played any games."

Still, when the news is good, we should learn to love it.

And what about that Toronto FC, the new club in the new stadium that has all of Toronto hopping.

I am certain the owners never, in their most optimistic moments, believed they would sell 14,500 season tickets or sell out every game at the BMO stadium.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted that a Canadian crowd would actually get involved in the game. These fans are wild. You might even think you are in South America, for goodness sake.

Remember they had that opening game when thousands of seat cushions rained on the field? And keep reading if you still don't believe how excited TFC's faithful have become.

Because fans jumped up and down so much, a rumoured 40,000 nuts and bolts on the aluminum structure have had to be tightened. There is absolutely no danger of the place caving in, but I am told they are doubling up on locking bolts.

Now that's enthusiasm and that's the way to become part of the action. Ask any TFC player and he will tell you having fans like this is like having a 12th man on the field.

Are you listening, Canada? When this World Cup begins, if you are lucky enough to get to watch our Canadian under-20 boys, you make quite sure they know you are there. You'll be surprised how much fun it can be.

And remember, there won't be any of those electronic messages they have in hockey arenas, which tell you it's time to scream for your team.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. If we -- that's efficient organizers, enthusiastic fans and happy, friendly Canadian people -- show visiting teams what it means to put on an exceptional tournament, we will be vastly improving our chances of landing the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011.

Linford tells me Germany, Australia and maybe France are likely to challenge us for the privilege. Deadline for bids is November, and the Canadian Soccer Association has already started putting together its package.

That one will welcome 24 countries and require six stadiums. Linford seems to hope new stadiums in Vancouver and Montreal will join the BMO by then and he has wind of a Queen's University scheme to build a 15,000-seat stadium by 2010.

I know what you are saying: Where are the clouds to rain on this parade? Well, there are things like an inadequate system for young and promising players to progress to strong professionals in a country where there is hardly any pro soccer to be had. We still don't have a technical director to improve coaching. And I am sure I could come up with more.

But for now, let's bask in the good news. After all, this will be a Canadian summer in which we get more than our fair share of sunshine, and we deserve to enjoy more than our fair share of good soccer news for a while.

I'm always on the hunt for more news to pass on from the soccer world so join me at my blog at ottawacitizen.com.

Richard Starnes' Beautiful Game column appears Saturdays. Send comments and suggestions to rstarnes@thecitizen.canwest.com or sportsletters@thecitizen.canwest.com .

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