(photo courtesy Toronto FC)
Apologies to all the Toronto-indifferent out there, but sometimes it is just fantastic living in the professional sport centre of this great country. The Leafs are off to their classic shaky start yet they still look better than last year (really, all you can ask of the Leafs right now), the Argos look great to chase the Grey Cup, the Jays have made some recent noise and are bound to make some more next season, and the Raptors have gone undefeated in the NBA pre-season. I was in a meeting yesterday and found myself talking about the wealth of high-quality rugby to be found in the city.
Enter the Toronto Football Club (Toronto FC), the first Major League Soccer expansion team to come north of the 49th — and a fantastic example of how public/private funding partnerships can be used to build and strengthen communities. These folks know what they’re doing. Owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (bosses to both the Leafs and Raptors), TFC has leveraged municipal money, private investment and corporate sponsorship to build Canada’s premier soccer venue right downtown (and with a lake view). Seating 20,000, BMO Field will be bubbled over in winter to allow for ongoing local league and national team activity. Remember the dream of Montreal’s downtown baseball park? Oh, Expos… if only.
Never has there been a better time for fully professional soccer to make its debut in Canada. The last decade has seen a steady, crazy increase in the attention given to both the World Cup Finals and the European Cup (Greece beats Portugal! – Gus, my barber, goes insane with joy; Nelly Furtado is depressed).
Make no mistake, MLS is a serious sporting endeavor in North America. Capitalizing on the extreme popularity of kids’ soccer in suburban USA (minivan driving soccer moms are an official, much sought after voting block) Major League Soccer has built a solid following in a country best known for NASCAR and that other football. Choosing Toronto as the latest professional soccer expansion city is a visionary recognition of the international nature of the game, as well as a canny understanding that Canada’s diverse population has exactly this sport holding it together. Who in TO wasn’t Italian last summer? — I mean except me, who was German, and very, very disappointed. Still, forze Italia!
Last night Toronto FC held the first of several “pub nights” in the downtown core — promo events designed to build a dedicated fan base. They brought their head coach, Mo Johnston, and their only player so far, local boy Jim Brennan, to hang out in one of the city’s soccer bars and just chat it up with nascent supporters of the club. That’s them in the photo above.
I’m not sure if Jane Jacobs was a soccer fan, but leaving the Cervejaria soccer bar on College last night after shaking hands with some of our latest community builders, I knew I was in a healthy, vibrant, living city.