Monday, July 02, 2007

Canada is catching on...

It is terrific to see people in this country starting to take a deep interest in soccer. This year has been tremendous for this, with the construction of BMO Field in Toronto, the fantastic support for Toronto FC, Canada's run to the semifinals at the Gold Cup, and now the U-20 World Cup being held in Canada. There's always been some support for the world's game here in Canada, but the interest, and thus the coverage, has grown by leaps and bounds lately. It's been fantastic to have the ability to watch top-quality soccer more frequently. This year alone, Sportsnet has continued to lead the way with their trademark Premiership coverage, but they've also expanded to more Canadian matches than before (even if far too many are tape-delayed), and have started to cover Toronto FC as well. CBC has also rediscovered soccer, picking up some TFC games and televising most of the U-20 World Cup, while The Score has even gotten into the act with a few TFC games and a great soccer talk show.

Outside the TV realm, the rest of the media are also starting to pay some attention. Toronto FC have been getting quite a bit of press, while the U-20 World Cup has become the sporting event of the moment (except for perhaps yesterday's NHL free agent signings!). People are turning out to soccer matches in droves, particularly for the U-20 World Cup. Over 950, 000 tickets have been sold for this tournament, making it the largest sporting event Canada has ever held (yes, bigger than either Olympics to date), which is incredibly impressive.

The quality of soccer at the U-20 level is also very high: I was tremendously impressed with what I saw from the Canadian team in their warm-up friendly in Kingston last month, and the tournament games so far have been even better. I was in Montreal over the weekend for the Poland-Brazil/USA-Korea doubleheader, and both games displayed a tremendous level of soccer talent. If there was any doubt that soccer is now big in this country, the 55, 000 raucous fans under the dome in the "Big O" dispelled it. Canada had a tough time in their opener against Chile yesterday, but if they can turn it around, the interest will continue to build. Even if they are unable to make it out of the group stage, the quality of their players and the massive interest in the tournament here are both great signs for the future.

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