Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's better for Canadian Soccer...

There is an argument out in the soccer world about which team should represent Canada in the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League. Many people say Toronto F.C. because they are the only MLS team in Canada and, arguably, the best team with the best talent. My argument is a little different: which team, in representing Canada, would bring the best benefits home to Canadian soccer? I would not choose Toronto F.C., and the simple reason is that, in my opinion, TFC is not Canadian; rather, they are an international squad. The Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps are both more "Canadian" teams, and for this reason, either team would be better positioned to benefit Canadian soccer by competing. Since Vancouver is out of the running, I would support Montreal to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.

First, let's take a look at the Major League Soccer team in Toronto. Currently, TFC have 7 Canadian members in the squad, down from 8 after recently releasing Andrea Lombardo. That's 7 players on a roster of 25. TFC's Academy Head Coach, Nick Dasovic, is the only Canadian on the coaching staff. Dasovic's duties include assisting the reserve team, but his duties don't allow him to work with or to travel on the road with the first team. Jim Brennan, team captain, and Greg Sutton, first choice 'keeper, are the two well-known Canadian players on Toronto's squad, both playing a majority of minutes. As for the other Canadians on the team, at the time of writing, there are two on the development roster: Tyler Rosenlund and Nana Attakora-Gyan. Rosenlund has had the pleasure of playing 2 TFC games for a total of 8 minutes, while Attakora-Gyan has managed just 1 game for 3 minutes. Canadians Joey Melo and Tyler Hemming are both on the senior development squad. Melo has yet to feature in a game, and Hemming has 72 minutes under his belt, played over 2 games. The final Canadian is Kevin Harmse, who has played 7 games so far for the Toronto outfit, including 5 game starts. All this in a total of 15 MLS games so far this season.

Meanwhile, Montreal's squad features a number of Canadians: 11 to be exact, on a 22 man roster. Canadian Patrick Leduc has featured in all 15 of Montreal's USL games, while Adam Braz and Mauro Biello have taken part in 14. Nevio Pizzolitto has featured in 9 games. Sita-Taty Matondo, Gabriel Gervais and Rocco Placenino have managed to acquire 8 games this season, while Antonio Ribeiro and Alex Surpenant have each played 6. The high representation of Canadians on the Montreal team doesn't just stop on the playing field: the Impact have an entire coaching staff of Canadians as well.

Looking at these statistics, the question is, which team should represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League? The answer is Montreal, and here's why.

Canada has been trying to build a strong soccer tradition for a long time. That entails establishing 3 key factors: loyal fans; better Canadian talent; and more teams that can compete with and are as strong as Toronto. If Montreal wins the right to go and play in the CONCACAF Champions League, then that will strengthen all 3 key factors:

Firstly, Montreal will be positioned to foster a better and more influential soccer community within Canada. This will eventually lead to Montreal hosting more national tournaments in the new Saputo Stadium and also raising home grown fan support in a city that is only 4 or 5 time zones away from the Europe-based players. It will ensure that there is a strong support structure for soccer in place in Montreal, and allow for the Canadian team to play sold out events supported by loyal Canadian fans.

Secondly, Montreal has a better opportunity than Toronto to build Canadian talent. With only 2 players seeing regular action in Toronto, it is important that a more "Canadian" team has the chance to give its players the valuable experience of facing other environments and cultures in competitive matches. Montreal has more Canadians on the roster and more playing in everyday games. With the addition of the Champions League they will play higher calibre teams, and in league play, reserve players will get a chance to play more regularly, thus building a stronger foundation in Canada for players in North American leagues. Montreal players will then know what to expect when they put on the Canadian National Team shirt and play against a country like Mexico, Honduras or Costa Rica. They will have had actual game experience against these countries. Having Americans Maurice Edu and Marvell Wynne, or Honduran Amado Guevara play Champions League games for Toronto does not help our national product. Further, if Montreal were to represent Canada, it would benefit Canadian soccer by helping build a strong Canadian coaching staff. Who will follow in the footsteps of Canadian National Team coaches Frank Yallop and current coach Dale Mitchell? Perhaps a Canadian named John Limniatis, current coach of the Impact, or Montreal's technical director, Nick De Santis.

With respect to the third factor, Canada needs to build the strength of Toronto's competitor teams. While having a stronger team in Toronto will help us reach our goal of being a better soccer country on the CONCACAF stage and on the world stage, having 1 strong team out of Canada's 3 teams is not sufficient to create a vibrant, competitive, and exciting soccer culture in Canada. We, as a country need 3 equally developed Canadian teams. As of this writing, the Vancouver Whitecaps are solidly near the top of the USL Division 1. Montreal is struggling in the league this year, but if they win the Canadian Club Championship, it would provide a solid finish to the season. Toronto is holding its own in the MLS Eastern Conference. If Montreal goes through, they will be building a better group of young Canadian players, while Toronto will be building a better group of international stars. If Montreal wins and gains a place, they will build a strong franchise, a better franchise, one that kids in Quebec would love the opportunity to play for.

To me it makes perfect sense. Montreal wins the Canadian spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, building a better team off the field, on the field, and in the future. And if they lose in the first round, well, who knows for sure that Toronto would do any better? The question is, would you rather have Canadians gaining experience on the field or would you rather have Canadians gaining experience on the sidelines? I want my Canadians playing.

written by: Tyler Green

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