CBC Sports

Soccer suits us

Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 11:49 AM

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I’m in England … the land of soccer. Sorry, football, if you’re a purist.

Along with more than 10 million Brits I’ve just watched on TV as Manchester United fell to Barcelona in the Champions League final.

On Saturday, Chelsea and Everton will play the FA Cup final before 90,000 singing fans at Wembley Stadium. It is a rite of spring in a place where the game means something. You can feel the electricity surrounding the match.

If only it were true in Canada.

“Here we need to change the culture,” Jason de Vos told me. Jason was, for a number of years, the captain of the Canadian men’s soccer team. A side which never qualified for the greatest of tourneys, the World Cup, during his 18 years as an elite player.

“The biggest disappointment in my career is to have never gone to the World Cup with Canada,” he admitted. “When you’re a soccer player your dream is to play in the World Cup.”

In fact, Canada has only once been admitted to the largest single sport spectacle on the face of the earth. That was in 1986 at Mexico and even then the Canadians didn’t win a game much less score a goal. All of this mediocrity in a place where the greatest sport in terms of mass participation is … soccer.

How do we right the wrong?

Well, on Friday we begin the process. On a special edition of Sports Weekend, Jason and I will watch some old film - the classic FIFA World Cups of the past, and we’ll talk to people about how we harness all this love for a beautiful, simple and affordable game and turn it into the national obsession it ought to be.

We Canadians are cut out to do just that. We live in the prototypical, multicultural country - a land of immigrants where most of the people who have chosen to settle here bring an affinity for soccer.

“Much of Canada’s passion for soccer is ethnically driven,” says Ian Campbell. He’s the man behind a new professional club in London, Ont. “In Canada, to be successful, we have to leverage and embrace that passion not compete with it.”

I think he’s right.

In watching Toronto FC, you become aware that the stars include a Honduran playmaker, an English striker, a Swiss goalkeeper and a Canadian star whose parents were born in Guyana. It is a mixed bag of characters where everyone brings something of value to the table.

Surely that kind of social fabric can lead to success on soccer’s international stage.

Even more than England, soccer suits us in Canada. It’s a reflection of who we are.

We just have to find a way to get in the game.

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