It has been a memorable year for Canadian soccer.
A new Canadian franchise in Major League Soccer, the Women's World Cup and a Canadian team reaching the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Here are a few of my favourite Canadian moments on the pitch from 2011. Vancouver, BC, March 19, 2011 - Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Toronto FC
Albeit across several time zones, the moment had finally arrived.
In glorious spring sunshine, an all-Canadian soccer 'derby' to engage and entertain a sizeable chunk of the nation. The Whitecaps - finally readmitted to the elite of North American soccer - squaring off against Toronto FC, entering its fifth season yet still resembling an expansion franchise on the field.
The entertainment was breathtaking. Empire Field was only ever a makeshift venue while multi-million dollar renovations were going on downtown at BC Place. But for those in white, and the majority of a sell-out crowd in excess of 22,000 it very quickly felt like home.
The Whitecaps, desperate to make a statement of intent, came storming out of the gate. They battered a Toronto team which neither understood nor was able to execute an alien 4-3-3 formation required by its new Dutch head coach.
Vancouver was up and running. A thoroughly convincing opening day win over its Canadian rival gave rise to great optimism of what lay ahead. It was a false dawn.
The Whitecaps would become the worst expansion team since Toronto FC and Empire Field became a symbol of failure, despised by players who would have to endure a 14- game winless streak before their next home victory in mid-June. Pachuca, México, June 22, 2011 - Roberts rescues Canada
Quillan Roberts wasn't supposed to play at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico. The promising Toronto FC Academy keeper made the Canadian roster as back-up to the outstanding Maxime Crepeau and would have spent the entire tournament on the bench had fate not taken a hand.
Crepeau was injured in the closing minutes of Canada's opening defeat to Uruguay. Roberts got the call for the final four minutes, in which time he conceded the third goal to the South Americans. Three days later Crepeau had not recovered, gifting Roberts his chance to shine.
Canada was headed for another loss. Trailing England 2-1 with just three minutes to go, Roberts punted a long hopeful ball forward from inside his own half. It evaded his teammate and bounced in the penalty area. The England goalie advanced off his line but fatally misjudged the flight of the ball which hopped over his head and into the back of the unguarded net.
Roberts' goal secured Canada's first ever point and earned him the distinction of becoming the first goalkeeper ever to score at a FIFA competition.
Roberts reserved the best for last - moments after the final whistle he shook hands and consoled the crestfallen England goalie and then celebrated with injured teammate Crepeau. Who knows where Roberts' career will take him, but we all know where it's already been. Berlin, Germany, June 26, 2011 - Christine Sinclair scores in Germany
It was soccer's equivalent of 'Mission Impossible'.
Canada was drawn to play the host and defending champion Germany at the Women's World Cup.
The tournament kicked off where the men had left off five years earlier. The historic Berlin Olympiastadion, filled to its capacity of 73,000, provided the imposing backdrop for the Group A meeting.
The Germans, strong, disciplined and skilful began as warm favourites to win the title for the third time on home soil.
Canada was soon on the back foot and the powerful Germans took only 10 minutes to break the deadlock. Their lead was doubled shortly before halftime with Canada struggling to construct any meaningful offensive moves.
Canada possesses one truly world class player. Christine Sinclair had squandered an early chance but when Canada won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, the captain had one thing in mind. Sinclair exquisitely chipped the ball over the German wall and into the net with what proved to be one of the goals of the tournament.
It was the first goal conceded by Germany since the 2003 World Cup. Sinclair's technique was rightly praised but despite her deft touch (and broken nose) Canada would be the first nation to be eliminated from competition. The Germans also failed to live up to expectation - shockingly beaten by Japan in the quarter-finals. Washington, DC, Aug. 6, 2011 - DeRo denies Toronto FC
You would like to think it gave him no pleasure. But I am absolutely sure Dwayne De Rosario took great delight in rubbing his former employers' noses in it. An opportunist hat-trick against his hometown Toronto FC put him well on his way to the league's Golden Boot.
De Rosario has been flying the flag for Canada in MLS long before the country had a franchise. A decade ago he won his first MLS Cup with San Jose and repeated the feat two years later. He moved with the franchise to Houston and similar success followed. Back-to-back titles in 2006 and '07 - the same year Toronto FC appeared on the MLS map.
If only they could persuade him to come home...if only. The fans' dream became reality late in 2008 when De Rosario signed a long-term contract, a pact which ultimately proved a deal breaker when TFC refused to upgrade him to the status of designated player.
The divorce, in early 2011, was quick but costly.
The muted hat-trick celebration at RFK Stadium was professional and outwardly respectful to fellow pros and former teammates but DeRo's inward emotion must surely have been screaming "Here's what you had. Here's what you're missing!"
In soccer, as in life, you generally get what you pay for. Toronto, ON, Sept. 2, 2011 - Canada canters against St. Lucia
International soccer isn't everyone's cup of tea.
Cheering on your country can be a labour of love especially when that country rarely gives you anything to shout about. You want to be proud and passionate but you struggle to make that emotional commitment.
A crowd of 12,000 for a World Cup qualifier is not remarkable. There is hardly a rush for tickets.
In a city of 2.5 million it represents roughly 0.5 per cent of the population. But this was not about the numbers; this was about the demographics and who was supporting who.
Generations of Canadian players and fans have been forced to endure the fact they are outnumbered in their own backyard. Blame multiculturalism or Canada's international soccer profile, or both. Home advantage should mean just that, and I sense Canada is beginning to get some.
As Canada kicked off its World Cup campaign against St. Lucia the evidence was plain to see and hear.
Long after the pre-match formalities, spontaneous choruses of O Canada rang out along the Toronto lakeshore from Canadians, supporting Canada in a Canadian city at a Canadian stadium.
Baby steps of course, but Canada's fans are beginning to give its team a chance. Frisco, Texas, Oct. 18, 2011 - TFC destroys Dallas' dream
They said it couldn't be done.
The game had to be played but the outcome was a no-brainer. Toronto FC would huff and puff and give it a go but would ultimately come up short. Aron Winter's team had not done enough to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League.
It was still mathematically possible but when you need a calculator to work out the permutations, it's already as good as a lost cause. Toronto FC, a symbol of inconsistency, would have to beat FC Dallas, a team against which it had failed to score in three previous meetings in 2011.
This would be a night like few others. The Canadian Champions stepped up their game. They realised one goal would likely not be enough. They hunted for another, and another. They understood, if for one night only, how to kill off an opponent.
In the final analysis, they wanted it more. It was a glorious conclusion few could have predicted and closed an otherwise unsatisfactory chapter on the history of the young franchise on an unexpectedly bright note.
Indoor soccer next March is already marked in thousands of diaries.
So there it is. A selection from my personal 2011 Canadian soccer scrapbook.
I look forward to many more over the next 12 months. In the meantime, I extend the compliments of the season and wish you and yours a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
Back to accessibility links