Soccer's big night out with the stars | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerSoccer's big night out with the stars

Posted: Sunday, March 4, 2012 | 09:52 PM

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David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy crosses the ball as Toronto FC's Joao Plata looks on during MLS action last season. The two teams face off Wednesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals.  (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy crosses the ball as Toronto FC's Joao Plata looks on during MLS action last season. The two teams face off Wednesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

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The sign reads: "It should be won or lost right here." The challenge is clear. Victory must be earned. Toronto FC and Los Angeles Galaxy will be fighting for just that - victory - when they face off against each other at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on Wednesday night.

The sign reads: "It should be won or lost right here". The challenge is clear. Victory must be earned. It is an equal test of nerve and skill where bravery is rewarded when combined with clear thinking and a positive mindset.
 
The message is mounted on a rock impossible to ignore on approach to the 15th tee at the PGA National Championship course - venue for The Honda Classic, the most recent stop on the PGA Tour. The golfer is informed "You are now entering The Bear Trap" - a daunting stretch of three holes redesigned by the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus, in 1990.
 
Each of the holes, two par 3s separated by a par 4, are visually intimidating. All feature watery graves for errant shots and many seasoned professionals have seen a promising score balloon as their approach to the green is either blown off course or they foolishly attempt an over aggressive line to the pin.
 
Statistically, the Bear Trap is a nightmare. Year after year, holes 15 to 17 at the Palm Beach Gardens layout regularly rank among the toughest stretches on tour. The ability to navigate a safe path through Nicklaus' testing examination often sorts the men from the boys.
 
It has nothing to do with soccer, but to me the gauntlet thrown down by The Bear Trap transcends individual sports. It dares the player to perform with confidence, to bury the demons of self doubt and warns of the dangers of complacency or lack of focus so late in the piece.
 
These are surely the same emotions experienced, from time to time, by all professional athletes regardless of their chosen sport. Sinking a 30-foot birdie putt is as easy as scoring a 30-yard scorcher when you're on your game. Missing a tap in for par or an open goal from inside the six yard box is always lurking on the flipside when you're not.

Canada vs. U.S. 

The bigger the stage, the bigger the potential trap. When the lights go on, the stadium is full and the anthems are complete can you handle the occasion? Can you look your opponent in the eye and absolutely believe you'll come out on top?
 
The stage beckons. Don't think Toronto versus Los Angeles. Consider the bigger picture. Think Canada against America for that is what it is. It is an event which will have international repercussions. This is not some flag waving, made-for-TV exhibition. This is a battle of the champions.
 
Representing Canada: Toronto FC. A team assembled and torn apart in each of its first five years of operation by a succession of well meaning but unsuccessful and/or unsuitable head coaches. Despite voracious support, the franchise has stumbled from one season into the next with little sign of stability or success.
 
Representing America: Los Angeles Galaxy. The reigning MLS Cup champions have proved themselves the best, and perhaps the richest team north of the Mexican border. Even within the guidelines of a strict salary cap, the Galaxy has managed to attract and retain a host of star names including Beckham, Donovan, Keane and Juninho.
 
A straight fight between the Canadian Champions and the Champions of the United States. Two matches to determine a victor and the prizes are many and varied. Cross-border bragging rights are taken for granted. A step closer to FIFA's Club World Cup and a hugely positive springboard into the 2012 MLS season also feature in the winners' goody bag.
 
This really means something. The fans have demonstrated their support, snapping up tickets in their tens of thousands. The soldout signs are up at Toronto's Rogers Centre. The venue has hosted sell-out soccer games before but never like this. There is no Manchester United, Juventus or Barcelona to tempt loyal ex-pats to break out the plastic.
 
It is not even about David Beckham. Many thousands had already made their financial investment before the former England captain re-signed with the Galaxy franchise.  This is about two bona fide North American rivals bound by a common goal, appearing in an event marketed professionally and priced sensibly allowing families to sample soccer's unique atmosphere in comfort.

The Montreal example
 
Something similar happened three years ago in Montreal. The attendance on a freezing night in February 2009 exceeded 55,000 as the Impact beat Mexican opposition in their first leg of their quarter final. It was a privilege to be in the Olympic Stadium that night and I expect another tingle of excitement when Toronto fans pack the Rogers Centre, aiming to roar their team to victory.
 
Who will win? The Galaxy is the better team and will start as clear favourite but I have never been a fan of favourites in a two horse race. Rather I hope soccer itself emerges triumphant. This is more than a simple game of football - it is a rare opportunity for the sport to showcase itself, hog the limelight and convince the sceptical it is a game worth watching on a regular basis.
 
To tweak Nicklaus' message: "It will be won or lost right here." Cruel as it may be, history will only remember the winners. It is either Canada or the United States. Choose your flag with care.

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