A national championship, a successful MLS All-Star Game, talk of expansion, new big-name ownership – this was a dizzying week for Canadian soccer.
And if either the Vancouver Whitecaps or Montreal Impact find themselves included in the just-announced MLS expansion for 2011, this will certainly be remembered as the week their promotion to the big-time became inevitable.
MLS commissioner Don Garber was in Toronto for several days, and quite a bit happened. He attended last Tuesday's Voyageurs Cup final between Toronto FC and the Impact, and later told Fan590 soccer grump Bob McCown it was one of the most exciting live sporting events he had ever seen. Mind you, he also complimented McCown on his soccer knowledge, so you can take all this with how ever big a bag of rock salt you prefer.
But Garber's true appreciation came with the expansion announcement. Two more teams will be added to upper North America's premier soccer loop in time for the kickoff of the 2011 season. With Montreal upsetting Toronto to claim the cup – and a place in the CONCACAF Champions League – and Vancouver announcing two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash as the new co-owner and public face of the Whitecaps – all right under Garber's nose – Canadian soccer futures closed sharply higher on the week, in extremely active trading.
Of course, we're not all home and dry yet. MLS remains an American loop, and Stateside TV deals are traditionally not well served by tossing new franchises into the great white north. Portland and St. Louis are both high on the list, with solid credentials and plenty of influential friends.
But then there's also the small matter of Toronto FC's overwhelming success – hammered home quite nicely, I thought, by the packed house at BMO Field for Thursday's All-Star tilt. It couldn't[‘t have hurt, either, that Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario smoked home the winning penalty kick, and the MLS's best dropped EPL side West Ham United 3-2 in an exciting, passionate, wide-open game.
Montreal already has a stadium in place to one day rival BMO, and Vancouver will if they can ever find the waterfront pocket of land they've been chasing for several years. If they can't, they're set to be part of a huge overhaul of B.C. Place stadium, set for completion in – all together now – 2011.
Steve Nash was all over the All-Star Game, happily signing autographs on the sidelines. This is a man with impressive sporting credentials on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, deeply likeable and seriously famous. The Whitecaps already had bags of bucks in the bank, but billionaire owner Greg Kerfoot is a solitary and elusive soul. The ‘Caps now have a public face which needs absolutely no introduction to the hero-worshipping American sports media machine.
All things told, Canada could not possibly have put on a better show these past few days. And the people who really needed to see it were all in attendance, telling all-comers what a wonderful time they were having.
I'd wager Toronto FC fans might say that all this even managed to take some of the sting out of that dreary 1-1 draw with Montreal that cost the Reds the cup. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon – and for the rest of …. (Or not.)
It's very rare in Canadian soccer that everything falls into place, and everyone stands up and does their very best, all at the same time. But it sure looks like it all came together deliciously, when the eyes of the world were upon us.
Now it's up to Montreal and Vancouver to keep pushing forward, stroll past the Portlands and St. Louises, and take what must now be their rightful places in Major League Soccer in spring 2011.