Canada has a long way to go - London Free Press

Morris Dalla Costa "You're from Canada? What are you doing here?" That was the biggest question asked at Euro 2008 when anyone became aware you are from the soccer wilderness. That was followed closely by other questions. "Do Canadians have an interest in European soccer?" "Do Canadians watch Euro?" "Do you have a domestic league?" It emphasized how far the game has to go in this country before it gets the boost needed to propel it into the serious soccer nation category. Most everyone was surprised when told of the huge interest in international leagues in Canada, that there are numerous live games televised for both the English Premier League and Italian Serie A each week. They are even more surprised when told the number of registered soccer players in Canada is approaching one million. "Then why aren't there more Canadian professional players and why isn't your national team better?" they ask. Funny thing is most of them know the women's soccer program in Canada is stronger than the men's. That's what regularly making major tournaments will do for a program. And until Canada's men's team does so, it will forever struggle for money and player loyalty. The bottom line is simple. Canada needs a domestic league or it needs more teams like Toronto FC to play in a league like the MLS. That includes USL residents Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. Canadian players need an avenue to make a living and play at as high a level as possible. That's especially necessary for top young players, many of whom try their hand in Europe but don't get the same opportunity as young Europeans. A domestic league in Canada should allow young players to play and give them time to develop their skills. Right now, many good young players head to school on scholarships. When they are done at school there is little opportunity for them to do anything else. Using London as an example, after four-years at school, players come home and play locally. In many cases, that is already too late for anyone with aspirations to a higher level. As good as some of the teams in the Western Ontario Soccer League are, they come nowhere near fulfilling the competitive needs of someone who wants to do more. Young players need to play an intense, highly-competitive schedule. Appin's Jason DeVos began playing professionally at 15. He found places to play and survived professional soccer in Scotland and England for about 20 years. Good players shouldn't have to go through those kind of difficult times. The Canadian Soccer League doesn't fulfill any needs. A few years ago it used to be the Canadian Professional Soccer League. As we know locally, it's as far from professional as it can get. It's really the Southern Ontario And One Team In Quebec Soccer League. There are some good franchises in the league but too few to make a significant impact. Toronto FC has proven there is room for real professional soccer in this country. Maybe not for a full domestic league but certainly enough interest in major centres like Vancouver, Montreal and maybe Edmonton to push for MLS entry. The current club Canadian club championship between Montreal, Toronto FC and Vancouver has drawn intense interest. A 2-2 draw in Vancouver with Toronto was played in Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. More 5,000 filled the stadium to bursting. There were more than 18,000 when the teams met in Toronto. Both Montreal and Vancouver want entry into the MLS but Vancouver has stadium issues. The next year is important for soccer in Canada. It will continue to be a soccer minnow until it qualifies for the World Cup. Canada has developed enough players that it does have a chance for 2010 in South Africa. It would be the first time since 1986 it would play in the world's premier sporting event. It would also provide the boost needed if not for a domestic league, then at the least for additional professional teams to move to a higher level.