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Canadian pride versus MLS success
March 4, 2009, 8:20 AM
Filed under: Canada, MLS, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, USL, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

It’s not the biggest or the newest soccer stadium in Canada. Far from it. But its setting must be among the most picturesque in the country.

Occupying the North West corner of Central Park, surrounded on three sides by imposing fir trees and offering striking views of the mountains of North Vancouver, the outlook from the broadcast booth at Swangard Stadium remains one of my abiding memories of the 2008 season.

It was a quick turn round on a warm summer’s evening in Burnaby, B.C., just long enough to cover the latest game in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship – the three-cornered contest between the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps to determine the national champions.

The carrot for the winners of the Voyageurs Cup was a place in the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League, not to mention considerable and year-long Canadian bragging rights. That honour is currently the property of the Impact, who proved their domestic triumph was no fluke by comfortably booking a passage into the knockout stages and suffering only a single defeat along the way.

Happily, the Canadian Soccer Association has confirmed the competition will be repeated in 2009 and, hopefully, in my opinion, for many years to come. Despite the vast distances which separate the cities, true and lasting rivalries are being established between these clubs and the fans they represent.

For their part, Toronto FC have been forced to watch and grudgingly admire Montreal’s impact in an event featuring the region’s best teams. And while the TFC fans will demand the record be put straight this year, there is a risk it could work against the common good.

TFC cannot afford to fail

To my mind, 2009 must be all about success in Major League Soccer – if necessary, to the exclusion of all else. Toronto FC simply cannot afford to fail again this year.

I’m sensing a mood change among fans and players alike – an impatience to move the product to the next level, where the MLS play-offs are the first, last and only priority. The playing staff has been improved again and soon it will be incumbent on those in red jerseys to deliver the performances and results their loyal supporters crave.

The philosophy of head coach John Carver is straightforward. For competitive games he will always select his strongest possible team and when fringe players are given an opportunity the jersey becomes theirs to lose. If, in Carver’s opinion, they grab the chance they keep the shirt, if not it’s back to the bench.

This year’s Canadian championship has been moved forward for all involved. It will be played over a six week period in May and June and, for Toronto FC, it will mean two games a week for three of their four matches. It will be a hectic schedule and there may be a price to pay.

No doubt Carver wants to win the competition and why wouldn’t he after the embarrassment of losing it to a USL team in 2008? To achieve that goal, he’ll have to use his best team. We now know both Montreal and Vancouver are more than capable of holding their own in the company of supposedly superior players from MLS.

Rich rewards from Champions League

As the Impact have so spectacularly demonstrated, there are rich rewards to be earned from a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. Could Toronto FC have filled the Rogers Centre the way Montreal packed Olympic Stadium on a cold night in February? Perhaps we’ll see in twelve months time.

Despite that tempting distraction, Carver’s overriding priority must be to lead his team to the MLS post-season and that will require a fast start to the campaign and a fully fit roster. The opening games against Vancouver and Montreal coincide with a crucial segment of the season – Toronto have five out of six home games – somewhat similar to 2008, when Carver’s team was on a roll, winning matches and climbing the Eastern Conference standings.

That early season form needs to be repeated this year before the Gold Cup rolls around in July – a competition which will rob Carver of several key players, assuming it goes ahead as per FIFA’s calendar.

More games mean more risk of injury and fatigue and while it is inevitably par for the course, the reduction in size of MLS rosters for 2009 and the abandonment of the reserve division this year gives Carver less room for manoeuvre in terms of team selection. One way or another, he is going to face some tough decisions in the coming months.

So Canadian smugness or league advancement, where do you draw the line? Perhaps you don’t draw a line at all. Maybe you rely on one of the oldest clichés in the book and have both.

It’s one game at a time. Always was. Always will be.

Source: Click Here

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Soccer is taking over the nation
March 2, 2009, 8:11 AM
Filed under: Canada, MLS, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, USL, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Hey puckheads — Montreal Impact midfielder Sandro Grande has a message for you:

“This (Canada) is not a hockey nation. This is a soccer nation.”

What?

Questioning hockey’s status as the undisputed No. 1 in Canada is sacrilegious. Hockey always has been top dog.

Sure, Grande was coming off a high, after beating Mexico’s Santos Laguna in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League in front of over 55,000 jacked up fans at the Big ‘O’ in Montreal.

But there’s truth to it — Canada is a soccer nation, and maybe how important we’re told hockey is to Canadian culture isn’t reality.

Soccer culture is slowly but surely coming to the mainstream surface of Canadiana, with the Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Let’s be real, Grande Montreal is a hockey city — check that, a Montreal Canadiens city. Just like Toronto is a Maple Leafs town and Vancouver is all Canucks.

But the point here isn’t to suggest the pro soccer teams are more popular than the hockey clubs.

It’s about soccer culture. It’s about the interest, passion, knowledge and soccer lifestyle being just as prevalent in Canada as hockey.

MLS commissioner Don Garber acknowledged as much, seeing first-hand the reaction to Major League Soccer in Toronto. He has tried to make America a soccer nation for 13 years, but Canada was a soccer nation all along.

Canada’s foundation for being a soccer nation is obvious. Over 300,000 more Canadians play organized soccer than hockey.

Growth in hockey has been stagnant in recent years, partially because of the expense it costs to play it. As those costs continue to rise, hockey is going to become even more of an elitist sport.

Participation is only part of the story — our immigrant population base is another.

Thus far, Canada’s multicultural population hasn’t embraced the North American soccer game.

This isn’t surprising, with soccer being divided on cultural, ethnic and national lines. The same kind of nationalistic ties don’t exist in hockey, which speaks volumes, because Canadians define themselves by where they came from.

The immigrant population remains true to its old hometown club ties, preferring to watch soccer from where they, or their families came from.

This is one of the holes in assessing Canada’s passion for soccer through television ratings.

Hockey lives off its strong ratings, but it is an unfair indicator when comparing the sports. Hockey’s superior ratings have more to do with accessibility than anything else.

Watching soccer in North America takes serious commitment, with the majority of games overseas airing weekday afternoons or early in the morning. Only diehard fans will skip work or wake up at all hours to watch.

Hockey is easily accessible, to the point we have essentially been programmed to embrace it.

It’s like American politics; the public consumes the mindless derivative because it is being told it matters.

So Canadians get the same-old crap, redundant hockey conversation served up in a slightly different way all hours of the day. It’s quantity, not quality. Just because you’re forced fed, it doesn’t mean it tastes good.

While hockey is forced upon us, Canadians remain starved for soccer.

With soccer, it’s quality, not quantity that counts. Unlike hockey, you can’t put any two-bit soccer broadcasts out there and call it gold — soccer fans see right through it.

Pushing high-interest match-ups (Impact vs. Santos) to little-known, little-watched channels at a time only few can watch does nothing to satisfy the appetite of the Canadian viewer either.

Canadian soccer doesn’t have a ’72 Summit Series defining moment to its resume. The fact Canada is ranked 86th in the world doesn’t take anything away from Canada’s soccer culture either.

Canada’s soccer culture is truly grassroots and has been bred over time.

Grande was right to point out what Canada really is.

Source: Click Here



2009 Carolina Challenge Cup Announced
January 20, 2009, 12:18 PM
Filed under: Announcement, Carolina Challenge Cup, Toronto FC, USL

Charleston, SC. The Charleston Battery will square off with DC United in a re-match of the 2008 U.S. Open Cup final during the 2009 Carolina Challenge Cup to be held at Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston SC, March 7 – 14. United defeated the Battery 2-1 in last year’s national championship game, the match was played at RFK Stadium in Washington DC.

DC will join two other sides from Major League Soccer, Toronto FC & Real Salt Lake plus the USL First Division’s Charleston Battery for the prestigious pre-season tournament. Toronto returns for a third consecutive tournament appearance while Real Salt Lake make a first ever visit to Blackbaud Stadium. 2009 marks the sixth consecutive year that the Charleston Battery has hosted the Carolina Challenge Cup.

Charleston Battery head coach, Mike Anhaeuser,

“Once again the organization has brought together three fantastic teams from Major League Soccer and as in past years this will be a great test for the Battery players as we begin to build for our season. It is good have Toronto back again and also to welcome Salt Lake for a first visit. I am also looking forward to having DC United back in Charleston as our games in the past, including last year’s cup final have always been exciting matches.”

All three MLS teams will spend the week in Charleston, SC, training between the games as they prepare for the start of the Major League Soccer season.

The competition format will remain unchanged in 2009 with three match day’s each featuring a double-header. The games will be played on Saturday (March 7) – Wednesday (March 11) – Saturday (March 14), with each team playing the other in a round-robin tournament.

DC United
The match versus DC United gives the Charleston Battery an opportunity to reverse the result from last year’s Cup Final. The Open Cup win capped a mixed season for United who just missed the MLS playoffs and also suffered an early exit from the CONCACAF Champions League. However the U.S. Open Cup victory guarantees DC entry into the 2009 Champions League tournament.

United returns to the Carolina Challenge Cup for a fourth appearance; DC participated from 2004 – 2006 but has never lifted the trophy. United’s roster includes two designated players, Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio and Argentinean midfielder Marcelo Gallardo.

Toronto FC
Despite a second stellar season at the turnstiles that saw anther 15 consecutive sell-outs Toronto F.C. missed the MLS post-season finishing in 7th position in the Eastern Standings albeit just four points outside the playoffs.

Led by second year head coach John Carver, TFC bolstered its roster during the off-season acquiring Canadian striker and two-time MLS Cup MVP (2001, 2007) Dwayne De Rosario. This is the third consecutive year that TFC will have visited Charleston for its pre-season.

Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake makes a first ever visit to Charleston for this year’s Carolina Challenge Cup; the tournament will also mark the first time that RSL has squared off against the Charleston Battery. Real Salt Lake joined MLS in 2005 as the leagues 12th team, last summer RSL celebrated its third season with the opening of a new soccer-specific facility, Rio Tinto Stadium.

RSL also enjoyed considerable success on the pitch in 2008. After finishing third in the Western Conference Salt Lake advanced to the Western Conference championship (MLS Cup semifinal) but lost 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls.

Carolina Challenge Cup Tickets
Tickets for the 2009 Carolina Challenge Cup are on sale now with prices frozen at 2008 levels. Fans can purchase tickets for each doubleheader or for the six match series. Tickets for single doubleheaders (includes two games) are priced at $25 Club / Box & just $15 bleacher.

Series Tickets (includes all three double-headers) Club / Box $50 – Bleacher $35

2009 Charleston Battery Season Ticket holders receive a discount on their series tickets and can purchase Club / Box seats at a 50% discount for just $25 (includes all matches).

Group Discount – Discounted rates are available for groups of 10 or more; to purchase tickets or for more information please call (843) 971-4625 or visit http://www.charlestonbattery.com.

Carolina Challenge Cup past participants and winners
Bold denotes tournament winner
2004
Charleston Battery (USL1)
Columbus Crew (MLS)
DC United (MLS)
Wilmington Hammerheads (USL2)

2005
Charleston Battery (USL1)
Columbus Crew (MLS)
DC United (MLS)
San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)

2006
Charleston Battery (USL1)
DC United (MLS)
Houston Dynamo (MLS)
MetroStars (MLS)

2007
Charleston Battery (USL1)
Houston Dynamo (MLS)
New York Red Bulls (MLS)
Toronto FC (MLS)

2008
Charleston Battery (USL1)
New York Red Bulls (MLS)
San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Toronto FC (MLS)

Source: Click Here