I don't know whether to laugh or cry with the news that yet another Canadian city wants in on this whole MLS thing. For years Canadian soccer fans dreamed of a pan-Canadian professional league to take the place of the departed (and underrated from a sport development standpoint) Canadian Soccer League. Studies were conducted. Soccer geeks spent hours devising elaborate league set-ups on Internet discussion forums (Do you think Charlottetown can support a team? What about Summerside?).
But, it was hopeless. Canadians won't support soccer, we were told time and time again.
Then, TFC happened. Suddenly, soccer seemed feasible, even profitable. When MLS commissioner Don Garber asked Richard Peddie midway through last year if there was anything the league could do to assist Toronto Peddie's response was "yeah, give us two more teams."
The sad truth to all of this is that it took inclusion in an American league for the untapped soccer market to emerge in Toronto. And, it's the sight of 20,000 beer swilling nuts at BMO Field that makes other Canadian investors eyes light up.
Why is it that we as Canadians continually bash our neighbours to the south while at the same time we desperately want to be included in the fun things they do? In the wonderful book Why I hate Canadians author Will Ferguson sums up the typical Canadian's attitude towards America as this: "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you; why won't you pay attention to me?"
To put a soccer spin on things: "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it; Oh, wait, the Americans are doing it?
Perhaps that's a battle for another day (however, if you love this country and you haven't read Ferguson's book, pull out your VISA and follow the link above...).
But Ottawa? Seriously?
I'm not an Ottawa basher. My financée lived in the city for 16-months during our long and winding courtship and we both found the city to have its charms. If it wasn't so damn cold in February (and I was richer than I am--why didn't I go to business school again?) I'd get myself a nice little place in the Glebe and be perfectly happy. So, in summary: Don't hate Ottawa.
However, I gotta question the logic of putting a professional soccer team in the city. Especially at the MLS level. To succeed in MLS you would need about 15,000 people per game in attendance. Ottawa's sports history woulds suggest that 15k over the long haul would be a stretch. I'm not sure Ottawa has the population base to find 15k soccer diehards. Especially if, as they suggested yesterday, they were to build the stadium in Kanata (one of the biggest issues in the U.S. with attendance is that most of the stadiums have been built in the suburbs. Toronto bucked the trend and BMO's location is widely pointed at as a key to TFC's success).
A more reasonable goal for Ottawa might be a USL franchise. There, crowds of 5,000 would make the thing profitable and a USL team would still provide the city with a great deal of value and benefit to the soccer community. And, there is little doubt that the city could get a team. If they put the money down today, there is a good chance they would be kicking a ball by next spring.
Then again, maybe Ottawa is sick of being considered a minor league town. Maybe the soccer equivalent of the Lynx isn't good enough and the city's sports fans want the (relatively speaking) major leagues or nothing at all. Those closer to the scene might have a better idea of that than I.
It is worth remembering how much Ottawa embraced the FIFA u-20s last summer. Many people, myself included, were taken by surprise at how successful the games were in the capital. I remember thinking at the time that a team might just work there. Of course, as already outlined, I was thinking of a USL team.
Regardless, it is a long shot. Ottawa is late into this game and there are a few American cities that would appear to be ahead. However, MLS is a funny animal. Talk of Toronto didn't really heat up until a couple months before the team was actually awarded. If a city can line up solid investors and put a shovel in the ground for a soccer specific stadium, it will jump to the front of the line.
In short, Ottawa in MLS seems crazy. But MLS is a little crazy sometimes.
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