Saturday, August 02, 2008

A cold dose of footy reality for the capital

One of Canada's best soccer writers (a shallow pool, I acknowledge), the Ottawa Citizen's Richard Starnes, nicely breaks down all the reasons why MLS expansion to Ottawa is unlikely.

He outlined some of the issues I did in June, while directly comparing the situation in Montreal and Vancouver with Ottawa's.

However, Starnes didn't bring up the possibility of a USL team. No one appears to be. That's a shame, because the environment for a solid USL franchise in Ottawa is there--especially if the Impact move to MLS (perhaps Montreal's USL team could just be shifted 90 minutes west).

USL is decent soccer. Another pro team in Canada will greatly benefit the domestic game and an Ottawa USL team could be a gateway to eventual inclusion in MLS (because it seems unlikely that MLS will actually stop at 18 teams).

If you love soccer and you live in the capital region you should start to make some USL noise. See the MLS expansion talk through to the fall when the league is expected to announce the next two teams, but realize what the odds are and be ready for the next step.

Update:'s Ben Knight voices similar sentiments: " before anyone seriously considers top-flight pro soccer on the leafy banks of the Rideau Canal, two essential things have to happen. Ottawa needs to land a second-tier franchise in USL-1 … and find dedicated, rich ownership."


sager said...

The USL would be a real asset, especially if they could involve John Pugh and the Fury system and stay true to the spirit of his organization.

Then the spirit of Ottawa raises its head ... at some point we really need to come up with a wacky character (he would wear a funny hat) who personifies Ottawa's refusal to support any pro team that's not hockey. It's almost like there's a fear of being exposed as a big small town, not big enough for major pro sports, unable to own is okayness, the way other Canadian cities do with their support of the CFL and such.

"Bring it on," he'd say. "We've buried them all -- the National Lacrosse League, Triple-A Baseball, the Canadian Soccer League, and the CFL, twice. I don't care what they do in other cities, we're not like other cities. How dare they have the audacity to lump us in with all those lesser places such as Montreal, Vancouver and Miami."

Point being, though, Ottawa has to learn to walk before it can run down the pitch. It would be too good to be true if they built something close to the U of Ottawa similar to Saputo Stadium in Montreal -- 12,000-13,000 seats to start, enough field space for football, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Neatye, I am sorry to say that they now seem to be talking about a 3000-5000 seat stadium, and track, on the Sandy Hill arena site. And no stadium there is a strong possibility. This is the reault of public consultations sponsored by Action Sandy Hill, The City, The NCC, and uOttawa.
Too complicated to explain here, but all the documents about the options for this property can be found at

Personally, I think uOttawa should pull out of these talks and build the larger stadium you speak of on their newly acquired Lees Avenue site.


sager said...

Ignorant question: Wouldn't that stadium just be another Terry Fox Field? It has a track and seats about 2,000.

Aside from the Gee-Gees football team playing close to campus (which is important but not the end-all, be-all), this stadium idea doesn't make a lot of sense. We need more soccer fields, but who needs that seating capacity?

sager said...

Sorry to hijack the post ... anyway, yes, Lees Ave. would provide enough room for a USL-worthy pitch.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Neate. the non-university stakeholders--Action sandy Hill in particular are trying to keep a lid on the size. It is NIMBY at work again.

That is why I think uOttawa should pull out of this project and build elsewhere,(Lees AV), and perhaps get USL or MSL soccer as a tenant as well.

sager said...

Duane, Andrew -- dumb question... could you build a soccer stadium that's enclosed at one end (horseshoe-style) and would still have enough room for a Canadian football field?

Duane Rollins said...

The main problem with combining soccer and Canadian football is the size of the endzone. That said, I think you could leave an end open on one side of the stadium, and either have temp seats that can be rolled in and out for soccer, or just have it as a general admission area with a removable fence separating the fans from pitch.

If BMO had been built from the get go as a shared facility you wouldn't see the type of angst you do today about the possibility of having the Argos play there. As it stands, they would need to blow up the south end, which would impact TFC's biggest fans the most.

For the record, I don't see it happening--I suspect it would cost more to renovate BMO than it would to built a similar stadium elsewhere (think the east lakefront as part of a Pan/Ams bid...).

Then the 80,000 seater will have to be built for the NFL and 2024 Olympics... ;)

(talk about post hijacking!)

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Actually, according to my understanding, I think a similar sized field could potentially work for both soccer and Canadian football. Canadian football pitches are 110 yards by 65 yards (with an extra 20 yards on each end in the end zone). According to Wikipedia FIFA considers 110-120 yard by 70-80 yard pitches optimal, so both teams could potentially use the same field: you'd just remove the uprights and locate the soccer goals either on the football goal line or five yards back on each side. The area behind the soccer goals before the stands would be a little larger than normal (15-20 yards), but that isn't a huge deal, and with today's architecture, you could probably even figure out a way to have an extendable section of the stands that only comes out for soccer games. The extra width during soccer games wouldn't be a problem for football, as it requires a more extensive sideline area. There's no inherent conflict that makes a Canadian football stadium unsuitable for soccer (or vice-versa), as the Whitecaps' plan to play in B.C. Place demonstrates.

The problem with this idea, though, is it isn't soccer-specific, which MLS is huge on. The only recent expansion team to get away with using a football stadium is Seattle, and there are many other good reasons for MLS to support that plan (by the way, heard that they plan to have the season-ticketholders vote on the GM?) MLS wants soccer-specific stadiums, and they'll only overlook that if the market is incredibly attractive otherwise, which Ottawa isn't really. However, the USL probably would be okay with a combined stadium.

It makes a lot of sense from a financial perspective to only have one stadium for both sports, as their fields are quite similar, but you might also run into fans of both teams upset by the idea. You also run into the issue of football lines on a soccer pitch, which would annoy soccer supporters. What I think would make a lot of sense would be either finding a way to use removable lines, or having two different sets of turf (in Seattle, they've even taken out the turf and brought in grass for several of the big exhibition soccer games I've been too, so it's quite possible to shift between soccer and football sets). However, that might be an expensive solution for what's really primarily an aesthetic problem.

Anonymous said...

All Melnyk's interest in this does is help Hunt and crew in getting the lower south rebuilt and inflate the MLS expansion price.

I was reading some US soccer fan boards, and they raise a good question: If the MLS was supposed to be the American pro league -- and letting in Toronto was a one-off because there wasn't enough interest in soccer in Canada to form a league-- now that all these Candadian cities are interested in MLS teams, why doesn't Canada form its own league and take TFC with it?

They have a point.

sager said...

Ask the investors in the Canadian Baseball League.

Duane Rollins said...

You gotta stay off Big Soccer. It will make you crazy!

No, but the sad reality of the thing is that the day TFC is put into a Canadian league ids the day the party ends. Rightly or wrongly (and it's mostly wrong) you won't see the same level of support.

That said...

A Canadian division of MLS might work (say eight teams playing a schedule mostly against one another with some cross over to the US MLS divisions. They would operate in a league of their own, but would also cross over to play for the MLS Cup.

It's a long ways off, but I could see that scenario working. But, first let's get Vancouver and Montreal in and Ottawa on its way...

John Edwards said...

It's actually easier for a Canadian Football field to co-exist with soccer than an American field. Because 110 yards is an acceptable length for FIFA, it works out perfectly. The goals are put on the goal line, and the sidelines are drawn slightly wider than the football sidelines (generally to an overall width of 70-75 yards, depending on the field).

What that means is that on a Canadian field, the 6-yard box actually comes out to the 6, the 18-yard-box hits at the 18, and the sidelines are not all that different. On an American field, you have to put the soccer goals five yards deep into the end zone (to get the extra 10 yards required), the other lines are adjusted accordingly, and the sidelines are well off the football field - meaning the football bench areas are part of the soccer pitch.

When I've seen MLS highlights on American football fields, it tends to look pretty crummy (Utah is the worst, IMO), and I can understand that reason why the MLS is desperate for soccer-specific stadia.

In the CFL, I know that Montreal, Hamilton and Calgary's fields have soccer lines on them, as does Frank Clair. (I believe Winnipeg does, too, but I'm not 100% sure.)

Where you run into a problem is that any end zone seats in a soccer game become more than 20 yards away from the pitch. If you wanted to try to combine the two, and put the soccer pitch up against one end of the field (ie the back of the end zone), you would end up with the other goal line at the opposite 20-yard-line (assuming a 110-yard field). This means that a significant portion of the sideline seats at the open end would actually end up behind the soccer goal.

The solution, if someone wanted to try and get the best of both worlds, would be some sort of rollaway end zone bleachers. But I'm not sure how the field underneath (be it plastic or real) would hold up.