I am exploring the Ottawa MLS in detail today here and at The 24th Minute.
Part 1: Can it work?
Ottawa. It still causes Canadian soccer fans to wonder. Where did its MLS bid come from? How is it possible, however remotely, that Ottawa – Ottawa? – could find itself in MLS prior to Montreal or Vancouver, two established soccer markets.
American fans are left to wonder where Ottawa is. The whys don’t concern them because they don’t rate Ottawa as having any chance whatsoever in the expansion race. We’ll touch on that question in another post, but for now let’s evaluate the bid from a Canadian perspective.
If you are familiar with the long standing Canadian tradition of (crapping) on anyone that tries to get ahead in the world, you won’t be surprised that there are Canadians that look at the Ottawa bid with scorn. There is a “how dare you” feel to much of the criticism. Vancouver fans feel that they represent the “soul” of Canadian soccer culture, Montreal fans are frustrated by the MLS snubbing the Impact’s bid (in their mind it was the MLS that snubbed it, not Impact snubbing MLS) and see an Ottawa MLS team as the likely death of their dream.
But when you get past the irrational stuff, there is a deeper felt feeling that causes Canadian soccer fans to dismiss Ottawa’s bid. Fear. Many in Canada are terrified that Ottawa would be granted a team and it would be a disaster, drawing flies for a couple of years before slinking off to St. Louis never to be spoke of again.
Those fears are based on Ottawa’s history as a pro sports market and, likely, long-standing soccer inferiority complex. We simply can’t believe that it’s possible that the sport has turned the corner and is heading straight ahead towards the mainstream. In Toronto, we can buy it (what with all those flags on cars during the World Cup), but in Ottawa? It's just a tad bit maple syrup.
Since the bid was announced, I’ve tried to speak to as many Ottawa friends as I can. I too had a hard time believing that the interest was there. Although many of those that I speak to are a bit iffy on the possibilities , they don’t discount the possibility of it working. If it’s marketed positively and run professionally, the city will likely buy in. Ottawa isn’t beyond showing a little civic pride, they argue.
The thing is, when Toronto came into the league many of the same fears were expressed. Although no one doubted that there was enough soccer fans in T.O. it was suggested that those fans wouldn’t come out to support “second rate” soccer. Hell, I called Toronto’s Fan 590 one spring day in 2006 to talk about those fears. I told the host that I worried that this would be the last chance for the domestic game to succeed. In moments of weakness I’ll admit I wasn’t hopeful.
Then, seemingly out of the blue for those that had followed Canadian soccer for years, came the Red Patch Boys. Made up for the most part by guys and gals that fell in love with the game in College Street pubs during the World Cup, the RPB was that missing something that older supporters had dreamed of finding for years. For long-standing U-Sector/Voyageur types it was like when Galileo and Scaramouche discovered the Bohemians in We Will Rock You.
Oh my God there are others like us. They do exist!
The key for Ottawa is to find its Red Patch Boys – or maybe for Ottawa’s RPBs to find each other. And that can’t happen until there is a team.
If that happens it can mean nothing but good things for Canadian soccer.
Next up – why MLS should want Ottawa.