Friday, June 19, 2009

The Infamous Book of Unwritten Rules

People have tried to put together lists of unwritten rules for various sports ever since the term came into sports culture. Writing a list of unwritten rules (ignore the obvious irony) has often sparked serious debate among those involved in sports over what should be expected of athletes, coaches, fans, the front office and owners in specific situations. These rules and controversies vary from sport to sport, but in team sports there is one that is generally universally excepted.

If you're playing in a game that is useless for you, but means something for your opponents and other teams in the league, you play a full squad.

If you don't know which event I'm talking about yet, last night Toronto FC won the Voyageurs Cup after beating a Montreal "B" squad 6-1. Toronto went into the game needing at least a four goal win to prevent Vancouver from taking home the Voyageurs Cup. Montreal had lost every game in the tournament up to this point and had nothing at stake (except the apparently irrelevant factors of dignity and pride).

Last night's performance from the Montreal Impact showed a lack of respect for the Voyageurs Cup, and Canadian soccer. Montreal's 2008 Voyageurs Cup victory was considered by many supporters to be their greatest moment in club history. It also became the stepping stone for a successful CONCACAF Champions League run in which the Impact played a quarterfinal in front of 55,000 people at the Big O. Just to put this in perspective on average there are two sporting events in Canada every year that attract this type of audience, the Grey Cup and the Blue Jay's home opener. After Montreal realized the potential that winning the Voyageurs Cup presents one would have thought they would have shown more respect to the other two teams in the competition by playing a full squad.

This disrespect for the competition was not one shared by Vancouver in 2008, in fact Vancouver played a big part in helping Montreal win the tournament. They beat Toronto 1-0 at BMO Field, then tied Toronto 2-2 at Swangard, giving Montreal an opportunity to close out the tournament against Toronto which they did. Vancouver played these games after they had lost both their opening games to Montreal, which essentially eliminated them from the competition. Vancouver was apparently wrong in assuming that Montreal would have remembered this favour.

Even if these factors weren't evident, even if this match had been a useless friendly the prospect of a Toronto-Montreal match should have been enough to yield a full line up from both of these teams. These two cities share a rich history of sports rivalries with the Habs and the Leafs, as well as the Argos and the Alouettes. This rivalry between the Impact and Toronto FC seemed to be shaping up nicely, but Marc De Santos, the Impact coach, seems to have deemed that games against the likes of Miami and Austin to be more important.

Now maybe De Santos believed the team he put out against Toronto had the ability to beat them, or at least hold them to a three goal win. If this is true then he was well in his right to send out a team that could benefit from the experience, while maintaining the competition's integrity. It would have been evident at 3-1 that Toronto had some chance of pulling off this improbable victory. Maybe it took until 4-1, but eventually it would have been obvious that Toronto was in with a shout. So why not bring on the array of talent available on the bench to calm the match down a little if nothing else. Team MVP Sandro Grande, the team's top forward Roberto Brown, and young Canadian standout defender Alex Surprenant, were all on the bench to start the match. They were all still there after the ninety minutes were up.

With all this being said, last night obviously was an embarrassing night for the Impact, a disappointing night for Vancouver, but before anyone says that last night was bad for the competition, look again. It was by far the most drama that this Nutrilite Canadian Championship tournament has provided. The football Toronto played last night was not only entertaining, but a display of some of the best quality they've shown in a long time. In the final game of the Canadian Championship, the man who really lifted Toronto to the Cup was a Canadian, Dwayne DeRosario, who scored the first ever hat trick in Toronto FC history. Most importantly the biggest club in terms of fan support, media attention, and cash is going to the CONCACAF Champions League which can only mean more exposure for footy in Canada.

[Cross-posted to The Canadian Stretford End]

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