Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Home Field Advantage

Toronto FC won again on Wednesday, beating defending champions Houston Dynamo 1-0. Ronnie O'Brien's free-kick headed home by Andy Welsh. (Does two wins in a row count as a streak yet? Probably not.) They've even managed to drag themselves off the bottom of the table -- and their next game, on Saturday, is against last-place DC United.

The game wasn't a sell-out, but they still pulled in more than 19,000 fans for a cold, rainy mid-week match, which I think is pretty impressive. It's very cool seeing a sort of soccer renaissance happen here in Toronto -- I do tend to live in sort of a soccer bubble, but I've been noticing that even the people I know who don't play are talking about the team.

Some other news from the Great White North:

After a long, drawn-out process (did we have to imitate the USMNT in this? bah), Dale Mitchell has been officially appointed as the new head coach of the Canadian senior men's team. He's currently the coach for the U20 side, and he'll remain in charge there for the duration of their World Cup this summer, though, with U17 coach Stephen Hart overseeing the senior team at the Gold Cup.

Cathal Kelly over at the Toronto Star isn't too happy about Mitchell's appointment. His argument, basically, is that they needed to choose a big (or bigger) name to attract more attention from the media and potential fans.

"Canada's men lack that poster-boy player who draws people to him. Jonathan de Guzman might yet be that player, but that's another sad tale. Without that player, we needed someone in charge of the team with a history of success holding out the promise of more to come. We needed someone with foreign experience and the air of mystery....

What Canadian soccer needs even more than top-flight managers or breakthrough players are supporters. There is a woeful snobbery that afflicts the sport in this country, made worse by the casual disdain of the once-every-four-years fan. But those who care should be actively courting those people who enjoy soccer, but don't think much of the Canadian brand."

I'd argue that if you want to draw in supporters, the best way to do that is by putting together some good performances on the pitch. Unless you bring in someone like Jose Mourinho (which, no matter that he seems to have lost the plot recently, is never going to happen), the casual fan isn't going to give a damn about who the manager is. How many of the people at BMO Field had heard of Mo Johnston before he was appointed as TFC coach, do you think? But that matters way less than the team playing well. So if Dale Mitchell can do the same for the Canadian team -- both with the U20s this summer and the senior team after that -- then more power to him.

And speaking of the U20 tournament, FIFA has announced that the final in Toronto on July 22 has already sold out. (Not good news for people like me who've procrastinated about getting tickets.) There are still tickets available for most of the other games, though.

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