Opinion Column

BEAUTIFUL GAME: What a game…the best ever…historic!

By Phil Cottrell, Daily Observer

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
 Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC and teammates celebrate with the Eastern Conference Trophy following the MLS Eastern Conference Final, Leg 2 game against Montreal Impact at BMO Field on Nov. 30 in Toronto.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC and teammates celebrate with the Eastern Conference Trophy following the MLS Eastern Conference Final, Leg 2 game against Montreal Impact at BMO Field on Nov. 30 in Toronto.

After 90 minutes of widely exciting action all 36,000 fans stood many of them soaking wet, having witnessed Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact draw level on aggregate score with TFC winning 3-2 on the night but tying 5-5 in total as Montreal had won by the same score, 3-2 in Olympic stadium earlier on the first leg of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference

final. So then it was two 15-minute halves of extra time (no sudden death) and many have since said they had never seen atmosphere like it before at BMO Field, in fact one TV sports commentator who lives some two kilometres from the stadium said he could hear the noise in his living room. It was said that this game rivalled anything you might see in a top European soccer final. It was a classic, it was spell binding. The Reds, that is Toronto FC, scored twice winning the 30 minutes of extra time 2-0 with a couple of absolute dynamite headers to lift the Eastern Championship Cup. So many faithful TFC fans had waited more than 10 years to see this occur and it was amazing how those 36,000 fans were taken on a roller-coaster ride of emotion throughout the 120 minutes of this match. Anticipation. Shock. Joy. Letdown. And finally, Jubilation. The second leg of the Eastern final against the Montreal Impact had it all. And now it is biggest prize of all, a shot at the MLS Cup on home turf on Dec. 10 against the Seattle Sounders. Even the mayor of Toronto has tweeted his excitement.

What a match! There was continual non-stop action, edge of the seat stuff…every pass, every build up was electrifying, there was great pin point accuracy passing, and for me, and for many it was the most exciting game I have watched in years.

At the very start of the match there was a moment of silence to honour the tragic deaths of the Chapecoense soccer team. Then it was the national anthem, where the singer stopped singing the whole middle section of O Canada which was left entirely for the fans to sing, who, in fine style, raised the roof. It was by far the biggest game of many of the player’s careers, and although it was TFC which was victorious, it always takes two teams to make a great match and in that respect full credit should go to the Montréal Impact. What joy for the fans as well as the TFC players who after the game ran over to the Southside and joined the fans in the magnificent Icelandic hand clap.

One of our messages was: there was no way, no chance, no how we were going to get outcompeted tonight, in front of our fans, in our stadium,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said following the game.

The grounds crew had three days to repair a ripped up football final field, from the Grey Cup into a ready-to-go soccer final field for the TFC match. There was excellent front page coverage of the game in the Globe and Mail the next day, but as usual none in the Ottawa Citizen, although in all fairness there was an article the following day but it did not really review the match. I really don’t know why some media go out of their way to ignore soccer.

TFC captain Michael Bradley said he dropped off his son at school the morning of the game and he swore that every kid, and some of the parents were all wearing TFC gear.

Truly the game had everything. It had the unpredictability of lead changes that doesn't always happen with top soccer. It had a physicality that you sometimes don’t even see on NHL hockey rinks these days. Hello, hockey fans…oh, well never mind then...It had TFC’s renowned fan base operating at a raucous and unbelievable deafening new level in the pouring rain.

And just as it had big-moment performances from big expensive stars, specifically Toronto’s Jozy Altidore, who provided his fifth goal in five playoff games, and Sebastian Giovinco, who set up Altidore’s goal, and it even had an unlikely hero. Benoit Cheyrou, the 35-year-old substitute who came into the game during extra time to replace the hobbled Giovinco and scored what turned out to be the Eastern Conference-clinching goal on his first touch.

 

TV numbers

The match attracted another record-breaking TV audience. It was great TV, and data from Numeris confirms that an average audience of 1.4 million viewers watched the match, breaking the record for Canada’s most-watched MLS game in history. The TV audience of 1.4 million peaked at 3.6 million and this is very favourable when you look at the Grey Cup which although a lot bigger was 3.6 million and peaked at 5.6 million according to Numeris. However if you factor in the amount of totally crushing, overbearing and unbelievably overwhelming hype from all media sources that went with the Grey Cup it makes the TFC/Impact numbers even more impressive.

Aside from the fact you’d like to be there, it was a fantastic advertisement for the game in Canada,” said Bob Lenarduzzi, the president of the Vancouver Whitecaps, in talking to the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

 

And now for the final

BMO Field and a good number of bars will be rocking tonight at 8 p.m. like never before. The MLS Cup final will pit TFC against the Seattle Sounders. It is a one-game winner-take-all match. If the two teams are tied after 90 minutes, they will play two 15-minute halves of added extra time. If the deadlock has not been broken the 2016 MLS Cup will be decided by penalty kicks.

 

Are you kidding me… all tickets sold out in three minutes!?

For tonight’s final Ticketmaster prices were ranging from $45 to $325. On ticket reseller StubHub, seats were priced from $275 up to $1,129. If you blinked at the wrong moment early last Monday afternoon, you might have missed the chance to secure a seat at this weekend’s MLS Cup final in Toronto.

Tickets to Major League Soccer’s championship match Saturday night sold out three minutes after they went on sale to the general public at 1 p.m. Monday! There will be a larger-than-usual crowd of 36,000 fans thanks to temporary seating installed in the south end prior to the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup game earlier this month. If that had happened in any another major sport it would have made headlines everywhere!

 

As huge as playoff hockey?

According to the Toronto Star the only Toronto-based events this year that solicited more demand were the NBA All-Star Game and dunk contest in February; no regular season Raptors game last season garnered as much interest.

This Saturday’s game is doing so well it’s getting into Leafs territory. According to the company, the demand is in line with the most in-demand Leafs’ playoff game during the 2013 series against the Boston Bruins!

 

USL and ASL

It is an ongoing saga with the future of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and what its future might be. Every day brings more and more rumours on social media (for what that is worth). We hear that the NASL is down to only four clubs, the NASL will fold into the United Soccer League (USL), the NASL has some new potential clubs to join its league and is far from dead, the New York Cosmos are folding, The New York Cosmos could be bought by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim the seventh wealthiest man in the world (actually he used to be #1, but is now seventh with a net worth of merely $50 billion US). It goes on and on the Ottawa Fury FC will become a farm team to the Montreal Impact with the Impact’s reserve team FC Montreal folding, the USL may or may not be granted second division status, nothing can happen to any Canadian soccer club anyway without the Canadian Soccer Association’s approval and so on ad-nauseam. By the time this column appears in print there could well be further developments.

There seems be all sorts of meetings and discussions taking place and it is quite possible that we could see a unified USL Second Division in 2017 and beyond, as more NASL teams are reportedly looking at a shift to USL. It has also been suggested that the USL could achieve second division status with another rumour that the USL itself will divide into A and B divisions. There's no doubt USL has some significant momentum, with markets like Cincinnati and Louisville leading to serious growth at the box office. With the addition of Reno, Tampa Bay and Ottawa for the 2017 season and Nashville for 2018, that growth could well continue.

I was reading an interesting article from “The Guardian” and although it was on the subject of “Brexit” it occurred to me that it could apply to any situation including sports, as at least some of the clubs are currently having the intestinal fortitude to conduct press conferences. Because to quote the Guardian “Another lesson might be that if you leave people in almost complete ignorance of what your main objectives actually are, they will fill the vacuum with whatever nonsense comes along.” Sports Organizations might want to consider that.

 

The Ottawa Fury

With all the convolutions, convulsions, leaks and hearsay going on with the NASL and the USL it does appear that the Ottawa Fury did indeed make the correct move in going over to the USL. In addition to league stability, there could be some economic wins in terms of league fees, travelling and other costs. In all of this, however, there is also the spectre of the Canadian Professional League, the CPL, which now seems to be quite viable and one possible scenario could see the Fury playing in the USL for two years, and then, after assessing the success or otherwise of the CPL, perhaps making a move into the new CPL in 2019. Who knows? At the end of the day a Canadian professional soccer league really is the best way to go. However the question remains as what will be the quality of play and players in such a league. The presence of a professional league in Canada enhances the possibility of attracting the big one, that is the World Cup, or at best, and probably more likely, co-hosting a World Cup in the future.

 

A great move.

Brazilian club Chapecoense have been named 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions by the South American FIFA Federation CONMEBOL after losing 19 of their players in a plane crash as they travelled to the tournament's final on Nov. 28. There was a huge outpouring of support from thousands of football clubs and fans from around the world. Incredible emotion…very sad.

Remember, whatever your sport, to win the game is great, to play the game is greater, but to love the game is the greatest of all. And the greatest game is played by more than 250 million players in 200 countries. So, be part of the soccer fan base worldwide, 3.5 billion and counting! Also, remember, support local soccer! If you have any comments on the beautiful game please contact me at cottrell@nrtco.net or call 613-587-4856.