For all you footy lovers in the city, this past weekend was an historical one and not just for the obvious reason you believe. First and foremost was Toronto FC’s 4-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls which earned them their first ever Supporters Shield. Winning the MLS League title is a huge accomplishment that many felt might never come after so many poor performances in their 11 year history. That is the second major trophy (Canada Cup was the first) that TFC has won this year and that leaves just the MLS cup as the final trophy left in the treble.
But BMO field wasn’t the only place where soccer history was made this weekend. The following day another historical breakthrough took place that saw the Canadian Men’s Arena Soccer team play their very first game. The friendly match versus Mexico took place in Mississauga at the Hershey Centre. It was just a coincidence that the final score was also 4-2, but unfortunately it was in favour of the visitors.
The Mexican team getting instructions during a timeout.
The best way to describe the sport of arena soccer is that obviously it is based on the outdoor version of football but it does apply aspects from other sports. There are some basketball nuances such as the game being 4 quarters (except 15 minutes each) and fans are really close to the action as well. From Canada’s favourite sport of hockey the similarities are that each team lines up with 5 players and a goalie; teams are also allowed to change on the fly and yes, they even have penalties. I was quite eager to see how everything would all unfold.
For those that are quick to say that Arena Soccer isn’t “football” you are right, it isn’t. That does not mean however it is any less good or any less exciting. Before the ball dropped there appeared to be about 2000 people in attendance. There was no announced number, but I think my estimate might be conservative as the 5000 seat arena seemed to be a little less than half full.
Mexico got off to a good start as they clearly showed their skill and teamwork having played together for much longer. Canadian teams are always tenacious and they held on as best they could. Just before the end of the first quarter however, the visitors scored. Mexico got its second goal on the power play after Canada got a boarding penalty. Yep, you heard that correctly although elbowing would have also been a fair call. Typically Canadian eh? Canada did show some signs in that first half but they didn’t seem to use the boards or each other as well as the Mexicans did. The news didn’t get better for the home team after the break either as they gave up another 2 goals in the 3rd to be down 4-0 heading into the last quarter.
Despite the score, the crowd was still into the match and trying to urge their team on. With 11 minutes to go in the game, Ian Bennett finally gave them something to cheer about as he registered Canada’s first ever goal. Bennett plays for the Milwaukee Wave in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) where he has won 2 championships and also finished last season with the second most points in the league.
The crowd was just settling back into their seats when defender Bartolomeu deked around one player, side-stepped to his left and fired a bullet into the top corner. Canada was back in it as they were now down 4-2. The team had found their confidence after that shaky start and the fans went even crazier than before. Canada kept the pressure on and had several excellent chances to get within a goal but Mexico did not budge any further and that is how the game ended.
There was very good reason as to why this friendly match took place when it did and where it did. Despite giving the Canadians some much needed experience, it was also to help promote the sport. The MASL has teams in the United States and Mexico and starting in 2018, Canada will also be included as Toronto will have a team. They will play out of the very same Hershey Centre and there will be a press conference on October 12th to provide more detailed information. Hopefully what that means is that I can stop referring to this new team I am excited about as “they.”
From watching the people around me after the game, trying to get selfies and signatures with the players, I sincerely doubt I was the only one excited. The fan experience is quite unique. You are as close to the action as possible and for those that are not behind plexiglass, I strongly suggest paying attention at all times. Players battling along the boards close enough that you can touch them. The game is played at considerable pace and requires athletes to have speed, skill, stamina and they must have great reactionary instincts.
After getting a taste of this sport, I love the fact that the GTA will host a team and I am also excited that there is a World Indoor Soccer Championships to be held in Mexico in 2018.
What a wonderful time to be part of Toronto sports as starting next year we will have live professional soccer all year long and that my dear friends, truly is historical.
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