Montreal is a soccer city
As much as it pains me to say it, Toronto can take a page from the way Montreal handles their MLS team. Both have a soccer-hungry fanbase, their own stadium and are willing to spend money, so why the widening gap between the sides? This Wednesday, the Impact could win their 8th Voyageurs Cup (update – and they did). It’s time to acknowledge Montreal as Canada’s leading soccer city.
Montreal beat Philadelphia 5-3 on Saturday and are now 16 points ahead of Toronto FC after the Reds limped a 2-0 loss in New England. Toronto have played 12 MLS games, Montreal just 11.
Montreal only joined the league in 2012, and although Toronto had a 5-season head start in MLS, the Impact did have experience running a successful 2nd division team. In 1994, they won the APSL playoffs, the United States’ highest active league at the time (MLS didn’t kick off until 1996). They won the second tier again in 2004, and in 2008 they beat out Toronto to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, where over 55 000 came out for the quarterfinal at Olympic Stadium. Now that they’re established in MLS, the gulf in class between the Impact and Toronto has never been more apparent.
Patrice Bernier, a Canadian international midfielder, has been a big part of the club’s success this season. His cheering section at Saputo Stadium has been around since he first turned out there for Canada in the 2008 World Cup qualifiers, but it was more family and friends back then – he was sent off in a 2-1 group stage loss to Honduras that Canada never recovered from. Teammate Julian de Guzman was seen as the better midfielder at the time, but the idea of either coming back to play for their local clubs seemed a distant prospect.
De Guzman was convinced to join Toronto in 2009, but ultimately failed to impress and was shipped to Dallas for Andrew Wiedeman last summer. Bernier came to Montreal for their first MLS season last year and has been an inspiration. It’s not clear why he’s thrived in his hometown while de Guzman couldn’t. With the benefit of hindsight, things might not have been set up to succeed in Toronto – the club were so desperate to get their man they overpaid the Scarborough native, and de Guzman’s designated player salary ended up creating jealousy within the locker room.
As a Toronto fan, it’s nothing new to have to adjust to another season of failure, but what’s particularly galling is seeing your nearest rivals waltz into the league and start pushing for the Supporters’ Shield in only their second season. It might be simplistic to say, but the truth is that Montreal has soccer people running their club, while Toronto has Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment running theirs. Every year there’s another coaching overhaul at BMO Field, and every year there’s hope for a team worthy of our city’s support. Sadly, they haven’t shown that so far in 2013 – and we would do well to take a page from the old enemy up Highway 401.
Agree/disagree with Scott’s take? Join the discussion below.