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The View from the North: Changing the culture

Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan strikes the ball during the U.S.' 2-1 win over Canada on June 30. The two teams meet again on June 2 in Toronto, but the rivalry is one-sided. (Photo Copyright: Patti Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

A great rivalry generally has to be two-sided. When one team constantly beats the other it’s hard for both sides to equally get up for the game.

And, so it is when the United States plays Canada in women’s football. After all, it’s been more than a decade since Canada has managed to get the best of the USA and they have only ever managed to win on three occasions.

The Americans have won 44 times with five draws. So, it’s a little one sided.

One of those 44 wins came in the Olympic semifinal last year. If you listened only to the narrative north of the border you might be surprised by that. In Canada the 4-3 loss in Manchester is viewed as a moral victory and is the focus of much of the marketing around the June 2 rematch at Toronto’s BMO Field that was announced yesterday.

It will be the first game on Canadian soil that the Canadian women have played since they won the bronze medal at the Olympics and it will be a test of the staying power that the unexpected win had on the general soccer community.

The Canadian Soccer Association has a lot riding on the continued success and popularity of the women so it was no surprise that they chose the Americans for the homecoming. As much as the rivalry may be one-sided to the Americans, it is the prime focus of the Canadians.

There is no team on earth that the players or fans want to beat more than the USA. When the game kicks-off on June 2 the crowd will be engaged and loud. More importantly to the CSA, it will be partisan and hostile to the Stars and Stripes.

“We are excited to give Canadian supporters the chance to express their support and celebrate this Women’s Team that captured the nation’s admiration during the Summer Olympic Games,” said Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the CSA.

Women’s soccer has struggled to attract crowds in Canada over the years. There have been exceptions – the 2002 u19 final in Edmonton being the most notable (that drew 47,784 fans). However, by and large there just are not enough women’s soccer fans to fill stadiums consistently.

The problem with that is that the CSA needs to fill six stadiums for a month in a little more than two years time when it hosts the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. To do that they will need to reach beyond the niche crowd that prefers the women’s game and tap into general soccer fans. Many, sadly, still remain unconvinced by the female game, which they view as less exciting than even a lower level of men’s game.

There are some that believe that part of that perception is molded by the way that women’s games are experienced in-stadium. In the past, women’s crowds have been less rowdy, more polite than your typical crowd at a men’s game. Fans that have sang or tried to cheer against opposing players were stared down by those that viewed such cheering as unsporting.

Things changed last January in Vancouver when the B.C. city hosted the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.  Led by members of the Vancouver Whitecaps supporter’s group, The Southsiders, the Canadians were supported by a loud and decidedly partisan bunch. The women ate it up and used it as inspiration to motivate them as they went on to take the first step towards their eventual bronze medal.

The excitement in the crowd also helped to build momentum for the event and excitement about the team by fans. It’s a formula that the CSA will be looking to build on as it begins the process of selling 2015.

Some fans of women’s soccer may be disappointed by a move away from what they consider a more civilized way to experience the sport.

That feeling is misguided. So long as fans understand where the lines of civility lie (and most do) then there is no reason that world class female athletes should not be cheered for – and against – in the same way that their male peers are.

That’s something that the CSA seems to understand.

Notes: The Voyageurs (Canada’s equivalent to the USA’s American Outlaws) is using the game to launch its “Mission 2015” campaign. That campaign will drum up support for the women ahead of the World Cup. They have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/297939663665554/?notif_t=plan_user_joined

Tickets for the game will go on sale March 22, with special deals for groups of 10 or more.

Duane Rollins is the managing editor of the Canadian Soccer News and a columnist for theScore’s Counter Attack blog. He’s covered the Canadian national teams of both genders since 2002. He encourages feedback via email at duanegrollins@gmail.com, or on Twitter @24thminute.

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