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The View from the North: Growing division in WoSo crowds

The South End of BMO Field was filled with passionate Canada fans. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

There is evidence that racial slurs were directed at Sydney Leroux through social media platforms. Such behavior is clearly unacceptable and those “fans” should be held accountable for those actions. This column is not about racist behaviour, however, as there is no evidence of it occurring at BMO Field Sunday, nor is Leroux claiming that it did. Rather, the column is focused on the booing and other targeted insults that were directed at Leroux, as well as the reaction to it of her and fans.

There was a lot to like about Sunday afternoon’s international friendly between the United States and Canada in Toronto.

There were nearly 22,000 people, many young girls cheering on their heroes, excited and engaged with a women’s soccer game.

The contest had the type of edge that you’d expect from a derby game anywhere in the world – after the match U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said there was “a proper soccer crowd” at the game and called it “great for the women’s game.”

[MORE: Morgan scores twice as USA beats Canada 3-0 in Toronto]

It featured a breakout performance from 17-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan, who managed to shut American star Abby Wambach down for much of the game.

Additionally, two world class finishes from Alex Morgan gave the crowd something to appreciate, if not to cheer for.

And then there was Sydney Leroux.

Leroux, for those just returning from a two-year trek to the South Pole, is a Canadian-born, but U.S. playing forward of considerable skill. At one point in her youth career, she played for Canada. She left the Canadian system because, in her words, she felt that she would develop better in the American system. Others believe there was more to the story.

It hardly matters why now. The bottom line is she had the ability to leave and she did so. She’s an American when it comes to the soccer pitch. Period, end of story.

However, there was a consequence to her decision – she’s not viewed kindly by a large percentage of Canadian fans. And, some of those fans express their dislike for Leroux in ways that some find offensive.

[MORE: Leroux says she was victim of racism at 2012 Olympic qualifying in Vancouver]

On Sunday, Leroux was booed every time she touched the ball and was the target of a great deal of crude insults. There is video that shows several fans in the Canadian supporter’s section giving Leroux the finger and in which a profane word for females can be heard directed at her.

Leroux had the last laugh Sunday, scoring a garbage time goal before shushing the crowd in a celebration that earned her a yellow card.

Moral indignation followed from both sides of the border.

Many Canadians felt that Leroux’s celebration was crass and classless. She was born in Canada, after all, and does maintain deep roots in the country. It’s been suggested that she should have had a restrained celebration, similar to what you often see when a player scores against their former team.

Americans argued that the Canadians got what they deserved as they were the ones acting classless. There was a lot of teeth gashing about what is proper fan etiquette at a women’s international.

This space is not about to make an argument about what side is right, as what passport you hold will likely determine your opinion. However, there is a debate about whether the Canadian crowd was “spirited” or “classless” that does illustrate a debate that is going to become increasingly more common in women’s football.

That is, what type of audience does the female side of the sport want to see in the stadiums?

There are a great deal – like, it appears, coach Sermanni – who believe that the women’s game would benefit from the type of passionate and, at times, rowdy crowd that we saw Sunday. They believe that that type of atmosphere builds excitement and draws more fans to the games.

However, there is another type of fan that believes that a women’s crowd should aspire to a higher standard. They believe that a crowd should be supportive of the home team, rather than try and intimidate the away side. The spirit of sportsmanship and cooperation that has been common in women’s football over the years is what attracted them to the sport in the first place and they do not want to lose that quality.

The former group views the latter as wanted to sanitize the game. The latter views the former as trying to make the women’s game an imitation of the worst elements of the men’s.

As the NWSL grows and as the women’s game gains more mainstream popularity this conflict is only going to grow. What side of the debate to you fall on?

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