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Canada's head coach Stephen Hart talks to his player Julian de Guzman (L) before their international friendly soccer match against the U.S. in Toronto June 3, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Canada's head coach Stephen Hart talks to his player Julian de Guzman (L) before their international friendly soccer match against the U.S. in Toronto June 3, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

World Cup Qualifying

Canadians love affair with national soccer team growing Add to ...

The 2014 World Cup finals may still be a long way off – and Canada’s participation in that tournament remains a big question mark despite a solid start to qualifying – but the country’s appetite for the national team is on the rise.

A 0-0 draw with Honduras last Tuesday gives Canada four points after two games in this penultimate stage of qualifying, but though coach Stephen Hart was disappointed at the two points dropped, he was very enthused at the support from the 16,132 who turned out to see the team in action.

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“The crowd was fantastic,” Hart said after the game, and it is seems that is increasingly becoming the norm. The match marked the sixth consecutive home game in which Canada has drawn more than 10,000 fans, a first in the Canadian Soccer Association’s 100-year history. From 2008 to 2012, Canada has now drawn 10,000 or more fans to 11 of its 12 home matches, which have all been played in either Toronto, Montreal or Edmonton.

While the Trinidad and Tobago native credits the CSA and uniform provider Umbro, a subsidiary of Nike, for their promotion work, he also believes the addition of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact to Major League Soccer over the last two years has played a large role in the increased interest.

“There’s a new sort of fan base due to the Canadian-based MLS teams and that fan base is spilling over to the national team,” he said of a contingent which, alongside Canada’s original MLS team, Toronto FC, now stands at three.

While Hart acknowledges that a continued spell of good results will be crucial to keep the run of success at the turnstiles growing, he also knows that the real explosion in home support will only occur if and when Canada punches its ticket for Brazil and qualifies for just its second World Cup finals.

“This is a very different time period than 1986,” he said of the last time this nation competed in the planet’s biggest sporting event. “1986 had a huge impact but the game now, due to globalization, is bigger than ever before and it would just completely change what happens in Canada.

“Whether it means that we get our own professional league or not – which is badly needed and I don’t think will happen in the near future – it will certainly raise a lot of discussion on if that is possible.”

But that is a discussion for another day. For now Hart and his players get to go back to their clubs – or on vacation for those playing for European-based clubs – until the national team reunites in September for a crucial home-and-home series against Panama, which leads the World Cup qualifying group after back-to-back wins.

Canada will likely need six or seven points from its remaining four games to ensure it advances into the final group of six nations – likely to include regional powers such as the United States and Mexico – from which the top three will qualify for Brazil, with the fourth-place team facing a two-game playoff against the top team from the Oceania region.

 
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