While I’m still coming to grips with the fact Champions League qualifying rounds began today, the Guardian’s John Doyle is awfully impressed by Toronto’s first season in MLS, declaring “this is one city that doesn’t need David Beckham to sell soccer.”
Toronto FC, in existence for mere months and labouring through its first season at the bottom of the Eastern Conference of the MLS (tied, mind you, with Chicago Fire and with more points than the LA Galaxy), is an instant hit. BMO Field holds 20,000 people and every game is sold out. Yep, even the game against Real Salt Lake. There are 14,000 season ticket holders. After the first home game, every single Toronto FC scarf was sold out; they can’t keep the merchandise coming fast enough to the FC store. Long before Beckham had been lured to the MLS, some genius figured that Toronto was soccer heaven in North America. All you had to do was build a stadium, create a team and show up. They were right.
Oh sure, like everyone across Canada and the US, we were impressed that Beckham was coming. But this is The Great White North. We are not America. We’re different here. We have our own kind of heroes. Here, we know Beckham’s supposed to be a beauty and all, but he’s no Danny Dichio. Danny’s our kind of guy. I spoof you not. Danny Dichio. The gangly, shaven-headed, former Sunderland and Preston striker who’s all elbows and enthusiasm. In Toronto, he’s a God.
In other MLS cities soccer barely registers. Here, there was immediate fanaticism. Nobody had to explain to the offspring of Italian and Portuguese immigrants – or those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Poland …keep going until you’ve got the most ethnically diverse city mix imaginable – what to do at a game and how to enjoy it.
As I write this, Toronto FC is in a major slump. The team has gone 462 minutes without scoring a goal. Dichio and five other first-choice starters have been injured for weeks. Still, the momentum hasn’t stopped. The faithful are truly faithful and fanatical and the atmosphere is electric. This is real. The only thing that’s artificial here is the turf. David Beckham, who are ya?