By Avry Lewis-McDougall
1976 and 1981. Two important years in Canadian soccer history. They mark the last time a team from Toronto and a team from Edmonton won a top flight soccer league title in North America. In 1976, Toronto Metros-Croatia knocked off the Minnesota Kicks 3-0 to claim their first NASL (1968-84) title in the Soccer Bowl. In 1981, the Edmonton Drillers became the first and only Canadian team to win an NASL indoor league title by beating the Chicago Sting in two games.
It’s been a long time for coming for two pro franchises in Canadian soccer who for most of their existence struggled to put together sustained success and in the past 12 months have had a 180 of their franchise fortunes in the form of Toronto FC of MLS and the NASL’s FC Edmonton.
Last year saw TFC make the playoffs for the first time while the Eddies are entering their first year of the post season in 2016. It’s fitting that in two cities which are hockey mad, two of the most compelling Canadian on pitch soccer stories of the year are happening in these cities.
Sebastian Giovinco has helped re-imagine perception of TFC not just in MLS but around the soccer world. If you remember until 2015 the Reds were the only team in MLS history to never have played in a playoff game. Even the moribund now defunct Chivas USA side had been to the playoffs before Toronto FC.
I’ve also said it before that the image of MLS as an old folks home for European stars was incredibly strong would hopefully start to drift away once Giovinco came from Juventus to Toronto and had success. On Canadian soil, the Atomic Ant has 39 goals and 31 assists. Not too shabby. One might say he’s been a bloody big…ok I’ll stop myself right there.
Long time names to North American footy such as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have been contributing to this club and Canadians such as Tosaint Rickets and Jonathan Osorio have already started to become folk heroes in the city with the latter striking in last week’s knockout round playoff win vs the Philadelphia Union in front of a boisterous BMO Field crowd. That still sounds surreal to say. A Toronto FC home game in the playoffs.
If you’ve been watching this team since 2007 it must have felt like ripping a Harambe sized gorilla off of your backs. Kids getting a chance to see TFC in the playoffs seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago.
After going through what seemed like almost 30 coaches, Greg Vanney has taken TFC out of the wilderness although it wasn’t always an easy road, Toronto ended the regular season with a record of 14-11-9 with 53 points, good enough for their best finish in franchise history. Remember the calls to have him fired?
Out west, FC Edmonton and their rabid fans have enjoyed a year in which they finished 3rd in the Spring and with one game left to go currently are 3rd in the Fall season and have a combined regular season mark of 15-8-8, by far their best in franchise history.
This year Daryl Fordyce in his fourth season has lead the team in scoring with seven goals while Matt Van Oekel in his 2nd season as the starting keeper has been phenomenal in net for the Eddies as his 16 clean sheets lead the NASL and he’s only behind Miami’s Mario Daniel Vega when it comes to saves.
Amidst all the turmoil surrounding the future of not just themselves (Edmonton averages just under 3000 fans a game at Clark Stadium but it’s the most intense crowd of just under 3000 you will EVER hear in Edmonton believe me I’ve experienced it) but the entire North American Soccer League as a whole, FC Edmonton has been one of the the great stories to come out of the league this year as Colin Miller’s men look to make history.
In their semi final playoff match up on November 5th with take on the Indy Eleven for the right to move on to play in the Soccer Bowl and will even have an event known as the Winter City Footy Fest in Downtown Edmonton for all ages to come down and watch the game on a big screen along with plenty of family activities and live music.
The first pro outdoor team in Edmonton to last more than a year since the Edmonon Brickmen of the late 80s and early 90s want the city to get fired up for what could be quite the run. 1976 and 1981. Two years which by December could finally be put to bed.
There’s still a lot to decide but for both franchises, but it’s safe to say the Canadian game is even better with both of these sides having league success. Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa have had this success, and now with all five pro teams about to have playoff experience, here’s to an even brighter pro soccer future in this nation.