ALSO ON SLAM!
Tuesday, May 30, 2000
Canada gets home feeling
Varsity Stadium has long been considered a house of horrors by Canada's men's soccer team.
Besides the dungeon-like locker rooms and crumbling bleachers, the national team rarely has enjoyed home-field advantage at the aging Toronto sports landmark.
But one game this past weekend may have been enough to change that perception.
Canada's 1-0 exhibition win over Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday before a lively pro-Canada crowd of almost 9,000 has given coach Holger Osieck a renewed affection for the delapidated facility.
Osieck, amazed by all the flag waving and drum beating throughout the match, said yesterday he would give serious consideration to playing some of Canada's World Cup qualifying matches at Varsity.
"After my experience on Saturday, I am thinking we should play there," said Osieck, whose team takes on Honduras in a friendly tonight at Winnipeg. "The support we received from the fans was wonderful."
The previous World Cup qualifier played by Canada at Varsity was in 1993 against Mexico. More than 21,000 fans showed up but the majority cheered for the Mexicans.
Canada lost that game 2-1 and eventually failed to advance to the 1994 World Cup. The Canadian Soccer Association vowed at the time it never would return to Varsity for a World Cup qualifier.
However, last Saturday's friendly -- the first for Canada since winning the prestigious Gold Cup in February -- may have been enough to sway CSA officials to return.
"For once, I felt Canada was the home team," CSA president Jim Fleming said. "It was a very pleasant experience."
Canada begins its World Cup qualifying quest with a home-and-away series against Cuba, starting Sunday at Havana. The return game is on June 11 at Winnipeg.
Should Canada get past Cuba and into the semi-final round of Football Confederation (formerly CONCACAF) qualifying, it would have three home games this year.
While Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium is tentatively scheduled to play host to the July 16 qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, the facility is being reconfigured for the 2001 world track and field championships and the pitch may not be available.
If that is the case, Winnipeg's 10,000-seat Soccer Complex, tiny Swanguard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., and Varsity are the only other viable options.
While Varsity is scheduled to be torn down, it likely won't happen until early 2002. That means the stadium will be available for soccer this summer and next.
The only knock against Varsity is that only half the stadium -- close to 9,000 seats -- is suitable for use. The entire east side has been closed because of the poor condition of the bleachers. A group of Toronto carpenters recently offered to renovate the stadium for free but was turned down by the University of Toronto.
"It's too bad we can only use half of the stadium," Fleming said. "But I have to say that nothing definite has been decided yet. I came away from Varsity (on Saturday) with a very pleasant experience."