Big Red machine set to roll into Toronto

I got into a heated Twitter debate yesterday with Rollins about support for the men’s national team versus the women’s national team. While he argued that there was a greater “potential” support base for the men’s team, I relied on the numbers. Each team has played two friendly matches at BMO Field since it opened; the women drew 13,554 and 10,225 (23,779 total), while the men drew 9,325 and 10,619 (19,944 total).

Now, he made the case that the few thousand gung-ho Canada fans at the men’s games (surrounded by opposition supporters, remember) are more “dialed in” (and therefore, more valuable?) than the largely pro-Canada crowds drawn by the women’s team, comprised as they were by screaming young girls rather than drunken chanting louts (well, except for me and a handful of others).

The debate will surely rage on, as the women’s national team (a.k.a. Big Red) is set to play their third-ever game at BMO Field next Thursday, against China. It’s unknown right now what sort of crowd will turn out for the match — but at the very least, I’ve got one person agreeing with me on the merits of packing the house with excited youngsters: veteran Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson (who, last week, won her 100th cap as a member of Big Red).

“It’s extremely important” to get young girls out to the game, she told me during a media call earlier today. “A lot of girls don’t realize the team exists. (But) being accessible to them makes them want to reach higher goals. Unfortunately, we don’t do it enough.”

The it in question is “play games on home soil” (so there’s one thing the men’s and women’s teams have in common). She said it’s “extremely frustrating” that the team doesn’t play more home fixtures, and noted that while next week’s game will be the team’s third visit to BMO Field, they haven’t played elsewhere in years.

Funnily enough, their most recent non-Toronto home match was in St. John’s at King George V Park (the site where the men’s team qualified for the World Cup, way back when). In 2006, Big Red played a pair of friendlies against China on the Rock, drawing pretty good crowds (over 10,000 combined for the two games).

That kinda helps strengthen the Mission Moncton argument, wouldn’t you say? I’m pretty sure if Matheson knew about the petition, she’d sign it — and might start one for the women’s team as well. As she said, “we need to play in some other cities (besides Toronto) as well… we need to reach out more to young girls playing soccer.”

So what kind of show should the fans in attendance (young girls or otherwise) expect at BMO Field next Thursday?

Well, the Canadian women haven’t beaten China since February 2003 — in that time, they’ve drawn them four times and lost on four occasions (including a 2-0 defeat on Chinese soil earlier this year). Matheson — who didn’t play in that friendly in April — said the Chinese are “a very good technical team” and Big Red will be in tough. Not only that, but the girls are coming off a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of #2-ranked Germany last week (Canada is #13, China is #14).

They also got smoked 4-0 by the USA the last time they played at BMO Field (in a friendly last year) but as Matheson rightly notes, that was the team’s first game under new head coach Carolina Morace. But it’s not all doom and gloom, by any stretch — the team did win the Cyprus Cup earlier this year, with Matheson potting the decisive goal in a 1-0 win over New Zealand in the final, and Matheson is upbeat about the new direction the team is taking under Morace.

Morace has “a very Italian, very European soccer-specific attitude about everything. How we train is different, how we eat is different… it’s all very specific to soccer, more so than we’ve done in the past. On the field, we obviously play a lot different now, we have more of a possession style.”

Next week’s game serves as the final tune-up before qualifying for next year’s Women’s World Cup (which Canada was very nearly given the right to host, by the by), and Matheson says “hopefully everyone will be able to see the changes that (Morace has) made.”

With 100 appearances under her belt, you’ve got to take Matheson at her word when she speaks optimistically about the team’s fortunes going forward. When I asked about whether her goal in the Cyprus Cup was one of the high points in her career, she quickly shrugged it off (“I don’t score that often”) and chose to focus on the team’s accomplishments during her tenure, such as the fourth-place finish in the 2003 World Cup, and qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games.

“Hopefully there’ll be more good moments coming up,” said Matheson.

And hopefully there’ll be plenty of Canadians — be they young girls hoping to get a post-game autograph from their idols, or rambunctious singing supporters — on hand to witness some of those moments.

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6 Responses to “Big Red machine set to roll into Toronto”

  1. Those women’s attendance numbers?

    Pure bullshit. If there were 5,000 in there against the States I’d be stunned.

    • My source for attendance figures is the same for the men’s and women’s games (the CSA website), so if the women’s numbers are bullshit, the men’s probably are too.

  2. I understand what Duane is trying to say. Generally men will spend more of their money and time in sports than women.

    But…. I’m chalking this one up for Squizz. When playing in BMO the women get a more pro-Canada crowd than the men get. Even if the attendance numbers were reversed having a higher percentage of Canadian support wins out.

    Where do the CWNT attendees go on CMNT dates? That is the question and possibly the key having the support we all dream for.

    • I don’t have a definitive answer as to where the CWNT attendees go during CMNT games. But since, from personal observation, a large share of them are young girls, I’m guessing many of their parents are mortified to take them there…. based on what the average person’s impression is of “what goes on at soccer games”.

  3. Women are much better to look at than men. 😛

  4. […] I could also go into the pool of support for the women’s game, and huge potential for growing the game through the soccer-loving girls of this country, but Squizz has already done so much better than I can. […]

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