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FC Edmonton hopes to bring out 50,000 for TFC matchup

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Can a Nutrilite Canadian Championship game generate enough interest to sell 50,000 tickets?

That question will be answered in May, when FC Edmonton hosts Toronto FC at Commonwealth Stadium. If successful, it’ll be the biggest single match in the history of the Canadian championship. If not, the empty seats will reflect badly as the tournament stretches its reach outside of this country’s three largest centres.

Because Foote Field, the intimate stadium FC Edmonton will call home this season, has permanent football (as in, Canadian football, not the football we cover in this webmag) lines, it can’t host Nutrilite Canadian Championship games.

The regulations for the tourney state that all games must be played on soccer pitches with no other lines or markers on the field.

The NASL schedule isn’t being released until later this week, but the feeling is that Edmonton won’t play a home game in April, and that an NASL home opener would wait until till May. The hope is that FC Edmonton will get an all-Canadian NASL home opener, with the Montreal Impact coming to Foote Field.

But, chances are good that the Toronto FC visit will actually come before FC Edmonton plays an NASL game in the Alberta capital, making a Commonwealth date, with 50,000 seats to fill, the de facto home opener for Canada’s newest pro team. The dates haven’t been set as the Canadian Soccer Association is still trying to hammer out the details on a TV contract for the NCC.

Now, other than the U-19 women’s final held in 2002, Commonwealth has always been a difficult venue for soccer, despite the fact it was Canada’s national soccer stadium until BMO Field was completed in 2007.

Problems with Commonwealth are no different than we see with MLS teams playing in NFL stadiums (like the New England Revolution); even when the crowd size is decent, the place looks empty. When Canada hosted the U-20 World Cup in 2007, the home team played two games at Commonwealth; both of those games had more fans than could be packed into BMO Field, but all fans could see on TV were the swaths of empty seats in the upper decks. Even with more than 30,000 in attendance, as there were in both Canada games, Commonwealth looks empty.

FC Edmonton is bullish that it can promote the Toronto FC rivalry, that it can become an MLS giant-killer like its NASL companion, the Puerto Rico Islanders, have been. The club knows an upset over Toronto FC will do more to sell season-ticket packages than any kind of ad campaign could generate. And it’s hopeful that it can sell a huge number of tickets for the TFC game. If the club could even half-fill Commonwealth, it could be a massive financial windfall. And, as the NCC continues, if the team could get one or two big Commonwealth dates per season, it would give FC Edmonton a huge financial boost over their NASL rivals (remember, no salary cap in NASL).

But that’s a big if. The Edmonton Aviators often drew less than 2,000 fans for their USL games back in 2004. Has Edmonton’s football culture progressed enough in seven years to a see a 25-fold increase in interest? Will the event resonate with fans like the U-19s did?

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