Home Canadian Soccer The Association Halloween debate: Why the eyes of Canadian soccer fans need to be on Edmonton

Halloween debate: Why the eyes of Canadian soccer fans need to be on Edmonton

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The eyes of Canadian soccer fans need to be trained on Edmonton’s City Council Chambers on Oct. 31.

The discussion — and possible vote — that will take place there could set off shockwaves that could even hamper or boost Canada’s plans to bid for the 2026 World Cup.

It’s clear that Edmonton City Council has a conundrum on its hands. It has three plans — ranging in cost from $12 million to $35 million — on how it can best get Commonwealth Stadium ready for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2014 and, of course, the Women’s World Cup in 2015. Those three plans will be examined, after being tabled in a committee meeting on Tuesday. And the word is the Canadian Soccer Association will have representation at council chambers on Halloween.

The CSA will be hoping for the treat, not the trick.

Edmonton’s administrators have advised council to take the middle road — spend a little over $20 million, money that will be stripped from other departments — and undertake a plan that will see the southwest corner of the stadium rebuilt, a new Jumbotron installed and first-class dressing rooms for the players. But, also on that list, and an option that was discussed in committee on Tuesday, is the bargain plan — which calls for trailers to be parked on the Commonwealth track, so they can be used as dressing rooms.

Imagine that, an internationally broadcast World Cup match, and what the viewers see is Marta or Christine Sinclair or Alex Morgan leave the field, and scamper up some metal steps into a trailer.

What an advertisement for Canada as a potential 2026 World Cup host!

This is the thing: FIFA has been slowly building Canada up for a World Cup bid. The FIFA reps were flabbergasted when 50,000 fans showed up for the 2002 U-19 Women’s Championship final. Then the 2007 U-20 World Cup was a massive success in FIFA’s eyes. The Women’s World Cup is the next step. If they all go off without hitches, we become darlings for that 2026 vote. And, if Russia and Qatar have taught us anything, it’s important to be that FIFA-darling bid.

But, any hiccups along the way, and we can kiss a World Cup in 2026 goodbye. One thing Canada does not have a lot of is… stadiums. And if the city of Edmonton is already showing reluctance to renovate one of the few big venues we have in this country — the warning bells that could go off on Halloween could affect the World Cup bid.

That’s not to say Edmonton doesn’t have its reasons to go the cheap route. Right now, with no soccer or concerts, Commonwealth is basically only the home of the Edmonton Eskimos. Unless you’re U2, there’s no point for a major touring act to use the stadium, when there is better sound and sightlines on the Northlands fairgrounds. So, why try to find excess money in the budget when the stadium isn’t used on a regular basis, outside of CFL games? Canada’s soccer program hasn’t played at Commonwealth in years.

And that’s the next point. Edmonton’s city council loves soccer, but it doesn’t love the CSA. Or, better put, it doesn’t trust the CSA.

There’s still a feeling at council that it was deceived over the 2007 U-20 World Cup bid; that it was promised a final, that it was told BMO Field was too small to have the championship game and of course the showpiece would come to Edmonton. Whether that’s true or not is almost irrelevant; the perception has lasted that the CSA can’t be trusted. That bitterness still exists.

(It must be pointed out, though, that Canada played two of its three group-stage games in Edmonton.)

And, of course, that bitterness increased every time a national team doesn’t schedule its next game for Edmonton. But, Commonwealth no longer has grass, and with BMO Field and Stade Saputo and even BC Place, there are competitors with more modern facilities.

Remember that Edmonton, like Alberta, tends to be fiercely independent and has a natural built-in mistrust of things that come from Ottawa. Talk to any minor or elite-level coaches at the Edmonton clubs, and they will all tell you how Asmir Begovic was well within his rights to play for Bosnia-Herzevgovina over Canada. They will go on about how Canada treated Begovic poorly, and brought him to the breaking point. In the soccer establishment in this city, there’s a large number of influential people who have Begovic’s back. He’s seen as a great Edmontonian — and if he spurned Canada, well, who cares?

So, the CSA has a lot to overcome.

Remember that Edmonton, though, has just greenlighted a study into a new 10,000-15,000-seat stadium for FC Edmonton and other soccer groups to use. In Edmonton’s eyes, this is the legacy project of the WWC, not a fixer-upper to Commonwealth. Down the road, if Edmonton is to lure the national teams back to the city, it will be because of the new soccer stadium, not Commonwealth. The new stadium could be a practice field for the WWC, and could be used as a venue for 2014’s U-20s, if it could be built at BMO Field pace. And, representatives from the NASL, Alberta Soccer and the CSA were on hand to discuss the new SSS with the city fathers, which shows the door is open for cooperative use. And it’s a sign the relations between Alberta and the CSA are thawing.

But that brings us back to Commonwealth; the reno question isn’t just one of emotion; it’s of practicality. Why spend $20 million or $35 million to fix Commonwealth, when $12 million will get it to “passable?” Heck, that difference in funding could go a long way to getting the new soccer-specific stadium built.

But the issue is that, for a 2026 World Cup bid, a 15,000-seat SSS in Edmonton won’t matter. Nor will BMO Field or Stade Saputo. We need to show that we have big stadiums that can handle big crowds. And Commonwealth, not the SSS, would need to be part of that. Without a revamped Commonwealth, a bid for 2026 would take a hit.

It’s not a sure thing, though — and it’s hard for a mayor or councillor to think that far ahead, especially when there’s an NHL team that wants a new arena, a new provincial museum that has to be built and a massive expansion of the LRT system underway.

Maybe the answer is a high-profile friendly. The next time Canada schedules a home game against a name opponent (think of the centenary match vs. the United States), promise it to Edmonton, with the caveat that the City provides at least the $20 million renovation plan. That way, the CSA offers a carrot, which doesn’t impact the plans for World Cup qualifying.

Of course, if Canada gets to the Hex, there will be a home game against Mexico. And, there will likely be some pressure on coach Stephen Hart to play that game in Edmonton, especially if there’s a good chance it would be cold and miserable for the visitors.

The way Edmonton City Council handles the Commonwealth situation might not cinch us a 2026 World Cup, but it might go a long way to killing a bid. And that’s why you need to be tuned in to Edmonton.ca on Oct. 31 if you aren’t in the city, and why it’s worth it to head down to the council chambers if you are in the Alberta capital.

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