As I mentioned this morning (or last night depending on how you read it) last night I attended the MLS All Star game. The game was an absolutely wonderful event but if you read Cathal Kelly's coverage in The Star you would think that it had been a disaster. As Leaf fans we can be grateful that he has not turned his eye to our Buds because he is every inch the Damien Cox-clone. From his hatred of the fans to his pre-set narratives to his insistence on being a contrarian.
The man has studied at the feet of the master and found the secret formula for success in Toronto: write about a team with fervent support and be a lying asshole. To give you an insight into Cathal Kelly you just need to know this: when he covered the world soccer scene his articles were generally well-written and balanced. Since he's started writing about TFC he repeatedly slams the supporters and continues to refer to the team as 'FC' (ie Football Club) which is both asinine and ridiculous but done because he knows that each time he does it dozens of e-mails will pour in to The Star's offices.
Oh yeah, to bring this back on topic for a second, on the drive to BMO I saw a gentleman walking his dog with his wife. He was sporting a red TFC shirt and I was curious as to why he was not at the game. Then I realized who it was walking past my car: Richard Peddie.
That's a terrible picture but it's the best I could do. By the time I got my camera out and window rolled down that's all I could get. So did I say anything? Thoughts ran through my head of things to yell at him but I recently heard a reputable rumour that Peddie is quite anxious to get someone to run the hockey team so I decided not to anger him in case he would be motivated to keep running the team out of spite.
Before my tale of the evening there are a couple of his 'points' that I would like to address. First of all nothing ruined the game last night. The supporters protest, that Kelly has continually bashed, was organized because it makes more sense to let MLSE and the City of Toronto know that the fans do not want to share BMO with the Argos before any deal is even discussed rather than waiting until it is too late. While it was never going to be a complete black out (supporters groups only represent about a quarter of the stadium's tickets, if that) it was clearly visible around the stadium.
And while it took a while for the atmosphere to really get going the fans (including the South End and the West Ham fans) created the sort of atmosphere that the majority of other MLS clubs would kill to have on a nightly basis. Being in the stadium you had the sense that you were at an event rather than just a kickabout. Every time Beckham approached a dead ball situation you could see the flashbulbs popping all over the stadium. As the tackles pick up more bite the crowd moved from anti-everyone to a partisan MLS crowd that, despite hating almost everyone in the squad, wanted to see their rivals gain what marginal respectability that they would earn in a friendly.
Make no mistake, West Ham might not have played their entire First XI but they put out a solid lineup that wanted to win. While the game was certainly edging its way towards a drab affair Dean Ashton's opener and the quick reply from Cristian Gomez gave life to the game. The first was met with cheers from some of the supporters group but the second drew the battle lines as the rest of the stadium (and the south end) got caught up in the spectacle of the stars of the upstart league taking on one of England's top clubs (Ed.'s Note: They won the World Cup in 1966. It's true. Just ask them).
On to the anthem debacle. From what I heard on the radio this morning, the ESPN broadcast was part of the reason behind the setup that was used which borders on ludicrous. After marching out the players, local kids brought out the English and American flags and we were asked to remove our hats and please rise for the English and American national anthems. This kicked out a mass of confusion and some booing (understandably). The confusion reigned during God Save The Queen but once the American anthem kicked off (and the Canadian flag was nowhere to be seen) some fans began to boo but others took a much better approach: they spontaneously began to sing O Canada. It was actually a pretty nice show of patriotism from citizens of a country that too often deride her rather than take deserved pride. Of course, after announcing the West Ham and MLS substitutes (presumably ESPN was about to go to commercials) the Canadian flag finally made an appearance as did a member of our armed services (Queen's Own Rifles) that served in Afghanistan that sang an impassioned version of our anthem that was as loud as I've ever heard at BMO.
Better late than never I guess...
To be clear, fans were not booing the American anthem. They were booing the apparent snub of the Canadian anthem by the organizers. Why they thought it was a good idea to proceed in the fashion that they did (about 10 minutes elapsed from the announcement of the anthems to the appearance of the Canadian flag) is beyond me. However, the rest of the night proceeded in fun fashion.
This game marked the third time that David Beckham was scheduled to play in and the first time that he actually stepped on the field. As much as I am a TFC fan first it was still nice to see Goldenballs in the flesh splaying pinpoint passes across the field and trying to score a free-kick (sadly, no goals).
The man himself...what? no Posh?
While the league did not have the foresight to put a TFC player in the starting lineup (fan balloting had 6 in the top 10) or even a Canadian the decision did give us a great highlight as a minute into the game "We Want Brennan" rang out across the stands for the first time. Some Canadian celebrities even took in the game (and just a few rows in front of me) in the form of Carlo Rota (Yasir) and Zaib Shaikh (Amaar) of Little Mosque on the Prairie. Sadly Sitara Hewitt (Rayyan) didn't make it.
"If we worked for CTV we wouldn't be sitting in the upper stand"
After 59 minutes of increasingly good football the fans' chants were finally answered as Toronto FC captain Jim Brennan and Canadian star Dwayne De Rosario were substituted into the game.
The video does not do the reaction justice as the stadium was literally shaking with the stamping of feet and the roar of the crowd.
De Rosario took only 11 minutes to make an impact as he drew a penalty in the 70th minute after Lucas Neill brought him down at the end of a great run into the box. Luckily for me, the play happened at my end of the field:
At this point the crowd was electric for the last 20 minutes as the MLS All Stars held off their English rivals. While the powers that be tried their best to derail the game (mid-week, anthem mix-up, no TFC/Canadian starters) the fans and the players were able to overcome everything to provide a memorable All Star game with a seemingly scripted hometown ending.