Elite Soccer in North America and Canada has a checkered history. For many fans in the region, soccer has always been a sport that you play at school but rarely watch. For some even less open-minded individuals, it was viewed strictly as a sport for girls.
The NASL Years
There were many attempts to raise the profile of the game by throwing money at big-name players from Europe and South America. This was most notable with the advent of the North American Soccer League that operated in the USA and Canada from 1968 to 1984. Bu,t despite attracting players such as Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Gerd Müller and George Best, the novelty wore off and the league folded. By 1985, the Minnesota Strikers and Toronto Blizzard were the only teams still interested in the league.
The Wilderness Years
Anyone who continued to follow soccer in Canada was seen as going against the grain. When they insisted on calling it “football”, it didn’t make sense to the North American audience. By the 1990s, soccer became a sport for Canadian hipsters and geeks who would speak fondly about the great leagues of Italy, Spain and England and use phrases that meant little to anyone who didn’t follow the sport. They did it all with an air of sophistication which many found irritating, to say the least.
The Soccer Hipsters Rise Up
But it later turned out that these die-hard soccer fans were way ahead of the game. Once the internet took off and the MLS (Major League Soccer) got up and running, soccer started to become cool again in Canada. The TV networks started showing hundreds of games from all the major foreign leagues and betting and casino sites in Canada starting offering wagers on global soccer games alongside their traditional casino offerings. Wagering on soccer became big business and viewing figures sky-rocketed. Suddenly, everyone soccer was a major player in Canadian sports again.
Elite Fans for Elite Canadian Teams
In true Canadian style, the fans took soccer to their hearts. When Toronto FC (yes, that stands for Football Club) was founded and joined the MLS in 2006, the fans turned out in their thousands. They broke the MLS record by selling 14,000 season tickets in 2007 (and broke it again in 2014) and followed the European tradition of setting up several individual fan groups within the stadium. They had names such as Kings in the North, the Red Patch Boys, the Original 109 and the Tribal Rhythm Nation. But the most well-known and most controversial group were known as the Inebriatti.
— Red Patch Boys (@RedPatchBoys) March 10, 2020
After a couple of season in the MLS, the Toronto FC were praised for their fan base as well as the club’s official recognition of supporter groups. While it hasn’t always been a rosy relationship between the fans and the owners, they continue to set the standard in MLS winning the championship in 2017.
Old Fan Groups, New Rivalries
The arrival to the MLS of the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2009 and Montreal Impact in 2010 gave rise to some great supporter rivalries that helped to boost the coolness of Canadian soccer further.
Many of the supporter’s groups such as the Ultras Montreal and the Vancouver Southsiders pre-dated the MLS and were formed by hardcore soccer fans unfazed by the lack of an elite soccer league in the country. Many watched local teams in minor soccer leagues and also followed teams in Europe. These are the fans that helped to make soccer the coolest game in Canada.