"Appetite for soccer has empty feeling."
After eyeballing that headline on the front page of Saturday's Vancouver Sun sports section, I turned to my U7-soccer playing daughter and asked if she wanted to see Team Canada take on Cuba at B.C. Place Stadium.
"Yes, yes, yes," she said jumping up and down, almost knocking over my morning coffee.
"What's Cuba?" she then asked.
Apparently that large world map she looks at every day on the kitchen wall is meaningless to my daughter. Oh, I'm so harsh I know.
In his article, which I was thrilled to see on the front page of the section, sports scribe Cam Cole lamented the lack of fans at a recent match featuring Team Canada and its star Christine Sinclair during the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament at B.C. Place Stadium. I felt the need to prove Cole wrong-and teach my daughter about Cuba-so off we went to the stadium Saturday night. And I'm happy to report it was a superb evening, although initially I thought we weren't going to even get in.
Arriving 20 minutes before game time, I reached the ticket window at 7:30 as players were being announced inside and was told there were only single seat tickets left. Oh dear. I can't be separated from my young daughter. And aren't there 50,000 seats in the stadium? As the ticket person worked diligently to find seats one in front of the other, which took about 10 minutes while the lines grew even longer, the B.C. Place brain trust finally opened up another section. Boom, two seats together-15 minutes into the game and long after the playing of both national anthems, which is a highlight for my daughter. Note to stadium officials: Open up more sections when long queues start forming outside to buy tickets. It was a dry Saturday night, the Canucks had already played that afternoon, Cam Cole had practically exhorted us to get off our duffs and support these women and-more importantly-CONCACAF tickets start at only $10 ($15 when you factor in tax and those infuriating service charges). Another note to B.C. Place, please post the full amount of the ticket. I don't know how many times I heard, "I thought the tickets were $10."
Rumour has it, only 10,000 people were expected to attend, but 12, 417 did and it was this crowd that played a huge role in the evening's success for my daughter and me. Canada defeating Cuba 2-0 also helped of course, especially with superstar Christine Sinclair scoring on a penalty kick, which was followed up by Sinclair assisting with a cross to Melissa Tancredi who scored the second goal. I was hoping for more goals-as were all the fans, some of who yelled out "Just shoot" when Team Canada dominated on the Cuban end for most of the game. But no more goals were to be had. Those Cubans dug in deep. That's OK. I was mesmerized by the stellar footwork of defender Robyn Gale (No. 5) along the sidelines. Many seated around me asked aloud, "Who is that No. 5?" The 26-year-old Mississauga, Ont. native appears to have magical feet. She effortlessly manoeuvred the ball through her opponents legs as if they didn't exist or around them likely leaving the Cuban players as mystified by her prowess as I was impressed. Seriously, how does she do it? Call me a big fan. Now, where do I get my T-shirt with Gale scrolled across the back?
Although we were 12,000 strong, the crowd felt like a large community group that captured a good cross-section of the local populace. Filling the seats were seniors, families with kids in strollers, families with teenagers, young couples, older couples with adult children, Spanish speakers (Cubans?), tween girls (presumably soccer players like my daughter), and then way over at the other end from us was a large and boisterous group typically associated with men's soccer and the Whitecaps. It warmed my heart to see and hear the mostly male Southsiders come out en masse to support women's soccer. "Support for soccer in Vancouver, regardless of who's playing, is important for us," said Southsider Brenton Walters to me on the phone Monday. He noted the group sold 100 packages of tickets for CONCACAF to its members. "We want to increase support for the sport all over."
Team Canada was obviously appreciative. After waving a thank you to the crowd after the game, the women walked over to offer a special thanks to the Southsiders. Sweet-like the whole night.
Team Canada plays Costa Rica tonight and has already clinched a spot in the semi-finals on Friday. Get your tickets early. I am.