Saturday, August 27, 2011

York Region Shooters – Windsor Stars (30-07-2011)

After the failed start of my Canadian groundhopping extravaganza, because of a freak cancellation, I was keen to finally get my first real Canadian game under my belt. Sure, I had been to other Canadian teams before – notably Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC – but these teams played in North American leagues, not in the Canadian Soccer League! Now, 1 PM on a hot Saturday afternoon in late July, it was finally going to happen. I parked my car in front of the small ‘stadium’ of St. Joan of Arc Turf Field in Maple, Ontario – a northwestern suburb of Toronto.

As in Australia, before the introduction of the A League in 2005, soccer in Canada is highly ethnic. Most teams have their origins in South European immigrant communities, most notably Italians and (former) Yugoslavs. The York Region Shooters went by the name Italian Shooters between 2006 and 2010 and play in shirts that are reminiscent of the Azzurri (the Italian national team); their url is still

I paid a steep CAN$15 ($15.30) for a GA ticket; the guy at the ticket office was also the announcer and, given his endless advertising of the concession stand, probably also the owner of that (and the club?). It was very warm, 90F/32C in the shade, and few people sat on the one makeshift stand. I estimate that, in the end, some 50 paying spectators were present; felt more like a summer tournament I used to play when I was 15.

With a delay of 12 minutes, a consequence of the fact that the visitors brought the wrong shirts (the also play normally in blue), it was time for the Canadian national anthem, and, finally, kick-off. Most players were ethnic; somewhat surprisingly, most Windsor players were of Italian descent. Next to me sat an older man and his son, who spoke Italian; they were York fans, however. Other notable point: a lineswoman (not uncommon in lower North American divisions).

The first (weak) shot happened in the 8th minute, but three minutes later, the first goal is scored. York tries to clear, the defender shoots the ball against a Windsor attacker: 0-1. One of the lamest goals I have ever seen. The game is poor and the pace is slow; and I don’t think it is just because of the heat. Fortunately, I sit next to David, an English expat who is a referee for the NASL and knows Canadian soccer inside and out.

The first half is poor. York does come back though. In the 34th minute a half-volley from the top of the box goes just wide, but five minutes later a slow counter leads to a great cross from the right and a dry, low finish from 16 meters: 1-1. This is also the half time score, despite a Windsor free kick at the crossbar in the 45th minute.

After a half time of music from the announcer’s youth (mostly 1970s and 1980s European disco), it is time for the second half. In the 49th minute a counter attack of York is just intercepted by the goalie, while three minutes later a mistake of a Windsor defender gives York another good chance. The hosts are much better in the game now; in the 57th a counter leads to an excellent shot that hits the crossbar and bounces out of the goal. Windsor, although seemingly the better team, is sinking deeper and deeper away. In the 51st minute, after a comedy of errors, York scores the deserved 2-1.

This is the end of Windsor’s resistance. In the 67th minute a great drive by a York player, passing 3-4 Windsor players, ends with a great finish: 3-1. Three minutes later a great attack of the hosts is squandered by the striker. In the 72nd minute York strikes for the fourth and last time, with a phenomenal half-volley from 20 meters in the far corner: 4-1. After this, the home players only go for their own glory, and good chances are killed by egoism.

My first real Canadian game had a lot of goals, but little atmosphere or quality. It was comparable to a (poor) PDL game. Fortunately, David made it all very enjoyable. Directly after the final whistle and said my goodbyes to him and got into my car: time for the second game of the day!

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