Aidan Reagh is a German-speaking American (kind of like John Brooks). He likes to write about the Bundesliga and all things football. In this series, he delves into the world of Canadian soccer, starting with the Canadian clubs that currently operate within the United States’ system.
Here is Part 2: Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
If you haven’t read Part 1 – Calgary Foothills to Montreal Impact – read it here.
Thunder Bay Chill
Thunder Bay Chill of Ontario represents arguably one of the best histories of Canadian Soccer in the US system. The Chill joined the PDL 17 seasons ago in 2000. They became the first Canadian side to win the PDL playoffs, which happened in the 2008 campaign and have been in the top three on the table every season since 2007. A decade of supremacy reigns in the Heartland conference of PDL play, and Thunder Bay appear to have no interest in giving that up. They have also developed some notable players, ranging from Jamaican international Shaun Francis to Liberian international Josiah Seton. Thunder Bay averages around 700 fans per match, and with their lengthy history of success, I’d say they have what it takes to be in the Canadian Premier League.
In 2005, MLS determined it was time for Toronto to be awarded a division one franchise, which Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment purchased for $10 million. Fans were given four choices in an online poll on naming the club. Sorry, but Toronto McTorontoFace was not an option. The four choices were “Toronto Northmen”, “Inter Toronto FC”, “Toronto Reds”, and “Toronto FC”. Given those options, it is safe to say the fans selected the right name. Toronto FC started off incredibly slowly and finished bottom of the MLS table.
Despite their lowly position, Toronto quickly grew a fan base as Canada’s flagship MLS franchise. In 2010, Toronto FC was struggling and MLSE demanded a solution. The solution was hiring former German national team star and manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s “SoccerSolutions” company. Klinsmann and his associates spent six months evaluating Toronto’s style of play and deciding what would work. The “Soccer Solution” to Toronto FC was bringing the Ajax playing style in. Former Dutch international and Ajax veteran Aron Winter was announced as the manager. Dutch tactician Bob de Klerk was brought in as the assistant manager and Paul Mariner became the technical director. Toronto FC made it to the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals employing the Ajax culture.
However, just two years later, it all fell apart. It took time to transition but under a new management structure and after bringing in star players such as Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC began to climb the table. Then Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco arrived. Toronto finished a club-highest 5th in 2016. The club also began a transition to youth development with Toronto FC II as a USL feeder club and the Toronto FC Academy, which competes in the PDL. The Redman have an average attendance of roughly 26,000 at BMO Field. The Red Patch Boys are the largest supporters’ group of Toronto FC but there are five other groups cheering Toronto on.
The most western Canadian side in Major League Soccer has a relatively short history, being founded just seven years ago. Leading up to the first season, Vancouver prioritized building the front office the right way, working from the top down. Paul Barber, armed with experience at Premier League side Tottenham, became the CEO. Richard Grootscholten (now Feyenoord’s youth academy head) became the technical director. Former Vancouver Whitecaps’ USL side manager Teitur Thordarson became the first manager of the MLS side. The first MLS game led to a 4-2 victory over Toronto FC. 12 matches in, that was still Vancouver’s only win. Teitur Thordarson was sacked.
In the side’s first season, Brazilian Camilo Sanvezzo led the team in scoring with 12 league goals. Vancouver’s 22,000 strong audience at BC Place is led by the Vancouver Southsiders, and the club’s affiliate USL club is Vancouver Whitecaps FC II.
World Soccer Academy Winnipeg joined the PDL back in 2011 but have struggled to accomplish success, never finishing above 5th in the Heartland division. WSA Winnipeg is an affiliate of the World Soccer Academy. To quote from their website “Our Mission is to provide world class soccer training to every child with an opportunity to play soccer at his/her highest level in a safe and supportive environment that encourages the development of soccer skills and the love of the game.”
The team’s first game was played against fellow PDL and Heartland division Canadian side Thunder Bay Chill and ended a 1-0 loss. Although WSA Winnipeg struggles in PDL play, the academy is doing the right thing for the growth of Canadian Soccer in Winnipeg and the Manitoba region.