Amado Guevara gets debacled by David Villa. Never thought I could cheer for the Spanish. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
We Canadian soccer fans, east and west, have an annoying habit of blowing things up to proportions they don't rightly deserve.
Tonight, Toronto FC will take on C.F. Motagua in what the Toronto faithful are really hoping won't be a repeat of last year's debacle against the USL Division One Puerto Rico Islanders. The U-Sector board is abuzz with hope and excitement but also concern - more concern than one usually sees for, say, FC Dallas. The Voyageurs, never your best bet for sober second thought but always a good dipstick for the country's emotional oil, are burning with enthusiasm even absent the usual partisan napalm. On Twitter, Stretty Sam out-and-out calls it "a big match for Canadian soccer".
Listen, when you're relying on Duane Rollins to downplay the importance of a Toronto FC game, things are out of hand.
Of course, as a Canadian soccer supporter, it's in my interests that Toronto beat Motagua tonight. It's also in my interests that Toronto beat Real Salt Lake or the New York Red Bulls or pretty much any side that isn't another Canadian team (I'd probably take the Reds over the CSL's Serbian White Eagles, too). I'd quite like to see Julian de Guzman superkick Amado Guevara through the north stands into where the beer garden used to be, but that's pleasure rather than business. My usual Whitecaps fan schadenfreude at seeing Toronto lose to a team from a country with a GDP smaller than my shoe size would be dulled ever-so-slightly by the whole Honduras factor, but intellectually I should want Toronto to emerge with a credible win in the CONCACAF Champions League regardless of the opposition.
(You may have noticed that soccer partisanship is not the most intellectual of activities. I know, I know. Bear with me.)
Now, as we know Toronto has a bad history with this tournament. They got over 20,000 fans out to their first ever continental match, more than twice the next-best attendance total that round, and lost 1-0 in what I can safely call the worst game of soccer ever played. The loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders, a team in the same North American pyramid as Toronto FC and therefore mathematically certain to be inferior, devastated the Toronto and Canadian sports scenes to such an extent that over 20,000 fans are expected tonight for a game against a team that sounds like a discount tequila label.
I feel a little dirty praising Toronto FC fans for their support, but the joy is that Canadian soccer fandom has moved beyond the point where a single game can break us. Indeed, if we survived the Montreal Impact's Thích Quảng Đức job against Santos Laguna, and Toronto's two years missing the playoffs, and Benito Archundia, and Benito Archundia again, and pretty much everything about Canada's last World Cup qualification campaign, we've probably been past that point for some time. Toronto could lose by a converted touchdown and it wouldn't mar the Canadian soccer landscape that badly. Moreover, if Toronto wins, they'll be doing their job and who will be impressed? It would take an awfully long run and maybe a few flares in the Skydome for the Champions League to weigh down the bandwagon with new support.
If you're a Toronto fan, your team may have a very specific stain to scrub off its honour and godspeed to you in that. For the rest of us, don't try and tell me that cheering on the FC is a matter of national priority. We're not infants anymore. We can survive a little fall down the stairs.