It seems not so long ago that western Canada was struggling through the soccer wilderness. The Vancouver Whitecaps were a middling team in the CSL or the APSL or the A-League or the USL First Division or whatever the hell it was called this week. The Edmonton Aviators of that same league came, saw, and collapsed after a single season. The Calgary Mustangs lasted a little longer but ended no less ignominiously. The glory days of competitive professional teams in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Victoria being broadcast on TSN (aah, the dulcet tones of Vic Rauter) were so far gone as to collapse into myth.
That's the environment I came into. Born in Edmonton, played youth soccer like so many million Canadian kids, and unlike most of them retained some casual interest. Watched those Aviators until they died, which was quickly even by the accelerated timeline of a teenager. Watched womens youth soccer or men's friendlies whenever they came to town, which wasn't often. And there were thousands like me out there, all clinging like limpets to each transient fix. Being a soccer fan in western Canada was to be a fan of European soccer because that's all there was. To me, the soccer dream was not seeing Canada qualify for the World Cup but traveling to England and seeing Manchester United or Real Madrid at their hallowed home pitches.
But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity.
Out east, the game was still growing. Toronto FC made their way into Major League Soccer and were an instant hit. The Montreal Impact carried whatever their league was called on their backs both on and off the pitch. Soccer began to grow, then to thrive. The encroach of soccer proceeded west, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye my new adopted team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, had an MLS franchise. My old hometown, Edmonton, was granted an NASL team. There were rumours of more, so much more, to come that still haven't died down.
And with so much excitement, some idiot has to write about it. So welcome to Eighty Six Forever.
Most of you won't need much of an introduction to me, since you'll be coming here from one of my previous projects. My name is Benjamin Massey, and I am a hopeless Canadian soccer addict. At the late, lamented Maple Leaf Forever, whose archives you will see sprawled out below like some particularly lazy animal, I worked the Canadian national soccer beat that turned into more and more of a western Canada focus as my native region grew in importance even as the nation's soccer coverage remained disappointingly Toronto-centric. At the current, magnificent Copper & Blue on this very SB Nation network, I wrote (and still write) about the Edmonton Oilers in the sarcastic tones they have so richly earned. I, in short, shoot my mouth off about sports at every conceivable opportunity. I attended the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup, two 2008 World Cup qualifying matches, both of Vancouver's away games in the 2010 Voyageurs Cup. I tell my friends I'm going on vacation and they automatically ask "what soccer team is playing?"
I am a proud Voyageur and a proud Vancouver Southsider. In spite of my best efforts to avoid it, I became a Whitecaps fan after moving to Victoria and being infected by the contagions of their fantastic fans and professional organization. But I am also a western Canadian to the core. I've followed the developments of FC Edmonton and the Victoria Highlanders with equal excitement. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a pundit for Toronto FC or the Montreal Impact, but on a national level the Whitecaps and their lower-division western rivals go almost entirely neglected. So I take perverse joy in writing the stories nobody else is writing about the teams nobody east of Winnipeg cares about.
Over the coming weeks, that's exactly what I'm going to do. There'll be plenty of Whitecaps content, of course: news, game notes, opinion pieces, the treacly editorial that is the province of the sports blogger. The Canadian national team and their two friendlies at the beginning of September will certainly not go neglected. But you'll also read about FC Edmonton's latest foibles, or maybe big news out of Abbotsford's PDL team. If you want yet another reaction to Chad Barrett's inaccuracy or Stefan Frei's brilliance, you're in the wrong place, but if your idea of a soccer-loving Canada stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic then welcome aboard.