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Should the Whitecaps Be "Canada's Team"?

Spoiler alert: no.

George Frey

I was reading a lovely piece by the esteemed Daniel Squizzato on Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer this morning. Squizzato is a Torontonian and a Toronto FC fan but don't hold it against him.

In his article, Squizzato weighs the pros, the cons, and ultimately decides he's going to cheer on the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS playoffs[1]. Squizz is as stalwart a soccer fan as they come and has apparently decided to cheer on a Canadian team as far as it can go. Good for him.

But, to ask ourselves hypothetical questions that often arise among fans at times like this, is that a general principle? Should Canadians outside Vancouver cheer for the Whitecaps? Should they swallow their bile and root for the only Canadian team in a professional soccer playoff this year? Is it a moral imperative for soccer fans coast to coast to join hands and shout "come on you blue and white"?

Of course not. Don't be stupid.

I welcome those like Squizz who have independently decided they want Vancouver to win. Plenty of room on the bandwagon and it's not like you have to ride it for more than one round. I'm not so vain that I can't welcome temporary friends from across this great country who admit they're in it for the sake of Toronto FC or WSA Winnipeg or whomever.

Hell, I've been there. I cheered for the Montreal Impact in their CONCACAF Champions League run. When Toronto FC went deep against Santos Laguna I even cheered them on[2]. They might have made history for Toronto, and I thought they might lift the rest of Canada a shorter distance with them. Pure self-interest, a desire to see the maple leaf surpassing the stars and stripes on the list of CONCACAF Champions League winners for the rest of time and improving the lot of teams I actually care about. (Not that we got a chance to find out if I was right.)

But Toronto FC was not "Canada's team" then, and the Whitecaps cannot be "Canada's team" now. This has nothing to do with the number of Canadians in their eleven; they could bring back Martin Nash, Luca Bellisomo, and start Russell Teibert at the other nine positions and it wouldn't change a thing. They're not Canada's team because they're a club based in Vancouver, playing for Vancouver fans with "Vancouver" written on their shirts and hosting events in Vancouver so people in Vancouver can watch Vancouver's team in a Vancouvery way. The same applies to Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, whoever you like.

Some opposing fans like to dwell on Vancouver's lack of Canadian content in the past two seasons as a reason they could never cheer for the Whitecaps. This is hilariously short-sighted and stupid in almost every detail. It is also meaningless, because the number of Canadians on the team has nothing to do with how much the team represents Canada. You think guys in Scotland are gathering to watch Kenny Miller and Barry Robson represent St. Andrew's Cross? Of course not; we're a bunch of goddamned irrelevant foreigners.

Those who hate the Whitecaps because of the Canadians on the first team usually hate them enough to cheer against them regardless. In their last playoff game on October 14, 2010 against the Puerto Rico Islanders Vancouver started five Canadians and brought two more off the bench[3]; not a lot of Toronto or Montreal fans cheering us on then. That same night the Montreal Impact started four Canadians and brought three off the bench in a loss to the Carolina Railhawks[4]; Toronto fans didn't cheer for them, and at Swangard Stadium when we learned they were eliminated we chanted "na-na-na-na, na na na, hey hey hey, au revoir." That's what hate is; we all have talking points we like to mock rival fans with, but they're just vectors of hate rather than the causes.

How can anyone expect fans to set that hate aside for something as unimportant as a Vancouver playoff run? What will happen in Toronto if Vancouver wins the MLS Cup? A parade (in Vancouver), a few locals inspired to take up the beautiful game (in Vancouver), and an impact on Toronto FC that would be so small as to be unmeasurable, particularly when set against the agony of watching a second-year MLS club win the championship while the locals still struggle for their first playoff appearance.

Once upon a time, there was debate among die-hard Canadian soccer fans over what I call the Red Green Principle: "Remember, I'm pulling for you; we're all in this together." That argument has largely settled as new rivalries have complemented old ones to the point that we can barely stand each other's company (on the Internet)/drink merrily and have great times together because we're all great guys and gals (in person). Only once in a while does it resurface, when some Canadian team is treading new ground and a few of us rehash the old arguments.

Well, I'm here to give carte blanche to everyone in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Thunder Bay, Victoria, and whereever else the Whitecaps do not hold sway over your heart. Don't cheer for us if you don't want to. In fact, cheer against us if you like. We are of Canada, but that doesn't mean we are Canada; a fact which has nothing to do with our lineup and everything to do with our history, our location, and the very nature of our existence. I hope to see many of you unselfconsciously cheering for the Galaxy tomorrow, and when they win you tweet me gloatingly and I tweet back calling you a cocksucker and the great circle of Canadian soccer life will continue, because we both know that someday our positions will be reversed and I will behave exactly the same way. I love you guys.

[1] — Squizzato, Daniel. "The Whitecaps are about to make history, but what kind?" Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer, October 31, 2012. Accessed October 31, 2012.

[2] — Massey, Benjamin. "Agonies of a Toronto-Hater." Eighty Six Forever, April 4, 2012. Accessed October 31, 2012.

[3] — "Official Match Information: Vancouver Whitecaps v. Puerto Rico Islanders 0:2." USSF Division-2 Pro League, October 17, 2010. Accessed October 31, 2012. The Canadians in question were Martin Nash, Kyle Porter, Terry Dunfield, Luca Bellisomo, and Ethan Gage (starting), Philippe Davies and Randy Edwini-Bonsu (off the bench).

[4] — "Official Match Information: Carolina RailHawks v. Montreal Impact 2:0." USSF Division-2 Pro League, October 17, 2010. Accessed October 31, 2012. The Canadians in question were Ali Gerba, Adam Braz, Patrick Leduc, and Nevio Pizzolitto (starting), Reda Agourram, Pierre-Rudolphe Mayard, and Marco Terminesi (off the bench).