Sunday, July 13, 2008

Toronto Croatia v. Serbia White Eagles -- Canadian Soccer League 'Action'

A terraced stadium, uniformed police, partisan chants, and an Everton scout. No, this wasn't Millwall at the Den circa 1985, this was Lamport Stadium in Toronto, site of the Canadian Soccer League's (formerly the National Soccer League of which I've written here before) largest local derby -- Serbs v. Croats. Apparently since the CSL introduced their 'international division' two years ago, this transported fifteen year old ethnic conflict has enough bite to warrant pat-downs, private security and about fifteen uniformed Toronto police officers stationed around the perimeter fence. It also provided a surprisingly entertaining match.

Toronto Croatia 'Ultras'

Croats took to the West stands and Serbs populated the East, and both sides exchanged some playful back-and-forth chants (although some of it may have been racially insensitive; my Croatian is a bit rusty). However the match was played in good spirit despite dire warnings about ejections for racist sign-age and tossed flares, all courtesy of Lamport's portly and abrasive MC, who wandered the touch line with the mike stuck half-way in his gullet. His constant reminders about Toronto Croatia's next game on July 'twenty-five' produced the only English-language chant of the evening, a hearty, 'Shut the &%$^ up!' from both stands -- football fans are all united as one it seems when it comes to loudmouthed stadium emcees.

Toronto Croatia, playing a 3-5-2 formation, started brightly, using their short-passing play to hold possession for long periods. It was the Serbs however, playing a straight counterattacking 4-4-2, who missed two golden chances from two corners within the first fifteen minutes. As Croatia pressed, Serbia's defenders for the most part successfully absorbed the pressure, and on the 37th minute their patience paid off as a cross from the right sailed over the lilliputian Croatian keeper and onto the head of the attacking Serb forward - 1-0 White Eagles.

Serbian White Eagle 'Ultras'

The Everton scout looked bored though as Serbia sat back and absorbed an ineffective Croatian attack led by two lanky wide-midfielders who seemed to run out of ideas by the start of the second half. Serbia looked more and more confident on the counter and used the wings to great effect. Eventually the pressure produced a second Serb goal in 71st minute, as Toronto Croatia was caught back with only two defenders who were easily beaten by the Serb striker Radovic as he calmly slotted a low shot passed the Croatian keeper for 2-0, where the score would finish.

The 'Action'

The CSL is Toronto's oldest professional league, and while it is far from its glory days, the play was surprisingly good. It's hard to imagine how the rest of the league is doing when one considers only about 300 people paid to see the CSL's 'biggest local derby,' but the supporters who were there were enthusiastic, and the competitive edge, while mired in ethnic tensions wrought from a war fought fifteen years ago, provided a nice change from the away supporter-less BMO.

This is part nine of A More Splendid Life's history of soccer in Toronto. The Toronto Croatia is the very same club that once co-owned the Toronto Metros, which as I wrote about earlier won NASL's Soccer Bowl in 1976.

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