When York9 FC faces Forge FC to officially cut the ribbon on the new Canadian Premier League, it promises to be a historic moment for the men’s game in this country.
With that in mind, let’s look back at some of the biggest men’s games to occur on Canadian soil — and where the CPL opener fits in.
Of course, if we were to include the women’s game on this list, both the opening game of the Women’s World Cup — at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium — and the final at Vancouver’s B.C. Place would make the list.
AUGUST 29, 1979
Whitecaps 2, Cosmos 0 — EMPIRE FIELD
The Cosmos, the glamour boys of the North American Soccer League, were the heavy favourite to win the NASL title.
Enter the Vancouver Whitecaps, who were in the midst of a magical playoff run.
The first leg of the semifinal between the Whitecaps and Cosmos was played in front of 32,875 at Empire Field, and it was a fiery affair.
Make no mistake, the two teams hated each other. In their most recent regular-season meeting leading up to the playoffs, four players were sent off. Four!
Alan Errington, a member of the Whitecaps coaching staff, remembers a 1979 incident between Cosmos star Giorgio Chinaglia and Whitecap John Craven.
“He (Craven) deliberately head butted Giorgio in the back of the head with a loud grunt. After that, every header they challenged for, Craven grunted and Giorgio ducked out of the way, giving Craven free headers for the rest of the game.”
The Whitecaps took the lead, while the Cosmos confronted the match officials with their conspiracy theories. New York’s Andranik Eskandarian saw red. Willie Johnston scored the first, and Trevor Whymark scored the Whitecaps’ second. The Cosmos protested the Whymark insurance marker, claiming offside.
After the game, New York’s Carlos Alberto confronted match officials and was charged with spitting at one of them. He was later suspended by the league.
A total of 36 fouls were called by referee Peter Johnson.
The Whitecaps would go on to win the two-legged series at Giants Stadium after a series of shootouts and mini-games (ah, the old NASL!).
And then, they’d go on to win the Soccer Bowl over the Tampa Bay Rowdies at, well, Giants Stadium. It was like they couldn’t stop sticking it to fans in New York.
SEPTEMBER 14, 1985
Canada 2, Honduras 1 — KING GEORGE V PARK
Canada needed a win or draw over Honduras to secure CONCACAF’s second World Cup spot; fans packed every nook and cranny of St. Johns, Newfoundland’s King George V Park.
Canada was shorthanded, as top striker Dale Mitchell was out injured, and midfielder Mike Sweeney was suspended.
But Mitchell’s injury created an opportunity for George Pakos, a full amateur from Vancouver Island who had already scored for Canada in Honduras.
He opened the scoring off a Carl Valentine corner. Igor Vrablic got the winner off another Valentine corner in the second half.
In 2009, that team held a reunion, and Bob Lenarduzzi said that, after that win, the players believed that it would be first of many qualifications for Canada.
What made it especially bittersweet is that it still represents the only time Canada’s men’s team has successfully navigated CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
June 5, 1994
Canada 1, Brazil 1 — COMMONWEALTH STADIUM
Brazil was getting ready for USA ’94.
Canada was looking for a high-profile friendly that would pack the country’s largest stadium.
It was a marriage made in heaven, right?
The Canadians would get a chance to see the Brazilians in a kick-about and marvel at those famous canary-yellow kits, right?
Well, no one told the Canadian men’s team they were there to take a fall.
Thanks to a moment of magic from Eddy Berdusco, Canada ended up splitting the honours with the Brazilians in front of 51,936 fans in Edmonton.
Colin Miller, who was in the Canadian squad that day, recalled he and Dunga had agreed to switch shirts.
But after the final whistle, Dunga showed the Brazilian annoyance at, well, not stomping Canada, by nixing the deal.
“This is your only chance for a Colin Miller shirt!” was what the Canadian said.
Well, Brazil went on to win that World Cup, so maybe in a small way, that Canada friendly played a role in the set-up.
July 19, 2007
Argentina 3, Chile 0 — BMO FIELD
The 2007 U-20 World Cup, hosted by Canada, will be best remembered for this fiery semifinal between bitter South American rivals.
BMO Field has hosted playoff games and MLS Cup matches since this fixture, but it would be hard to argue this wasn’t the ugliest do-or-die game in the history of the stadium
The game featured two sides filled with future superstars.
Argentina was led by Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. Chile featured Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel.
I was in the stadium that night, and it felt right from the start that one spark would set things off in an ugly way.
That spark came just a few minutes after Di Maria scored a spectacular opener, when Medel was sent off for kicking out at Argentina’s Gabriel Mercado.
Replays showed Mercado made a meal of the incident, that no contact was made.
The game turned into a battle of cheap shots and late tackles. Chile went down to nine men, and ended up losing 3-0.
The Chilean coaching staff charged the field, looking to get their hands on referee Wolfgang Stark.
The police got involved and several Chileans were detained, including Sanchez and Vidal.
Meanwhile, just outside the stadium, Chilean supporters gathered near the bus entrance and chanted at police.
April 29, 2015
Club America 4, Impact 2 — STADE OLYMPIQUE
I watched this game with Marc Dos Santos on my laptop in Clarke Stadium.
The current Whitecaps coach was running the Ottawa Fury at the time, but was suspended for that night’s Canadian Championship match in Edmonton.
Dos Santos was in the press box, I was getting ready to do the broadcast, so the former Impact coach and I watched Montreal try to cap its miraculous run in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Impact had gone to Mexico and got an excellent result, a 1-1 draw from the first leg.
Andres Romero scored to make it 1-0 for Montreal in the second leg in front of 61,004 delirious fans.
But when Dario Benedetto scored the equalizer, Dos Santos and I just kinda looked at each other, each glance saying “uh oh.”
As if the floodgates has opened. It was the first of four second-half goals from the Mexican giants, three of them from Benedetto.
December 9, 2017
Toronto FC 2, Sounders 0 — BMO FIELD
There were more than a few TFC moments from which to choose.
That 2007 home opener, where Danny Dichio’s goal spurred an extended barrage of souvenir seat cushions from the stands.
Two previous MLS Cups that Toronto had hosted.
Some marvelous Cup games and playoff series against Montreal. An MLS All-Star Game. A CONCACAF Champions League final loss to Chivas.
But, based on the fact that it represented TFC’s first MLS Cup in a city starved for champions, the nod has to go to a single moment from a single game: Jozy Altidore lifting the ball with his left foot over charging ‘keeper Stefan Frei, giving the Reds a precious lead in front of 30,584.
Understand that the Reds had every territorial and possession advantage in the 2016 MLS Cup, but couldn’t score and lost in penalties to a Seattle team that didn’t get a shot on goal in 90 minutes plus extra time.
Understand that Toronto dominated the first half of the 2017 final, and couldn’t score. With Altidore’s goal, a beast had been slain and TFC would go on to lift the trophy.
April 27, 2019
York9 FC vs. Forge FC — Tim Hortons Field
Let’s face it — when it comes to Canadian soccer fans, there’s been a collective feeling of “let’s get this league off the ground.”
The rivalries and the good old-fashioned hate that comes with a local derby have yet to really take root.
That will change in April, when the goodwill gives way to the league’s first Southern Ontario battle that’s going to count in the standings.
This will be the game that will give us the answers to so many trivia questions down the road — who was the player who officially kicked off the league? First goal? First card? Maybe even a first clean sheet.
But remember that, early in the season, as players are still getting to know each other, it’s the defensive organization that takes longer to get down.
So, let’s hope for goals, goals and more goals (sorry, ‘keepers).
With former League1 Ontario standouts like Joseph Di Chiara (York 9) and Marcel Zajac (Forge FC) lining up against each other, there will be plenty of local plot-lines.
Additionally, look for two former MLS, NASL and USL players to make impacts — York 9’s Kyle Porter and Forge’s Kyle Bekker.