On Pedro Morales: Soccer Is Cool. But Soccer’s Not Hockey, Not Yet.

by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

LINE - White Cover Magazine

*This was originally published by the Burnaby NewsLeader

Pedro Morales makes headlines with his feet, normally, not his words or his predictions.

But the Vancouver Whitecaps’ star – originally from Chile – turned heads and caused retweets on Tuesday, when he told reporters he thought soccer would overtake hockey as the most important, most popular sport in Canada.

“I can feel the excitement of the fans that fill BC Place every game,” he said (viaMLS). “That environment that there is in Spain and these other countries is coming into countries like Canada and the US.

“It feels like soccer can take over hockey and football one day, and it should happen in 10, 20 years.”

It sounds like a bold statement. It is a bold statement.

And you have to hope its true. Not as a shot to ice hockey, but as a boost to Canada. We need more than just that one sport with Crosby and Gretzky. We need to turn out 34 million strong and the economy behind it into the athletic powerhouse it very well should be, in sports like soccer and basketball and golf and tennis. We need to stop patting ourselves on the back for almost making the Olympics (hey, basketball) or not losing 8-1 to Honduras (hey, soccer).

But yes, Morales is probably wrong. That doesn’t make him crazy, thought.

He wouldn’t be the first person to predict such a thing, and he won’t be the first to be incorrect about it. You can’t blame him for that, of course.

After all, he’s only been in Vancouver for a few months, signed by the Whitecaps just this past February. He might not know that soccer is already the most popular sport in Canada for kids, and has been more some time. (Then again, he mightknow that, too.) The game has long been hugely popular for Canadians of all ages, actually, just not in the way that has allowed it to funnel inward. Most Canucks – honestly, myself included – align themselves easier to other international squads – be it Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany, or the Dutch, depending on where your grandparents were born or how much time you spend playing FIFA on your PlayStation – than they do with Canada’s team.

I couldn’t tell you a single guy on the Canadian national squad. But I can tell you about Ronaldo and Messi, even down to the latter’s tax problems.

Most Canadians undoubtedly know much more about Real Madrid or Manchester United or Barcelona than they do about the Caps, the Montreal Impact, or Toronto FC.

Morales is also speaking as a soccer player and, therefore, a promoter and sponsor of the game. He’s speaking for the strength of the Whitecaps, for the strength of the league that employs him, and – really – for his own future.

(And, of course, the website that published the comments – MLS.com – is trying to boost its own brand, too. Only the NFL operates its own real newsroom, where columnists and reporters act as columnists and reporters. The NHL’s website, conversely, publishes stories about its league and its teams that are more like the airplane version of Pulp Fiction than the actual Tarantino joint.)

But also, Morales loves the sport. Of course he thinks it will not only stick around, but also shatter that icy ceiling above it, the one currently holding up the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs or the Canucks.

If you love the sport, you have to support it. And you have to believe in it.

Ask the UBC Softball team if they really care about the success of the Thunderbirds’ football team right now, or its basketball team? No: they want their own recognition, their own credit.

And it’s gotta be a little annoying if you’re plugging on behalf of the Lions or the Whitecaps, and all you ever hear from people – around town, on the radio, or out of your television set – is what’s happening with the Sedins and (until recently) Tortorella and Luongo, about a team that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in its entire 44-year history but still has more traction than a CFL club with three Grey Cups since 2000 and a Whitecaps franchise that – even while not existing for 29 years between 1984 and 2009 – has actually won its own championship, an NASL Soccer Bowl title in 1979.

But Morales is doing what so many others do, and that’s confusing trajectory with and end result.

That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. It’s just that taking trends as anything more than what they are – trends – is the whole reason the NASL fell apart in the first place, the whole reason Jai Alai never made it over to North America, the whole reason the WHA and the USFL are the subjects of nostalgic documentaries not their own success stories.

It’s the reason the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings used to lose a lot, and now they never do. It’s the reason LeBron James was with the Miami Heat a month ago, and now he’s not.

And it’s the reason soccer has always been Canada’s most popular spot but never its favourite.