The arena is not famous, or suited to soccer, or attractive. Scratch that. It’s actively ugly. The field is circled by a track – the perfect bush-league touch that says “high school.”
In order to maintain the televised illusion of grass – the surface is artificial turf – they’ve haphazardly laid long, near-green carpets on the sidelines. Like your weirdo cousins do in their paved-over backyard.
The global audience is used to seeing this level of event played on landscape architecture so pristine it makes Versailles look like urban farmland. Canada’s version is going to look like the house that gets cleaned by piling all the junk behind the couch.
Maybe the enthusiasm of the crowd can make up for the aesthetic shortcomings. Or maybe not. The locals don’t seem all that interested. As of Thursday, the game was 5,000 seats short of a sellout according to organizers.
As an ad for the country, then, the marketing tag line of the opening match of the 2015 World Cup goes something like, “Canada: Well, you know.”
What we know is where this game should be played, and why it isn’t.
It should be in Toronto, where there is a very expensive, purpose-designed structure of which its proper name is the National Soccer Stadium (BMO Field).
You and I paid for it to be built. Why did we do that if it’s not going to be used for the most important national soccer game that has ever been played in this country? Taxpayers got talked into buying a fridge, and now the bureaucrats want to use it as a bookshelf.
Also, there is the small matter of Edmonton. This requires some delicacy.
Edmonton, God love you. In some ways you are the romantic home of soccer in Canada. But when the whole country has to stand up in front of the rest of the world, you can’t be the first one talking. We just need you to stand there quietly, looking supportive.
No, no, not in front. They’ll see you. Stand behind Vancouver. No, on the other side of Montreal. All right, why don’t you just crouch down behind Halifax and we’ll hope everyone thinks you’re Ottawa.
When England has to make a good impression, they don’t spend hours debating if it should be highlighting Sunderland or Liverpool. You know, for the sake of fairness.
They go to London, straight off and every time, because that’s what the world wants.
The world is going to tune in on Saturday expecting Toronto because that’s the city that matters. It may hurt to hear it, but it doesn’t make it less true.
This might be marginally palatable if any games of the Women’s World Cup were slated to be played in the city. But there are none. Not a single element of the most important summer-sports tournament played here since the 1976 Olympics will take place in the country’s largest, most cosmopolitan, most soccer-loving city.
(Words are too poor a vehicle here. Just imagine me staring at you for a long time, until one eye starts to twitch and you start to get a little afraid.)